Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 48

Carla Del Ponte, Chief Prosecutor for the United Nations International Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, met yesterday (March 7) in The Hague with Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov’s emissary, Akhmed Zakaev. The website reported that the meeting between Del Ponte and Zakaev, which took place during a break in the war crimes proceedings against former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and reportedly lasted around an hour, was organized by the British actress Vanessa Redgrave, who met Zakaev during his visit to London this past January. The website described the Del Ponte-Zakaev meeting as a “first consultation” concerning the possibility of prosecuting President Vladimir Putin for war crimes that Russian forces allegedly committed in Chechnya.

“We understand that Russia does not recognize the jurisdiction of the [war crimes] tribunal on Yugoslavia, but Mrs. Del Ponte is well known internationally,” Zakaev told “Her name arouses horror among Russian generals, who are up to their elbows in blood.” Zakaev, who observed the proceedings against Milosevic for part of yesterday, said that they instilled “the hope that Russian generals, who are responsible for genocide and war crimes in Chechnya, will wind up sitting in the same spot.” Either Putin must bring his generals to justice himself, Zakaev said, “or wind up in the same place as Milosevic,” adding that Milosevic “also says that he did not know about the crimes of his military.”

Zakaev refused to go into detail about his meeting with Del Ponte, such as whether he presented her with any documentary evidence of alleged war crimes by Russian forces in Chechnya or whether she promised to give the rebel representative “full legal support.” Zakaev did say, however, that Del Ponte told him “not to lose hope that just retribution will catch up with those responsible for what is happening in Chechnya.” While it is unclear how war crimes proceedings might be initiated against Putin, it is worth noting that Belgium has on its books a law allowing foreign citizens to be tried for crimes against humanity. Last year, four Rwandans were tried and convicted under this law for their alleged role in that country’s 1994 genocide. Cases were also brought in Belgium against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for his alleged role in the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in Lebanon’s Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps, and against Yasser Arafat for his alleged role in Palestinian terrorist attacks. It is entirely possible that victims of alleged war crimes in Chechnya could file suit against Putin in a Belgium court (, March 7).

Both the 1994-1996 Russian military operation in Chechnya and the current one, which began in September 1999, have been accompanied by numerous reports of abuses by Russian troops. Just this week, for example, the human rights group Memorial reported that the bodies of four young Chechen men who were recently detained in the town of Argun by Russian forces were returned to their families. Last week, the bodies of twenty-four Chechens were discovered in a mass grave in Argun. Most of the victims had reportedly been arrested during earlier antiguerrilla sweeps by Russian security forces. Similar abuses by Russian forces in Chechnya were outlined in the U.S. State Department’s recently released annual human rights report. The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed “astonishment” over the tone of the report, describing its section on Chechnya as “odious” (AFP, March 7).

At the same time, it is likely that if a war crimes case is brought against Putin, a similar case will be brought against Chechen rebel leaders, whose forces have been accused of, among other things, murdering members of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration, carrying out kidnappings and murdering ethnic Russians.