Council of Europe Commissioner on Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg was the only major Western figure set to attend the Grozny human rights conference. Hammarberg arrived in Chechnya on February 26 for a three-day visit. According a Council of Europe press release that was posted on the council’s website (www.Coe.int) on February 23, he planned to visit Chechnya from February 26 to March 2, during which time he would visit a military base of the Chechen Ministry of Interior, a prison, a police station, a republican hospital and schools, and give a lecture at the University of Grozny. The press release stated that he had scheduled meetings with Kadyrov and the republican prosecutor Valery Kuznetsov, would “also hold discussions with local NGOs and visit other areas of the republic” and planned to visit “the memorial that was erected in memory of the tragedy in Beslan, North Ossetia.” After leaving Chechnya, Hammarberg planned to meet with Russian federal officials in Moscow and hold a press conference in the Russian capital on March 2, the Council of Europe press release stated. It made no mention of the March 1 human rights conference in Grozny or whether Hammarberg planned to attend. Still, various Russian media reported that he had confirmed his attendance.
Kommersant, on February 28, quoted Hammarberg as saying during a visit to Beslan: “I am going to Chechnya in order to ascertain whether those guilty of human rights abuses have been punished and to find out what is being done in the republic to establish normal life.” Interfax reported on February 27 that Hammarberg visited a remand prison in Grozny, where, he said, inmates told him that they had been abused. “Today, I was convinced that people are not only beaten, but also tortured and forced under torture to sign confessions for crimes they did not commit,” Hammarberg said during a meeting with Kadyrov in the Chechen capital. “Some complain to the authorities, but they are treated even more harshly.” Hammarberg stressed that the problem is with “a whole system, and not isolated cases.” He said he came to that conclusion after visiting a remand prison in Grozny, where he spoke with inmates who were being held in three cells.
Kadyrov, for his part, said that he had “serious questions on this issue for ORB-2 (Operational Investigative Bureau) of the Main Directorate of the Russian MVD for the Southern Federal District.” He added: “I have repeatedly raised the issue that human rights are being violated in this structure, [that] force is being used against the detainees, However, my demands to introduce order were taken as an attempt to override that sub-unit. If I am asked to deal with that structure, I will seek the punishment of those who are guilty and get things put in order.” Hammarberg, for his part, then added: “I will meet with representatives of the federal power bodies in Moscow and inform them about this situation.”
The Chechen government’s human rights ombudsman, Nurdi Nukhazhiev, who also attended the meeting between Hammarberg and Kadyrov, said that he would present the Council of Europe human rights commissioner with “a similar report about torture in that sub-unit [ORB-2] prepared by human rights organizations. Earlier, we handed that report over to the United Nations Committee Against Torture.” Nukhazhiev also called on Hammarberg to “raise this issue in Moscow with federal power bodies,” adding, “ORB-2 maintains an illegal remand prison on its territory. This violates Russian legislation that is currently in force. But we have not managed to change this situation.”
Kadyrov’s charges of torture against ORB-2 may have been designed in part to deflect similar charges against units under his own control, given that ORB-2 is under the purview of Russia’s Interior Ministry. In fact, ITAR-Tass quoted him as saying during his meeting with Hammarberg that claims of secret prisons in Chechnya are simply untrue. “Statements of this nature serve our country’s ill-wishers,” Kadyrov said. He made a similar denial about the existence of secret prisons last May in response to a report by the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights. That report, entitled “Unofficial Places of Detention in the Chechen Republic,” claimed that security forces loyal to Kadyrov maintained secret prisons throughout Chechnya (Chechnya Weekly, May 25, 2006).
According to Interfax, during his meeting in Grozny with Hammarberg, Kadyrov added that charges like those made against ORB-2 had not been made against “the structures of other federal power and law-enforcement agencies deployed in Chechnya.” Responding to questions from foreign journalists, Kadyrov also suggested that it had not been his responsibility to end such abuses, given that “until now, I was responsible for economic issues – for the reconstruction of the economic and social spheres – and the president of the Chechen Republic should have ensured the observance of human rights,” the latter being a clear reference to former Chechen President Alu Alkhanov. Kadyrov told Hammarberg: “If, by the will of the Almighty, I become president of Chechnya, I, with all responsibility, state that there will not be one case of kidnapping or violation of human rights by law-enforcement organs in Chechnya.”
Kommersant reported on February 28 that upon his arrival in Grozny, Hammarberg visited the base of the “Sever” battalion, which is under the command of the federal Interior Ministry’s Troops. As the newspaper stated, its fighters previously belonged to the Chechen presidential security service under the command of Kadyrov and is primarily composed of amnestied rebel fighters. “As before, I believe that all of the security forces in the Chechen Republic, as in any other region or country, must…be part of fixed departments,” Kommersant quoted Hammarberg as saying. According to the newspaper, he expressed satisfaction over the fact that now, “all of the sub-units of the [former Chechen presidential] security service are part of the Russian law-enforcement bodies.”
It is worth noting that one major Russian news agency chose to accentuate Hammarberg’s positive comments about the situation in Chechnya. In a report filed from Gudermes on February 27, Interfax stated that Hammarberg had “said he was stunned by the changes that have occurred in Chechnya and particularly in its capital, Grozny.” The news agency said Hammarberg had told journalists in Grozny that “he had made a long trip around Grozny and several districts and had seen a lot of positive changes.” Moreover, “he had been shocked by Grozny’s reconstruction, especially the work done in the central part of the city, and that these changes had encouraged him.” Interfax wrote, “Hammarberg said his predecessor, Alvaro Gil-Robles, had also repeatedly pointed out that the Chechen economy should be developed, and that he was pleased to see that those recommendations had been given proper consideration.” The news agency reported that Hammarberg also “praised the Chechen people’s desire to revive the republic’s economy, create more jobs, and restore facilities destroyed by the war.”
RIA Novosti, however, reported from Grozny on February 27 that Hammarberg had told reporters after visiting the republican clinical hospital, Grozny Lycee No. 1 and the “Sever” battalion’s base: “Great progress is noticeable in the economic sphere, but I came to familiarize myself with the situation connected with the observance of human rights.”
The news agency added: “The commissioner also plans to study the situation connected to the course of the investigations of crimes of the previous years, as well as ‘issues regarding the observance of human rights in the Chechen Republic today.’ ‘A conversation on that subject has already started,’ Hammarberg noted. He also emphasized that in ‘the republic there should not be any kind of uncontrolled armed groups.’”