The past week also witnessed a number of developments connected with attempts by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)–a body in which the United States does not have membership–to help bring about an eventual peaceful resolution to the conflict in Chechnya. On September 22, the president of PACE, Lord Russell-Johnston of Britain, granted an interview to the newspaper Novye Izvestia in which, inter alia, he observed: “I do not believe that the events which took place in the United States will lead to abuses of human rights taking place in Chechnya not being condemned. I am certain that PACE will, as before, hold to its previous position according to which the [Russian and pro-Moscow] authorities are obliged to behave better than those who oppose them. They must not simulate terrorist acts in order then to make short work of terrorists…. I see no significant improvements in Chechnya” (Novye Izvestia, September 22–Lord Johnston’s comments have been translated back from the Russian).
On September 24, the separatist president of Chechnya, Aslan Maskhadov, surprised those within the Parliamentary Assembly who were working on the issue of Chechnya when he stated categorically: “I declare that the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria is stopping all contacts by all state structures and officials of the ChRI with the Council of Europe on all levels, until the moment of a change of the negative policy of the organization.” Maskhadov underlined that PACE’s words and actions to date had not effected “an improvement in the situation of human rights in Chechnya” and that the egregious crimes committed by the federal forces, including “mass murders of Chechen civilians,” remained unpunished (CP, September 24, posted on Ichkeriya.org). Once they had received a copy of Maskhadov’s statement, his representatives to the PACE consultations in Strasbourg–“messieurs Idigov, Tutakov, Firzauli and others”–left the hall (Izvestia, September 25).
On September 27, PACE representatives discussed in Strasbourg a progress report issued by the Joint Working Group on Chechnya (a body including deputies of PACE and representatives of the Russian State Duma, who are also members of PACE). In his formal address to the session, Lord Judd, the author of the report, declared: “We do this work because we want to see peace for the people of Chechnya and for the people of the Russian Federation…. You will also remember the Council of Europe’s initiatives to tackle human rights abuses. Our governments refuse to act effectively. Rather than opting for self-indulgent rhetoric alone, to demonstrate our self-righteousness, the Assembly therefore decided to engage with our Duma colleagues in trying to build up, within Russia, accountability and pressure for change. The Joint Working Group was to be an instrument for that.”
And Judd went on to emphasize that, “in too many areas it is hard to detect any progress at all. The humanitarian situation [in Chechnya] remains dire and very precarious. For the homeless and those in camps, the prospect of winter is grim. The shortage of medicine and the spread of diseases such as tuberculosis is disturbing. The lack of security that discourages people from returning home [to Chechnya] is depressing. Despite what we believe to be the genuinely determined efforts of Minister Elagin, the economic and employment situation shows, as yet, only marginal, if any, improvement.” On a somewhat more hopeful note, Judd observed that “conversations with the [Russian] Prosecutor General are totally different to those of eighteen months ago when we were confronted with total denial…. At least a few sentences [have now] been imposed. It is not much but it is a beginning, and something on which we must build with firm and constructive pressure.” Judd went on to express “bitter disappointment” that President Maskhadov had felt unable to let his representatives continue to participate in the PACE consultations. He expressed “fervent” hope that the separatists would change their minds and elect to participate in the future. The head of the State Duma delegation, Dmitry Rogozin, remarked that “he supported Lord Judd’s comments” (Uncorrected transcript of the proceedings of the PACE session, posted on Discussion List about Chechnya, September 27).
The following day, September 28, the commissar of the Council of Europe for human rights, Alvaro Gil-Robles, told a Spanish newspaper, El Pais, that he had succeeded in obtaining “the agreement of Russia to conduct meetings with Chechen representatives, including people close to Aslan Maskhadov.” The goal of these meetings, which are to take place in November of this year, will, according to El Pais, discuss ways of achieving an end to the violence in Chechnya. The meeting will take place under the aegis of the Council of Europe (Lenta.ru, September 28).