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Interview: Amnesty International Director On Rights Abuses in North Caucasus

Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia director, John Dalhuisen
John Dalhuisen, the director of Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia program, spoke to RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz about the watchdog's newly issued report on human rights abuses in the North Caucasus.

RFE/RL: Amnesty International's latest report on human rights abuses in Russia, "The Circle of Injustice," says the threat to the security of many people residing in Russia's North Caucasus region comes as much from law enforcement agencies as it does from armed groups. What does this say about law enforcement?

John Dalhuisen: You have individuals trapped between armed groups that represent a serious threat, that's true, but also a security force that is operating outside of and beyond all control by accountability mechanisms.

RFE/RL: The report itself deals with detailed evidence of cases in Ingushetia. How do you extrapolate that to the wider North Caucasus region?

Dalhuisen: Essentially we focused on Ingushetia. It's not the republic with the worst problems. In some respects, it has improved a little in recent years. But the problems there are very much typical of the problems in the wider region. It has enabled us to identify some of the structural concerns -- structural issues -- that are feeding human rights abuses and perpetuating impunity.

Elsewhere, Daghestan is perhaps a worsening situation in the last few years. It remains a very unstable, deeply fractured society with many different groups and interests and very high levels of corruption, often with widespread human rights violations. [In] other republics, again, it is a very similar scenario.

RFE/RL: What are some of the structural concerns you have identified in relation to Russian law enforcement agencies in the North Caucasus?

Dalhuisen: What one sees across the North Caucasus is a range of different security services and law enforcement agencies operating from federal level forces within the Ministry of Interior to local level, republic level forces within the Ministry of Interior.
This is a situation of institutional, organizational chaos that might have evolved unintentionally but is clearly being perpetuated by design.

There is the FSB [Federal Security Service] and there is a range of other special services that are operating. There is nominal cooperation between these forces by regional and federal level counterterrorist committees that would ostensibly supervise and coordinate the activities of all these agencies.

But it's clear that many of them don't cooperate very well with each other [and] don't disclose operations that they are engaged in to other agencies for competition reasons because often there is criminality involved.

RFE/RL: Amnesty's new report concludes there can be "no peace or lasting stability" in the North Caucasus until there is political will in Russia for bringing to justice those officials who violate human rights. Are you seeing any moves toward reform in this regard?

Dalhuisen: There's been no real move towards addressing some of the fundamental issues that are driving this underground conflict that is taking place in the region.

One of the factors is a very, very widespread lawlessness, both on the part of armed groups, but then also certainly on the part of the security structures, law enforcement structures, and judicial structures.

So there is widespread corruption and widespread abuses within the criminal justice system.

RFE/RL: How do "complex and opaque" criminal justice structures in the North Caucasus lead Russian authorities to abuse human rights with impunity?

Dalhuisen: What happens is that a security operation takes place without [security agents wearing] any identifying insignia [and] without anything to indicate who the individuals involved in it are, or what agency they come from.

And then when it comes to investigators trying to establish who was involved, obviously, they don't know which agency was involved.

Other agencies whom they might approach couldn't tell them either. So each agency is able either to deny responsibility in the incident, or indeed, any knowledge of who else might have been involved.

RFE/RL: Do you think Russia's criminal justice structures in the North Caucasus are the result of some intentional strategy by authorities either there or in Moscow?

Dalhuisen: This is clearly a very convenient system for perpetuating impunity because it is very difficult for a prosecutor or an investigator to make any further progress in an investigation in a great many cases.

So this is a situation of institutional, organizational chaos that might have evolved unintentionally but is clearly being perpetuated by design. It is a system that allows for -- indeed very much encourages -- human rights violations by ensuring effective impunity for those who engage in them.