BACKGROUND: The amendments to the Civil and Criminal Codes and to the law On Combating Terrorism, first introduced by President Vladimir Putin to the Russian State Duma on September 27, 2013, includes the introduction of criminal responsibility for participation in training aimed at conducting acts of terror and organizing terrorist groups. The new legislation also stipulates that the federal law enforcement bodies are now authorized to seize the material assets belonging to families and relatives of persons accused of committing terrorist acts and to use these assets in compensating for “damages, including moral ones” resulting from those acts.
The law emphasizes that the federal authorities in charge of combating terrorism are instructed to demand that family members and relatives of terror suspects provide evidence on the origins of money, valuables, real estate and other forms of material property in order to ensure that these assets have not been acquired as a result of “terrorist activity.” In case no evidence can be presented confirming that the property has been purchased by legal means of income, received legally, or acquired prior to the suspect’s involvement in terrorist activities, the property shall be confiscated. The law also empowers authorities to investigate financial and material assets not only of family members and relatives of terror suspects but also of “individuals with close connections” to such persons.
It should be noted that this form of “collective punishment” has already been practiced occasionally as a form of counterinsurgency in the North Caucasus region. The human rights group Memorial reports that since 2008, persecution of insurgents’ families and friends has been widespread across the North Caucasus and has frequently included the destruction of their property. Such acts have ranged from covert arson attacks on the houses of militants’ family members to officially sanctioned demolition of real estate belonging to militants or to those who sheltered them.
Most widely practiced by Ramzan Kadyrov’s government in Chechnya, this “hard” form of counter-insurgency has been dubbed the “Chechen model.” In accordance with Kadyrov’s approach to tackling the insurgency, not only militants but also their families, friends and property are selectively targeted as part of counter-terrorism measures. Yet, this approach is practiced elsewhere in the region. For instance, a house belonging to family members of the former leader of the Ingush insurgency, Emir Magas, was blown up in March 2011.
Although the demolition of houses used or owned by militants has become an ordinary practice across the region, the recent suggestions by Ingushetia's President Yunus-bek Yevkurov to not only destroy the property owned by militants and their families but also to confiscate their land, emphasized the transition towards a purposeful expropriation of terror-suspects’ property. As if preparing the public for the forthcoming legislation, Yevkurov commented in the aftermath of a siege by law enforcement forces of a house occupied by militants, that: “houses of families sheltering bandits will be demolished and the land they own will be appropriated for government use.”
IMPLICATIONS: The adoption of new legislation not only coincided with the recent suicide bombing in Volgograd, committed by a female from Dagestan, but is also viewed as part of the efforts to step up security ahead of the Sochi Olympics. However, the transition towards “hard” counter-insurgency methods is also the result of a long-term frustration on the part of federal authorities in the North Caucasus, who have continually failed to undermine the public support of insurgents and to weaken their kinship-centered support base, which allows militants to raise funds, secure shelters and conduct recruitment among their relatives and friends.
Analysts already predict that the new law, apart from exacerbating the problem of unlawful practices often employed by the federal authorities in the North Caucasus, will create additional channels for corruption and ostracize families of suspected militants, who have otherwise often functioned as mediators between the authorities and their kin. The obscure definition of “persons with connections to terror-suspects” also allows law enforcement agencies to target almost anyone who happen to know the suspect.
The new law is similarly ambiguous on the types of evidence that relatives of a suspected terrorist must present in order to prove that their property has not been purchased through income obtained from terrorist activity. In an interview to Caucasian Knot, the chairman of the trade union of Dagestan's Ministry of Internal Affairs Magomed Shamilov commented that terrorist acts usually cause damages worth several millions of rubles and that it is therefore unclear how families and friends of terror suspects would ever be able to make such payments. He also noted that Islamist militants in the North Caucasus are waging an ideological conflict and do not engage in robberies or looting in order to acquire material property for themselves and their families.
Rinat Gamidov, a North Caucasus lawyer, explained in an interview to Caucasian Knot that customs in the region imply that the property in question is often inherited or received as a gift, rather than purchased, making it difficult to provide legal evidence of its origins. Besides, it is unclear how the relatives and friends of a terrorist should compensate for moral damages to the victims.
The current law also resembles the draft bill “On social protection of victims of terrorist acts” prepared by civil groups such as Mothers of Beslan and The Voice of Beslan, which was unsuccessfully presented to the parliament on two occasions in 2008 and 2012. The bill demanded that the state pays compensations to the victims of terrorist acts, provide them with free healthcare, communal benefits and free access to public transport. As estimated by the Caucasian Politics (kavpolit.com) news agency, the law could if implemented cost the state billions every year. Therefore, it seems that the new amendments to the anti-terrorism laws and the Criminal Code present a combined effort to address the issue of compensating the victims of terrorism and at the same time tackle the insurgency problem in the North Caucasus.
The new law has been described as yet another step in the transformation of the Kremlin’s counter-insurgency policies in the North Caucasus towards more hard-line methods, and is part of Moscow’s attempts to legalize the relatively effective “Chechen model” and expand it to the rest of the region. However, given that new recruits join the armed underground not only due to religious motives but also because of socio-economic problems, poverty or desire for revenge, the new law can be expected to increase the numbers of volunteers willing to join the rebels.
Grievances over confiscated property will most likely drive family members and friends, who may have already been sympathetic to their cause, into the ranks of the militants. As stated by the International Crisis Group, by adopting the new law the government alienates and antagonizes insurgents’ relatives, who are often interested in their family members return to peaceful life, rather than seeking cooperation with them.
CONCLUSIONS: Although neither Russia's President, who introduced and singed the new amendments, nor the lawmakers behind the draft the law have emphasized the connection between the new legislation and the ongoing insurgency in the North Caucasus, the new law formally legalizes and expands the norms of collective punishment long practiced in the region as a form of counter-insurgency. However, by legalizing the persecution of militants’ relatives and friends and expropriating their property, the state further reduces its chances of resolving the conflict peacefully.
AUTHOR’S BIO: Huseyn Aliyev is a Ph.D Candidate at the University of Otago, New Zealand.