A human rights conference organized under the auspices of the Chechen government was set to open in Grozny on March 1, with some leading Russian and international human rights groups boycotting the event and top Chechen government officials criticizing them for doing so. On March 1, Newsru.com quoted Chechnya’s human rights ombudsman, Nurdi Nukhazhiev, as saying that the boycotting groups, “with obstinacy,” do not want to admit to the positive changes that have taken place in the republic in regard to human rights. “There have been changes, and they are significant,” he said. “The institution of a human rights commissioner is operating in the republic; a constitution that guarantees [human rights] has been adopted; a parliament is working; the law-enforcement organs have managed to reduce the number of personal crimes, of kidnappings.” Nukhazhiev said that in refusing to participate in the conference, some non-governmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch Amnesty International, the For Human Rights movement and the Moscow Helsinki group, were being guided by “certain political considerations.” This, he said, is a “non-constructive position.”
In comments reported by the Moscow Times on March 1, the Chechen government’s representative in Moscow, Ziyad Sabsabi, offered an even harsher criticism of the boycotters. “The human rights activists are acting like a sulking child who has been offended,” he said.
Moscow Helsinki Group head Lyudmila Alexeyeva and For Human Rights head Lev Ponomarev were among those who signed a statement earlier this month declaring they could not participate in the conference because of the continued “massive and gross violations of human rights, including extra-judicial killings, kidnappings and torture, corruption and extortion of humanitarian aid and compensation” in Chechnya. “We consider it impossible to participate in the work of the human rights conference in Grozny conducted by Ramzan Kadyrov,” the signatories stated (Chechnya Weekly, February 22).
The Moscow Times on March 1 quoted Alexeyeva as defending her group’s decision to stay away from the conference. “You think that Mr. Kadyrov will stop torturing people just because I have spoken to him?” she said. “I have cried with the relatives of the people he has tortured with his own hands. Meeting with a torturer is something I cannot allow myself to do as a human being.”
Lev Ponomarev also put forward the views of the boycotters, stating in comments quoted by Kavkazky Uzel on February 27 that “a cult of personality is developing in Chechnya and, of course, one facet of the personality cult will be his [Kadyrov’s] human rights activities.” Ponomarev added: “We know that he has violated rights – and many rights, at that; his subordinates have violated the right to life – murdering, torturing people; kidnappings and so on. Not one of these cases has received the necessary scrutiny, and we have not heard the necessary reaction from him as [Chechen] president.”
Ponomarev said that what he characterized as Kadyrov’s only foray into human rights advocacy – the Chechen leader’s call for a retrial of Zara Murtazalieva, the Chechen woman sentenced to nine years in prison in 2005 for allegedly attempting to carry out a terrorist bombing in Moscow in 2004 (Chechnya Weekly, January 25) – was more of a criticism of the federal authorities than a defense of Murtazalieva. “As for Chechnya itself and the actions of Kadyrov’s guards and retainers, he has never expressed himself critically. As the guarantor of human rights in Chechnya, he has not succeeded. Therefore, we consider it unnecessary and wrong to participate in this conference. It would legitimize [him] as a full-fledged guarantor of human rights.”
Ponomarev added: “You can point to dozens of instances in which Ramzan Kadyrov could have acted to improve the human rights situation. When he does do that, then, perhaps he will win trust among human rights organizations. But for now, he can hold as many pseudo human rights conferences as he likes, but still, no one will believe him.”
Reuters on March 1 reported that both Svetlana Gannushkina, who is chairperson of the “Grazhdanskoe sodeistvie” (Civil Assistance) Committee, and the Memorial rights group also said they were not attending the conference. “I can’t say I am deliberately boycotting it but I think that politics should not be mixed with human rights,” Gannushkina told Reuters by telephone from Europe. “We should first understand how to work with Kadyrov and only then hold human rights conferences.”
Kavkazky Uzel reported that also among those invited to the Grozny human rights conference were Vladimir Lukin, Russia’s human rights ombudsman, and Ella Pamfilova, who chairs the Russian president’s Council for Developing Civil Institutions and Human Rights. The Moscow Times reported on March 1 that Pamfilova planned to attend. Newsru.com reported on March 1 that Lukin would not attend because of a prior commitment.
On March 1, Newsru.com quoted Kadyrov as saying in reference to the human rights conference in Grozny: “At times, we are reproached for the fact that we used the wrong methods, but in a destroyed republic, all force and means had to be aimed at creating the basis for further movement ahead. Now, everyone, including human rights activists, will be able to visit any place in the republic, communicate with people, and they will be assured of unencumbered access everywhere.”