Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 11

A fact-finding team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which visited Chechnya on referendum day, found several “irregularities” in voting procedures, according to a confidential OSCE report. Though the OSCE has not issued any public statement about that visit, Jamestown obtained from a reliable source a four-page document–reflecting an “oral report” from the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)–which is based on that visit.

Glen Howard of the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya told Jamestown that observations in the report about “unreliable” voter registers had reinforced his view on that subject. “It is quite clear,” he said, “that there were a number of irregularities in this shameful referendum.” He added that “it is a disgrace that the OSCE, at the urging of the U.S., sent an observer after being booted out by the Russians in December.” Howard said that Lord Judd of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) had told him “that PACE was going to send an observer team to the election until the Russians told them that the PACE representatives would have to stay inside their building once they got to Chechnya and could not go outside to observe the vote. PACE, upon hearing this, changed their minds and in a 12-4 vote rejected the Russian offer to observe the referendum.”

The confidential March 27 OSCE document takes the form of “talking points.” It states that the small, four-member OSCE team “was not able to conduct a standard Election Observation Mission,” and that it therefore “is not in a position to draw conclusions on the process. It is also for this reason that no final statement can be issued. Rather, ODIHR can only offer impressions based on what the team was able to see.”

The “talking points” included the following observations about the “referendum day process:”

“According to the election authorities, all 416 polling stations in the Chechen Republic and the two in Ingushetia opened on time and the referendum took place without incident.

“As noted by the previous assessment mission, the voter registers in the polling stations visited appeared unreliable, requiring the extensive use of supplementary lists prepared while the voting was underway. Authorities had previously noted that census data on which registers were based were inaccurate. The extensive use of supplementary lists without safeguards to prevent double-voting could jeopardize the integrity of the process.

“In terms of voting procedures, the ODIHR team noted a number of additional irregularities in the polling stations visited. For instance, the team noted inconsistency in the procedures for checking identification documents. While in some polling stations identification documents were checked carefully, in others they were not checked at all.

“The security situation necessitated significant overall police and military presence; in addition, the expert team noted the presence of additional security inside polling stations.

“In several polling stations visited by the expert team, pro-referendum campaign materials were seen in the polling stations in violation of election provisions. The team also witnessed group voting, family voting and open voting.”

The “talking points” offered no final verdict either affirming or denying the validity of the referendum, but its “Concluding Remarks” included the following observations:

“The expert team heard expressions of hope from voters that the referendum would lead to a political process and bring peace and stability. The fact that citizens turned out in such large numbers to cast their ballots despite the prevailing atmosphere of fear in Chechnya is indeed a strong indication for this hope. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) in particular expressed their desire for the situation to normalize so that they could return safely to their homes in Chechnya.

“The violence, human rights abuses, disappearances and impunity that have characterized conditions in the Chechen Republic can end only if the rule of guns is replaced with the rule of law. This can take place only if the referendum is followed with a serious effort by all sides to engage in a sustained political process to bridge the divide between Moscow and the people of the Republic. Only then can the referendum be considered a success.

“ODIHR will follow the post-referendum process. We are prepared to provide support to this process and stand ready to work with the Chechen officials and civil society to identify areas of possible cooperation.”