Chechen Authorities Order NGOs Back to Grozny

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 32

Chechen government officials told representatives of more than 20 non-governmental organizations on August 2 that they had two weeks to move their regional headquarters to Grozny. According to Reuters, nearly 30 NGOs – among them international charities such as Medecins Sans Frontieres and World Vision – work in Chechnya, but because of security concerns and official restrictions on movement, many base their operations in neighboring Russian regions. “There is information that funds allocated for humanitarian needs are misused,” Ramzan Lechakhadzhiev, head of the external relations department of the Chechen presidential administration, told Reuters. “To stop this, all headquarters and warehouses should be located in Grozny. They should move here if they want to continue their work.” The news agency quoted the head of one NGO operating in Chechnya, who requested anonymity, as saying: “Moving offices, especially for big organizations in two weeks, is just not possible. I think a lot of organizations are thinking about moving to Grozny anyway, but they don’t want to feel like they’re being pressured…I’m a little bit unclear on what basis they could force such a move.”

Interfax on August 7 quoted Amnesty International Russia director Sergei Nikitin as saying: “It is not clear which section of the law the Chechen authorities have in mind in making this demand.” The news agency also quoted Rachel Denber, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division, as saying that humanitarian organizations have a number of reasons for not wanting to be based inside Chechnya, concerns for security being among them. The website quoted an anonymous representative of another international NGO as saying: “They want to gather us all together so that it will be easier to control us.”

Svetlana Gannushkina, chairwoman of the “Grazhdanskoe sodeistvie” (Civil Assistance) Committee, said she considered the demand unlawful, adding that the question of where aid groups are to be located must be decided in conjunction with the federal authorities. Indeed, Interfax on August 8 quoted Ella Pamfilova, head of the Russian president’s council for the development of civil society institutions and human rights, as saying that the Chechen authorities have no right to demand that aid groups working in the republic relocate their offices and warehouses to Chechnya. “International humanitarian aid organizations must choose where to work by themselves,” she said. “It is their right. Of course, they could be asked to move to Chechnya and offered proper conditions for their work. But no administrative diktat is possible. Everything must comply with the law.”

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, meanwhile, told Interfax: “We are not dictating our terms. Nothing of the kind. However, if humanitarian aid organizations want to help Chechnya and the Chechen people to overcome the current serious economic problems quickly, we must work hand in hand. I have instructed Deputy Prime Minister Lema Magomadov, who is responsible for social welfare, to inform international humanitarian aid organizations that they should move their offices and warehouses to Grozny.”