Chechens 'raped and beaten' in detention camps

Chechens 'raped and beaten' in detention camps

By Patrick Cockburn in Nazran, Ingushetia

10 February 2000

Chechen men are being systematically raped, beaten and
killed in a Russian-run detention camp in northern Chechnya,
according to a letter from a Russian soldier stationed at the
camp, which has been obtained by The Independent. "They
are literally being killed here," the soldier writes. "One just has
to hear the cries of robust healthy guys whose bones are
being broken. Some of them are also being raped. They also
force some of them to rape another. If there is a 'hell' one can
see it here."

The soldier, who signs himself "N", writes that he cannot give
his real name "for obvious reasons". He is doing his military
service at Chernokozovo camp close to the Terek river in
northern Chechnya, he says. The Russian government has
confirmed that suspected Chechen rebels are imprisoned at

The writer says he feels compelled to speak out "because I
cannot stand it when I know this and don't do anything against
it". Andrei Babitsky, a Radio Liberty journalist handed over to
the Chechens by the Russian security services in exchange for
captured Russian soldiers, was held in Chernokozovo, he
says. Mr Babitsky was not raped, "but they beat him so badly
that his glasses were flying in the air, poor guy".

The letter is dated 3 February and covers three sides of paper.
The writer admits that he is not very literate. His shaky
grammar appears to indicate that he is a young, poorly
educated conscript. The accuracy of his account is underlined
by his use of prison slang. Some of his facts can be
confirmed. Radio Liberty journalists learnt that Mr Babitsky was
in Chernokozovo more than a week ago.

For months, thousands of Chechens, mostly young men, have
been detained by the Russians in Chechnya, without anybody
being able to find out what has happened to them. Attempts by
relatives to contact family members inside Chernokozovo and
other prisons have usually failed.

The young soldier reveals to the outside world, for the first
time, what is happening inside one of the dreaded "filtration"
camps where Russian security says it is separating guerrillas
from civilians. It now appears that they are being subjected to
punishments of extraordinary brutality. "N" says, as if
possessed by a sense of guilt, that he himself could be
"numbered among the butchers, though a rank-and-file one".
There are some 700 detainees in the camp, but only seven are
really suspected of taking part in the war, he says.

Most of those subjected to homosexual rape and beating are
in their late teens and have been detained for minor offences
such as not having registered their passports or having no
passport at all, he says. Others were arrested while smoking a
cigarette outside their homes or walking to a neighbouring
village or for having a military-style raincoat or belt in their

His account of what is happening inside the camp is all the
more convincing because he expresses no sympathy for the
seven suspected Chechen fighters. "They are one-half rotten
so they deserve it and I don't have compassion for them." He
adds that two of the alleged guerrillas were shot.

Homosexual rape is common in Russia's prisons. "It is used
as an instrument of humiliation," one former prisoner says.
"The guards also call prisoners who have been raped by
women's names."

This is the first time, however, that such systematic assault
has been reported in Chechnya, a conservative, Islamic
society with strict sexual mores. The news that a soldier at
Chernokozovo confirms that such methods are being used is
likely to provoke a furious reaction among Chechens.

Several times, the writer repeats that the prisoners he has
seen have not fought against Russia. In anguish, he writes: "I
cannot describe the exotic methods they use to break the
human spirit, to turn a human being into an animal."

Local people in the district where Chernokozovo is situated
say they have not been able to get into the prison, which they
describe as a grim brick building with four visible watch
towers. Fatima, a local human rights activist who did not want
her family name published, said that women in a market
beside the prison "could not bear to listen to the screams of
pain coming from inside".

A local civil police commander called Nurdy Ildarov, arrested at
the beginning of last month though he had worked for both
Chechen and Russian governments, was so badly beaten that
"his hands were broken and his backbone damaged", Fatima
said. "He died at the end of the month and his family had to
buy his body from the Russians." Several badly beaten
prisoners have been released but they were told by guards
that their families would be killed if they spoke about what had
happened to them inside the prison, she said.

"N", whose identity may never be known, said he was
"brainwashed to believe that all Chechens were enemies and
criminals". Now he realises they are normal people and
pleads for somebody to help them.


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