Editor’s note: This is the fourth post in an ongoing series from Russian member centre Committee Against Torture on their use of a Joint Mobile Group to investigation human rights violations, such as torture. See the first , second and third post.
After the murder of Natalya Estemirova, Memorial Human Rights Centre stopped working in Chechnya; many of its employees who used to work in Grozny had to temporarily leave the country. Soon after that, on 4 August 2009, Zarema Sadulayeva and Alik Dzhabrailov, chairperson of the Let’s Save the Generation charity and her husband, were abducted and killed in Grozny.
The CAT realised that it should either investigate the crimes allegedly perpetrated by Kadyrov’s agents, or stop all activities in Chechnya, as efficient operation of a human rights NGO was not possible without constant threat to the lives of its members. In the face of the alternative – either admit its impotence or risk the lives of the Chechen representation staff – it found another option: creation of a Joint Mobile Group consisting of employees permanently residing in other Russian regions. The JMG started working in Grozny on November 30, 2009.
JMG tasks in Chechnya
Taking into account the widespread and large scale nature of human rights violations in Chechnya and almost total impunity for them, it would be naive to assume that the JMG could conduct a public investigation of all reported cases of violations, murders and enforced disappearances. The task was much more unpretentious and narrow – to choose several cases of abductions, perform a detailed in-depth analysis of the reasons for the ineffectiveness of investigations carried out by the Investigative Committee and find out why none of these such cases were fully investigated. The CAT decided that these should be fresh 2009 cases with no suspects among Russian servicemen or law enforcers from other regions temporarily serving in Chechnya; only crimes allegedly committed by local policemen in the period when Ramzan Kadyrov was already Chechnya’s president.
On the basis of these criteria, the JMG selected nine cases and its lawyers officially joined the proceedings as victims’ representatives. Investigative authorities had instigated criminal proceedings under Article 126 of the Russian Criminal Code (abduction of a person) under all those crime reports. In one case, we have established that state agents were not involved in the abduction; in another case, victims’ relatives have refused to further cooperate with human rights defenders due to intimidation. Thus, the JMG is now dealing with seven public investigation cases.
Peculiarities of the method and security measures
The major peculiar features of JMG activities in Chechnya are unusual mission lengths and increased security measures.
The Joint Mobile Group encompasses three people who work in the Republic on a rotating basis for one month. Each team is headed by a leader. Each leader has power-of-attorney to represent victims’ interests in criminal proceedings. Thus, they have a right to participate in investigative activities, file petitions and otherwise monitor the official investigation progress.
The JMG rents a four-room flat in Grozny that serves both as an office and accommodation. The JMG has a car; there is at least one person with a driving license in each team.
Security rules do not allow JMG members to leave the flat and move around the Republic alone. The team leader notifies the supervisor located in Nizhny Novgorod about the agenda and actual movements of the JMG on a daily basis. There is a time frame (controlled intervals) when the JMG leader has to contact the supervisor. The JMG headquarters and car are equipped with hidden video and audio recording devices.
The JMG has once experienced unlawful detention (in fact, abduction) of all its members by police agents suspected of grave human rights violations. Thanks to strict compliance with the security rules, prompt response of human rights defenders in Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod, and quickly drawing public attention to the violation, the abducted JMG members escaped tragic consequences.