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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Report Details How 113 Went Missing

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Islam Dombayev was 15 years old and he liked spending summer evenings playing his guitar with his two friends in the closed-in courtyard of his house in Grozny.

And when he left the house one June evening last year to meet up with Murat, 17, and Timur, 18, for a regular sing-and-chat session, his mother wasn't particularly worried.

It was only when he didn't show up by the next morning that she realized something was seriously wrong.

In the months that followed, Rashan Aliyeva managed to find out that her son and his two friends were stopped by Pskov special Interior Ministry troops when crossing the street on their way to Timur's house.

At some point she was even allowed to read the report of Islam's detention by the OMON and OBRON-8 units. It said that when he and his friends were stopped they had a whole arsenal of weapons on them. And after being detained, they confessed to mining the street the previous morning. Later they were taken to the Russian military headquarters in Khankala.

She even saw his guitar when a police officer brought it to her for "identification." But she never saw Islam again.

The 15-year-old boy is the youngest on a list of 113 people who disappeared after being detained by federal troops in Chechnya since fighting broke out again in the fall of 1999. The list was made public in Geneva by Human Rights Watch on Wednesday to coincide with the opening of the yearly session of the UN Commission for Human Rights.

New York-based HRW — one of the few organizations to closely monitor the human rights situation in Chechnya — accused the Russian government of turning a blind eye to widespread disappearances of people detained by federal troops and called for an international commission of inquiry to be established to investigate the allegations of atrocities.

HRW also documented numerous cases where federal forces tortured and executed the "disappeared," burying their bodies in unmarked graves or simply dumping them in uninhabited places.

Of the 113 people listed as missing from December 1999 to February 2001, the majority are men of combat age, detained in large mop-up operations, at checkpoints, on the street, in hospitals or in their own homes.

But there are also a few cases of women and teenagers who disappeared after being detained by federal troops. The bodies of at least three such women were found in a mass grave discovered last month on the outskirts of Grozny.

Russian human rights organization Memorial claims that 16 of the 50 or so bodies found in that village were those of civilians whose relatives had reported them missing. Most of them bore traces of torture and later execution.

"Federal forces in Chechnya have no reliable information on who is supporting the rebels in Chechnya and they suspect every man of combat age," said Oleg Orlov, a researcher with Memorial, in a recent telephone interview. "So they arrest everybody they can lay their hands on, try to squeeze information out of them by beating and torture, and in the process some of them die."

The pattern in most of the cases is the same: After detention, all trace of a person is lost. The relatives, who usually mount a desperate search of their own, end up against a wall of official denials and evasions.

In almost all of the cases documented by HRW, officials deny the person was ever detained. Some admit the initial detention but then claim that the person was released or transferred to another army or Interior Ministry unit and is no longer their responsibility.

In one of the cases, Abdulkasim Zaurbekov, a 49-year-old car mechanic working for one of the police precincts in Grozny, disappeared after he went inside the station to collect his salary.

The entry record shows he entered the building at 11:20 a.m. on Oct. 17. And although the police officers working there claimed he left the building, there is no record of it and he has not been seen since.

But the most common seem to be the cases when people are taken away by masked men in uniforms during mop-up operations.

In one of the last recorded incidents, two friends in their mid-20s, Akhmed Zaurbekov and Khamzad Khasarov, were detained on the approaches to the village of Stariye Atagi in mid-January. According to witness accounts, the two were seized by uniformed men leaving the village after a mop-up operation and dragged into their APC.

When the relatives went searching for them at the local police unit, they were initially told the men were there, but after a few hours another police officer showed them the list of detainees, which did not contain the men's names.

Twelve days later, their bodies were found in the rock quarry in Noviye Atagi.

HRW directly accused federal forces of "using the disappearances as a cover for torture and summary executions," and lashed out at the government for failing to investigate the cases.

"To our knowledge, there has been not one successful investigation into a disappearance," Marie Struthers, an HRW researcher who did many of the interviews for the report, said Wednesday by telephone.

The prosecutor in the Moscow-backed Chechen government, Vsevolod Chernov, denied the HRW claims. In a telephone interview from Chechnya, he said his office has managed to find between 50 and 60 people who went missing, adding that 57 criminal cases have been opened into disappearances in this year alone.

But both Memorial and HRW claim the investigations lead nowhere. Based on the accounts of families searching for their loved ones, they accuse the authorities of lacking the political will to find and punish the perpetrators.

One main problem is the division of responsibility between the civilian and military prosecutors, HRW said. "The investigations seem doomed to fail because they are assigned to the civilian procuracy, which has no jurisdiction over military servicemen," the report said.

But Chernov said cooperation between the civilian and military prosecutor's is "excellent."

"You see, everybody in Chechnya walks in the same type of uniform: The military, the interior troops, the rebels, even we, the prosecutors, wear the same type of military fatigues," Chernov said. "So how can you tell who detained the missing people? Sometimes I have a feeling the Chechen rebels are masking themselves as our military and go on kidnapping."

Speaking at the Wednesday session of the UN Commission for Human Rights, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ordzhonikidze repeated that the Russian government is intent on bringing to justice "all those responsible for human rights violations" in Chechnya, The Associated Press reported from Geneva. "Professional and exhaustive investigation requires considerable time," he added.

HRW has criticized the Russian government for completely ignoring the UN commission's resolution last year on Chechnya and urged the commission to provide for an international commission of inquiry.

HRW also distributed its report to a delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that was in Moscow on Wednesday, Struthers said.