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Amnesty Says North Caucasus Authorities Threaten Security As Much As Militants

Police officers at a checkpoint near the border of the province of Ingushetia where a suicide bomber blew himself up (file photo)
Police officers at a checkpoint near the border of the province of Ingushetia where a suicide bomber blew himself up (file photo)
Rights group Amnesty International has warned that the threat to security for many residents of Russia's North Caucasus region comes as much from law-enforcement agencies as it does from armed groups.

In a new report called "Circle Of Injustice," the international watchdog investigates alleged abuses by state agents in the region that include enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions. It also examines the failure of authorities to properly investigate and prosecute such cases.

"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," says John Dalhuisen, director of Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia program.

Lack Of Accountability

Dalhuisen says it is the complex and "opaque" structures of law-enforcement agencies in the North Caucasus that allows authorities to abuse human rights with impunity.

"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. There is the FSB and there is a range of other special services that are operating," Dalhuisen says. "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."

The June 21 report (see summary here) describes how masked security agents in unmarked vehicles raid homes without wearing any insignia to identify their agency. When investigators or prosecutors try to determine responsibility for rights abuses, they are unable even to establish which agency was involved.

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

Ingushetia As A Microcosm

Amnesty's "Circle Of Injustice" report focuses on the situation in Ingushetia as a reflection of the entire North Caucasus region.

"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," Dalhuisen says. "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. Other republics, again, it is a very similar scenario."

Amnesty 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.

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