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Russia’s Human Rights Abuses in the Dagestan Insurgency — Report

Local residents cleaning up the debris of a house destroyed in a counterinsurgency operation in Novyi Agachaul,  Dagestan. (Photo by Varvara Pakhomenko
Local residents cleaning up the debris of a house destroyed in a counterinsurgency operation in Novyi Agachaul,
Dagestan. (Photo by Varvara Pakhomenko


By Human Rights Watch
For more than a decade, Russian security forces in Dagestan, a southern republic of the Russian Federation, have been battling an armed insurgency conducted by an array of Islamist militant groups which were until recently affiliated to the Caucasian Emirate, but are now increasingly pledging allegiance to the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). Both the Caucasian Emirate and ISIS have been banned by Russia’s Supreme Court as “terrorist” organizations. The insurgents have committed numerous lethal attacks against state officials, law enforcement and security forces, and civilians.

Human Rights Watch condemns attacks on civilians and recognizes that the Russian government has a duty to prevent attacks, pursue the perpetrators and bring those responsible to account. Attacks on civilians, public officials, and police and security forces are serious crimes. Russia, like any government, has an obligation to investigate and prosecute such crimes and to do so while respecting Russian and international human rights law.

Regrettably, law enforcement and security forces involved in counterinsurgency in Dagestan often do not respect or adhere to these laws, and counterinsurgency efforts in Dagestan have been marked by a wide range of serious human rights violations. This report documents violations that took place mostly between 2012 and 2014. It also describes some attacks by insurgents on civilians that took place just prior to and during that time. It is based on five Human Rights Watch fact-finding missions to Dagestan in 2013, 2014, and 2015.

In countering the insurgency, the authorities have cast an excessively wide net by essentially treating Salafis (adherents of Salafism, a fundamentalist interpretation of Sunni Islam that is increasingly popular in Dagestan) as criminal suspects without charging them with any specific offense. During the special counterterrorism operations Human Rights Watch documented, law-enforcement personnel have forcibly displaced civilians leaving them homeless; destroyed or damaged civilian property, for which most owners have not received compensation; and in some cases blown up homes of families of suspected insurgents, claiming they were detonating bombs stored there.

This report documents numerous cases in which federal and local police and security forces detained suspects using excessive violence and forcibly disappeared them or held them incommunicado in undisclosed locations without access to family or lawyers. In some cases documented by Human Rights Watch, family members or lawyers later found the detainees in official custody, and some detainees alleged they had been tortured. In the case of some enforced disappearances documented by Human Rights Watch the families still do not know the whereabouts or fate of their relatives. Police beat some detainees severely to compel them to provide confessions, testimony, and, in one case, to pressure a man to provide a DNA sample. In many cases documented by Human Rights Watch, authorities denied detainees access to lawyers of their own choosing.

This 97-page report also shows how lawyers and human rights advocates who defend Salafis or other people targeted in counterinsurgency efforts, and journalists who investigate such issues, face serious threats to their lives and well-being.

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Invisible War: Russia’s Abusive Response to the Dagestan Insurgency







Reprinted with permission from Human Rights Watch.

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