During the course of military activity in Chechnya and in the neighboring territories, both sides involved in the conflict have used the civilian population as «human shields»,1 and took hostage large numbers of the civilians.2
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During the course of the Chechen-Russian war, the Russian side has used
some of the civilians detained at the filtration points as hostages.
Likewise, from the beginning of the war, the Russian side illegally declared that captured Russian soldiers are «hostages» of the Chechen fighters. This use of this term came about as the result of carefully thought-out and systematically implemented policy to consider the conflict in Chechnya outside the context of human rights. Russian officials denied the presence of a conflict (of either an international or non-international character) and reduced the situation to a «disarmament of criminal formations» which was strictly an internal affair of Russia. In accordance with the official position regarding the conflict, the situation with prisoners and forcibly detained individuals was systematically viewed in a criminal context. In other words, the Chechen side was treated, not as a legitimate warring enemy, but rather as a group of criminal formations which should be dealt with outside the law. As a result, Russian soldiers captured by Chechen detachments were deprived of the official status «prisoners». The status of prisoners of war or of individuals forcibly detained by a belligerent side provides for certain legal guarantees. The Russian side did not respect these guarantees, rather they chose to free their hostages from the «criminal formations» by way of exchange or ransom.
Beginning in December 1994, captured Russian soldiers were placed in the headquarters of the army of the CPI. This was connected most likely with the lack of development of their armed forces and also with the absence of other separately guarded places or the strength to organize necessary guarding elsewhere. Nonetheless, in the Presidential Palace, the most well-known place for the detention of prisoners, those held were kept in the most closely guarded parts of the basement. As the fighting neared the center of the city, prisoners were divided into smaller groups and evacuated.
According to our sources, the first incident when captured Russian soldiers were used as hostages by Chechen forces occurred on May 27, 1995 when the commander of the Western division, Ruslan Gelaev, announced that if the bombing of the village in the Shatoisky region continued, five prisoners of war would be killed per day. Eight were killed altogether.3 A second similar ultimatum was made by Ruslan Khaikhoroev, the commander of the Bamutsky battalion, but was later retracted by Khaikhoroev himself, by his superiors and by the representatives of the Department of State Security of the CRI.4
Beginning in Fall 1995, in addition to the capturing of hostages, the Chechen side began to organize the kidnapping of civilians which took on a mass character in December 1995.5 In these particular incidents, it is difficult to discern purely criminal acts from the capturing of evident «collaborationists», «officials of the occupying administration», etc. In kidnapping builders and electrical specialists from Russia, the Chechen side noted the necessity of detaining «officials of the secret service». There were, in fact, secret agents of the Russian special services among those civilians (construction workers, engineers, etc.) who were kidnapped,6 although, they formed a minority. The majority of kidnapped civilians whose affiliations with the secret service were not proved was released by way of ransom.7 From the point of view of the «Memorial» HRC, these incidents of kidnapping should be qualified as the taking of hostages.
Various officials of the Russian Federation have, from the very first days
of armed conflict, repeatedly blamed the armed forces of the self-proclaimed
CRI for using unarmed citizens as «human shields» during the fighting.
However, concrete facts supporting these accusations have not been brought
forth. The «Memorial» HRC does not have any information which verifies
that such acts occurred before June 1995.8
It is well known that in June 1995 and in January 1996 a detachment of Chechen fighters attacked civilian points in Budennovsk and in Kizlyar, captured the city hospital, rounded up many civilians (including children, women and elderly people) and declared those captured as well as hospital personnel and patients to be hostages. Then, using them as «human shields», they retreated beyond the borders of the territory controlled by the RF. In Budennovsk, many of the hostages were shot.
During the course of the entire war, detachments of the armed forces of the self-proclaimed CRI repeatedly chose military objects in densely populated regions and conducted warfare in populated areas that had yet to be evacuated by the civilian population. Such action is considered a violation of humanitarian norms, although it should not really be qualified as using a «human shield».9 Both sides could be blamed for the fact that before the start of armed fighting the civilian population of Grozny was unable to leave the city. Neither the government of the RF nor the leadership of the CRI took any serious measures to evacuate the civilian population before the bombing started. Only after the bombing had begun did the Ignushetia Ministry of Emergency Situations permit three groups of buses filled with civilians to leave. However, the fourth group of buses was directly impeded by the leadership of the CRI. On the orders of those closest to D. Dudaev, the group of buses was stopped and forced to return to Grozny. There are also other known incidents when the evacuation of civilians from Grozny was impeded by formations of the CRI.10
Beginning in the spring of 1995 when the fighting spread outside of Grozny, Russian troops repeatedly hindered the evacuation of the civilian population from populated areas that were being subjected to shooting, armed attacks and bombing.
In March of 1996, the «Memorial» HRC for the first time received news that
the Russian troops were using the civilian population as «human shields.»
(The «Memorial» HRC does not have information which hints at the use of
«human shields» by the Russian side before this time.) In the course of
the fighting in Grozny in August 1996, the use by the Russian forces of
captured civilians as hostages took on a mass character.
In this report, there are also examples given of several incidents when the Russian forces used civilians detained at filtration points as hostages. However, most attention will be given to the their new practice (used in the last six months of fighting — from March until August 1996) of capturing civilians during the fighting and using them as «human shields». A part of the IA MIA RF (including the 101st brigade, which was permanently stationed in Grozny) and a division of the MIA sent to Chechnya is primarily at fault in these acts.