In the annual report on human rights in Russia that he has reportedly recently submitted to the Russian State Duma, and of which the daily “Gazeta” claims to have obtained a copy, human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin condemns the ongoing “extrajudicial killings of members of illegal armed formations in the North Caucasus.”
Lukin stresses that he does not question the need for harsh measures in the fight against militants (in the extracts from his report cited by gazeta.ru and kavkaz-uzel.ru, he does not use the term “terrorists”). At the same time, Lukin reaffirms that the struggle against lawlessness must be waged using only lawful means.
Lukin further argues that the circumstances of all extrajudicial killings of militants should be carefully clarified, but acknowledges that doing so is not easy given that the law enforcement organs are unwilling to share the relevant information, even with his office.
From the published extracts of his report, it is not clear whether Lukin differentiates between the arbitrary detention, torture, and killing of law-abiding young men who have incurred suspicion simply by virtue of being practicing Muslims, or who are targeted for no valid reason whatsoever, and the use during counterterror operations of disproportionate force that results in unnecessary destruction of property and the death of fighters who, if taken alive, could have provided useful information about the network of which they were members and/or been brought to trial. Indeed, from his formulation it is not clear whether Lukin even admits to the possibility that some of the victims of the extrajudicial killings he deplores are not “members of illegal armed formations” at all.
Similarly unclear is whether Lukin touches in his report on other illegal reprisals, such as the deliberate torching of the homes of militants’ families.
Analysts and human rights activists agree that arbitrary violence by members of the police and security forces has been an important — possibly the most important — factor in generating a steady stream of volunteers to join the insurgency over the past decade. Many young men who participated in the June 2004 attacks on police and security personnel in Ingushetia joined the insurgency after their relatives were abducted and disappeared without a trace. Police brutality against young practicing Muslims similarly impelled young men in Kabardino-Balkaria to launch similar attacks in October 2005.
The human and civil rights activists who met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last May to discuss the situation in the North Caucasus made this point over and over again.
Medvedev, however, was apparently not convinced by their arguments. Meeting in Vladikavkaz last month with leaders of the North Caucasus republics, he took a less nuanced approach to the ongoing violence, calling for both “merciless reprisals” and “preventive strikes” against the insurgency. At the same time, Medvedev urged local officials to continue offering help to fighters who voluntarily surrender.