(Washington, DC--May 17, 2001) Russian forces in Chechnya are using filtration camps as part of a broader effort to exterminate the Chechen people, according to one who survived these camps and now serves as the Chechen health minister.
Dr. Omar Khanbiev told an RFE/RL briefing today that he personally saw Russian troops engage in tortures that "can be imagined only by a totally depraved human mind" -- the beating of the wounded on the stumps of their amputated arms and legs, the use of electric shocks to genitalia, exposure to extreme cold, faked executions, and suffocation.
Tragically, Khanbiev said, this is not the work of individual "sadists" but rather a system "created by the state" and intended to destroy the Chechen nation. He said that when Russian troops round up Chechens, "especially the young and healthy," the troops first put the prisoners in a hole in the ground and seek to collect ransoms from their relatives.
If a ransom is not paid quickly -- and the Russian forces use such money collected to support themselves -- then, all who remain in prison are labeled "militants" and the cycle of torture begin. Khanbiev noted that he had escaped a tragic end only because he had been ransomed at that stage.
From the Russian bases, the prisoners are sent to a series of filtration camps and Russian prisons, each of which has a special "Chechen department" with torture facilities. Khanbiev said that 90 percent of those that begin this cycle disappear without a trace, noting that "disappeared" in this case means "dead."
If the Chechens held there die, Russian authorities prepare documents saying that they have been released after the bodies have been disposed of. The "lucky" 10 percent who survive this process are then returned to the main filtration camp at Chernokozovo, where Russian soldiers again seek ransoms. If none is forthcoming, the prisoners are recycled until all are dead, Khanbiev reported.
The health minister said that these camps are part of a broader Russian effort to exterminate the Chechen people using a variety of weapons prohibited by the Geneva Convention and noted that some 87,000 Chechens have been killed during the current war.
Despite these horrors, which have had a deep psychological impact on him and others, Dr. Khanbiev said that Chechens remain hopeful that Western countries will intervene to help. But he reported that his recent experience at the United Nations Human Rights Commission hearings was not encouraging.
There, the Russian delegation objected and prevented him from finishing his report because he referred to his homeland of Chechnya, and not a single other member of that commission objected to that Russian veto.