Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Chechnya: A Dubious Amnesty

Militants who surrender voluntarily and are not protected by Ramzan Kadyrov are subsequently re-arrested.
By Laila Baisultanova
On January 13 this year, Temirkhan Magomedov went to the police headquarters in the Achkhoi-Martan district of western Chechnya to take up an amnesty on offer to armed rebels.



After an interrogation and identity check, he was declared amnestied and released. Then, on February 1, Magomedov was attacked by unknown people in civilian clothing in the village of Assinovskaya, forced at gunpoint into a car and driven away.



Later, Magomedov’s relatives found out that he was being held by police in the Urus-Martan district, accused of having planted a bomb in the town of Achkhoi-Martan.



The Achkhoi-Martan prosecutor’s office pressed charges against him under articles 208 and 222 of the Russian criminal code – involvement in illegal armed formations and illegal arms trade, respectively.



Chechen lawyer Jabrail Abubakarov claimed that Magomedov had been falsely accused.



“In pursuit of high efficiency and crime detection rates and seeking to win approval from their bosses, the agents of Grozny’s notorious ORB-2 [operative investigations department] often commit crimes themselves and effectively get away with it,” he said.



Abubakarov alleged that Magomedov was probably forced to confess the crimes, “He took upon himself the crimes they wanted to pin on him after being tortured cruelly.”



The Russian state has declared several amnesties since conflict began in Chechnya in 1994. The latest one, covering the entire North Caucasus region, was announced on September 22, 2006.



The move followed the killing of leading Chechen militant Shamil Basayev last July, when the head of the Russian National Anti-terrorism Committee - and head of the FSB counter-intelligence service - Nikolai Patrushev called on militants to lay down their arms by August 1.



However, “Patrushev’s amnesty” yielded poor results, and the deadline for surrender was extended until September. On September 22, a committee from Russia’s State Duma issued a report on the pardon.



The National Anti-terrorism Committee reported that more than 500 men had taken up the amnesty, which expired on January 15. Most surrenders occurred in Chechnya, with only a few taking place in other parts of the North Caucasus. (See CRS 386, Was Dagestan’s Amnesty a Fiction? 6 April 2007 By Diana Alieva)



The committee said that the number included relatives of separatist president Doku Umarov and former well-known militant Salman Raduyev. More impressive perhaps was that one of the leaders of the Chechen rebel movement in exile, Turpal Ali Kaimov, had chosen to return from Norway to take up the amnesty after negotiations with Chechen parliamentarian and former pro-independence defence minister Magomed Khanbiev.



Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov said on January 15 that 439 people had given up their weapons in Chechnya itself. Russian security services say the number of those who’ve surrendered is roughly equal to that of militants still fighting in Chechnya’s highland forests.



Kadyrov proudly told a press conference that all pardoned rebels would be given jobs in his security forces and that many of the men in the regiment named after his father, former Chechen leader Akhmad Kadyrov, were amnestied militants.



“Amnestied men account for almost 90 per cent of the north and south battalions. Our task is not to kill, but to end the war, to save every person,” he said.



However, evidence suggests that the only leading rebels who took up the offer did so after personal contact with – or coercion from – Kadyrov, while most of those who did surrender were minor figures.



Moreover, many of those who are to surrender on their own initiative and do not enjoy protection from senior figures in the Chechen administration - like Magomedov - risk being re-arrested.



An activist from the Grozny office of the human rights group Memorial said, “No one traces the fate of amnestied people. A criminal case based ‘on newly discovered evidence’ can always be instigated against any [former] militant.



“The amnesty is in no way different from the one declared in 2003, when many of the amnestied people went missing.”



There are plenty of grey areas in the amnesty declaration. For example, people charged with the offence of “armed rebellion” are not eligible for a pardon.



This is why human rights campaigners say that the amnesty was mainly aimed at “cooks” and others, who fulfilled similar lowly functions in rebel groups.



Abubakarov said he was working on three cases in which rebels had been amnestied and subsequently charged - but knew of around 50 such cases. This, despite the fact that pardoned former militants seem intent on putting the past behind them.



The Centre for Strategic Research and Development of Civil Society in the North Caucasus, NC-Strategy, surveyed 100 people who had taken up the amnesty, finding that seventy per cent of respondents had surrendered because they wanted to live a peaceful life and trusted the Chechen and federal authorities.



Despite the amnesty, some armed rebels continue to wage their campaign of violence. In February, three leading militants and two policemen died after a siege in an apartment block on the edge of Grozny.



After the incident, IWPR contacted Ruslan (not his real name), who knew the three dead rebels personally. Now 23 and a former fighter, he has spent two years serving a prison sentence in the village of Chernokozovo.



Ruslan recalled that less than ten years ago, these same men had been declared national heroes by the authorities in the de facto independent Chechen republic of Ichkeria.



“In 1998, they declared on central Chechen television, ‘If you are not women, come join the fight, or put on skirts and stay at home!’ We joined and we are now being called bandits,” he said.



Laila Baisultanova is a correspondent with Chechenskoe Obschestvo newspaper.