The Chechen government declared independence from the Russian Federation following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Since then there have been two wars between Chechen separatists and Russian forces (The First Chechen War, 1994-1996, and the Second Chechen War, 1999-2009) and continuous unrest.
Around 25,000 people have been killed since 1999. The human rights group Memorial estimates that between 3,000 and 5,000 of these are people who disappeared during this period.
Accusations of war crimes have been leveled against both sides by the Council of Europe, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Medecins Sans Frontieres, among others. Chechnya’s human rights Ombudsman says the Chechen governmentechny has identified 52 mass graves in the Republic. A mass grave has also been identified in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that the vast majority of disappearances were carried out by Russian Federal agents and Chechen government agents responsible to Russian Federal Authorities. HRW also uncovered evidence of abuses by Chechen rebels, including kidnappings and the execution of Russian soldiers.
A report by Physicians for Human Rights, found that the absence of facilities for DNA identification has hindered missing persons investigations. There have also been reports of evidence being destroyed or damaged by construction in the Chechen capital, Grozny, in areas where mass graves are located. The Council of Europe has pledged to build a forensics laboratory in Grozny to identify bodies from the conflict. This has not yet been completed and the Russian Federal Government has been accused by human rights groups of blocking the project.
As of May 2014 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has delivered more than 230 judgments in connection with the conflict in Chechnya. Another 350 are pending. About 60% of the applications concern enforced disappearances. In nearly all cases, the court has held Russia responsible for the disappearances and for failing to properly investigate these crimes and punish perpetrators. The ECHR ruled that as well as an obligation to pay the monetary compensation and legal fees awarded by the court, Russia also has an obligation to hold individuals to account for abuses and adopt policy and legal changes to prevent similar violations from recurring.
In 2009 Human Rights Watch found that Russia generally has paid the compensation and legal fees required by the ECHR but has failed to ensure effective investigations and hold perpetrators accountable. Problems cited include failures to bring perpetrators to justice and a failure to remove legal obstacles preventing investigators from accessing key evidence held by Russian military or security services. ICMP has provided the Russian authorities with a basic description of technical requirements to locate and identify the missing.