On April 16, some 100 people in the Chechen capital of Djohar (Grozny) staged a protest rally demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya. The protesters, who gathered at the building that headquarters Chechnya’s pro-Moscow government, demanded the release of six young people detained several days earlier in the village of Kirov, on the city’s western outskirts. The Russian military is claiming that all of those detained were rebel fighters. The protesters said they would continue their demonstration until the detainees were released (Radio Liberty, April 16).
That the protesters held their demonstration despite the possibility that they themselves could become targets of the security forces shows the degree of outrage on the part of Chechen civilians over Russian military excesses. A report on those excesses was issued on April 15 by the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch. It claims that eighty-seven people taken into custody by Russian troops last year disappeared, and that twenty-five of them were subsequently found murdered, with the bodies of some showing evidence of torture. While the number of cases of abuses is growing, the report noted, Russian troops in Chechnya involved in such disappearances still enjoy, for the most part, immunity from punishment.
Under the pretext of the need to pacify the rebels, the federal forces in Chechnya have been terrorizing the local population for two and half years, the report stated. Tens of thousands of people have been detained, in violation of various international treaties and conventions that Russia has signed. In all, according to Human Rights Watch, at least 350 people detained by Russian forces in Chechnya have disappeared since the military operation began there in September 1999. Human Rights Watch and Memorial, the Russian human rights group, have jointly called on the UN Human Rights Commission, to “strongly condemn” human rights violations by Russian forces in Chechnya, including disappearances. The European Parliament also recently condemned the “impunity enjoyed by Russian forces in Chechnya” (Human Rights Watch, AFP, April 15).
Vladimir Kalamanov, President Vladimir Putin’s representative on human rights in Chechnya, denied these accusations while visiting the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. It was untrue, he told Agence France Press, that Russian forces in the breakaway republic were acting with “total impunity” or had stepped up counterinsurgency operations since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. Kalamanov said that his office had set up a mechanism to guarantee human rights in Chechnya, restore the republic’s judicial system and improve the work of civilian and military prosecutors (AFP, April 15).
It was reported earlier this week that Kalamanov will be named Russia’s permanent ambassador to UNESCO (the UN educational, scientific, and cultural organization) later this week. Some observers expressed regret that he will be leaving the Chechen human rights job. Aleksei Venediktov, chief editor of Radio Ekho Moskvy, who is highly critical of the Kremlin on many issues, praised Kalamanov for having worked sincerely to improve human rights in Chechnya, saying that his departure from that post would be a loss (Radio Ekho Moskvy, April 15).
POLITKOVSKAYA: KREMLIN SEEKS TO CREATE A “VAINAKH REPUBLIC.”