Although in many instances, local prosecutors do initiate criminal investigations into civilians' complaints of serious abuses, Russian law-enforcement organs have demonstrated no commitment to investigating and prosecuting these cases effectively. The vast majority of criminal investigations are suspended after two months for "lack of establishing the identity of the perpetrator," although in many cases the investigator has failed to conduct routine investigative steps, including interviewing eyewitnesses, visiting the scene of the crime, and collecting physical evidence. Suspended investigations do not go to trial, and prosecutions are extremely rare, even in the most straightforward of cases.
Although the Russian government states that the procuracy and court systems are fully functional in Chechnya, there remains an indefensible lack of progress on criminal cases, particularly those involving crimes perpetrated by Russian federal forces. According to a June 2003 report published by the Russian human rights monitoring organization Memorial, the Military Prosecutor's Office launched investigations into 177 criminal cases against Russian servicemen during the period of September 1999-March 2003. Of these, 153 were subsequently closed for lack of evidence, suspended indefinitely, or turned over to other courts. Only nine went to trial.
In one of the few cases that have gone to trial, in 2004 a jury acquitted four Russian servicemen accused of murdering six Chechen civilians. The jury found that, while the men had indeed shot dead the driver and passengers in a civilian automobile in January 2002 and had then set fire to the automobile with their corpses to cover up the shooting, the officers “had not exceeded their authority” because they were acting under orders. No charges have been brought against the senior officer who issued those orders.
Following up on its previous statements on the human rights situation in Chechnya, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe stated in its October 2004 Resolution, “there is little progress in the prosecution of perpetrators of human rights violations by the national law enforcement bodies” and reiterated its previous statement that “a climate of impunity is prevailing in the Chechen Republic due to the fact that the Chechen and Federal law enforcement authorities are still unwilling or unable to hold accountable for their actions the vast majority of perpetrators of serious human rights violations.”