Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 16

On April 20, the Council of Europe released a report by its Commissioner for Human Rights, Alvaro Gil-Robles, based on his visits to Russia over July 15-30 and September 19-29 of last year. Gil-Robles’ report included an account of his trip to Chechnya over September 23-26. He said, among other things, that despite “some improvements,” the situation in Chechnya “remains difficult.” “I was particularly saddened to see Grozny virtually in the same state as it had been at the time of my previous visit, which is to say in ruins.”

As to the issue of disappearances, Gil-Robles wrote: “I was told that although the number of disappearances had fallen, this was a vital issue. The responsibility for such disappearances would appear to divide into three: the fighters hiding in the mountains kidnap people as part of their terrorist action; some people are abducted by criminal groups seeking a ransom; and, in addition, the federal forces and the Chechen police also appear to be implicated. Instances where people simply disappear, whoever is behind it, are unacceptable. Such practices must cease and those responsible, whoever they are, must be arrested and tried.” Gil-Robles added that “the missing people must be searched for and their disappearances explained,” noting that Deputy Prosecutor General Sergei Fridinsky had told him that 1,749 criminal investigations into the disappearance of 2,400 people had been initiated “since the re-introduction of the Russian legal system in the Chechen Republic” but that the “overwhelming majority” of those investigations had been put on hold.

“This is unacceptable,” Gil-Robles wrote. “Peace cannot fully return while the fate of these people remains unknown. Families need to be informed where those still alive are to be found or, where such is the case, be able to recover their bodies…Unfortunately, a large number of the missing people are no longer alive.”

The publication of Gil-Robles’ report coincided with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Moscow. On April 22,, citing an article published the previous day by France’s Le Monde, noted that while Rice during her meeting with Putin and other top officials raised the issue of Russia’s retreat from democracy, particularly the absence of independent electronic media, and also expressed concern about Russia’s delivery of arms to Venezuela and supply of nuclear fuel to Iran, “the subject of Chechnya, the issue that President Putin so dislikes, was not broached.”