Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 19

Despite concerns over human rights violations by Russian troops in Chechnya, the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) has fully restored Russia’s membership in that organization. On January 25, eighty-eight deputies voted to restore the Russian delegation’s voting rights, twenty voted against and eleven abstained. Russia was deprived of its right to vote in PACE in April of last year. The reinstatement was preceded by a long debate on the report presented by Lord Frank Judd, who had just returned from heading a PACE fact-finding mission in Chechnya. Judd said that the Russian authorities had taken the first steps toward improving the situation for the civilian population in Chechnya. It has reduced its mass troop presence in the republic and the number of military checkpoints along the roads, he said, and appointed judges who will preside over civil courts. At the same time, the Russian authorities have still not carried out a thorough investigation into allegations of abuses against civilians by Russian soldiers last winter in the suburbs of Djohar [Grozny], the Chechen capital, and the village of Alkhan-Yurt. In connection with this, Lord Judd urged that the situation in Chechnya continue to be monitored and for this purpose to create a special working group. He said that restoring the Russian delegation’s full rights in PACE would facilitate cooperation between the Council of Europe and the Russian authorities in search of a political solution to the Chechen conflict.

On the eve of this year’s vote, five Russian and international human rights groups declared that they believed there had been no changes for the better in the area of human rights, and demanded that PACE maintain its sanctions on the Russian delegation (Radio Liberty, Deutsche Wella, January 25).

The European parliamentarians’ decision to restore Russia’s full membership looks rather strange. It seems that the deputies were guided above all by political considerations–a desire to avoid a direct confrontation with both the Kremlin and the leaders of the CIS states. If Russia’s position in PACE had not been restored, the CIS delegation would have sided with the Russian delegation. It also cannot be ruled out that the deputies were influenced by the kidnapping of American aid worker Kenneth Gluck, though that event should not have influenced an objective assessment of the human rights situation in Chechnya (TV-6, January 25).

It is worth noting that the PACE deputies in particular cited that the Russian authorities had begun to actively recruit Chechens to work in the republic’s newly formed power structures as having been a key factor in their decision to restore Moscow’s voting rights (NTV, January 25). In fact, the Kremlin has always tried to form power structures in Chechnya made up of pro-Moscow Chechens. Even before the first military campaign, the Russian special services helped create a committee for national salvation to oppose then Chechen President Djohar Dudaev, which proclaimed itself the republic’s governing body. After Russian troops were sent into Chechnya in 1994, the Kremlin put the committee’s head, Umar Avtorkhanov, in charge of the republic’s pro-Moscow authorities, and later replaced him with Doku Zavgaev, who had been the chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Checheno-Ingush autonomous republic prior to 1991. Moscow also tried right from the start of the present military campaign in Chechnya to actively use loyal Chechens. Just before it introduced troops into Chechnya in 1999, the Kremlin amnestied Bislan Gantamirov, the former mayor of Djohar, who had been jailed for embezzling funds earmarked for the Chechen capital’s reconstruction. In an attempt to show the separatists that they were being opposed by other Chechens, Moscow named Gantamirov head of the Chechen police.

Whatever the reasons behind PACE’s decision to restore Russia’s full membership, it is safe to say that the human rights situation in Chechnya has not improved a bit. Indicative of this is the fact that in contrast to the first military campaign, journalists now can work in Chechnya only if they are accompanied by Russian military officials, who decide what the media can and cannot see. Any journalists who violate the rules lose their accreditation. Thus the military can violate human rights without fearing that the violations will come to light. However, even the information which manages to filter out through official pro-Moscow Chechen sources suggests that the human rights situation today is much worse that it was during the first Chechen campaign. Last year, NTV television broadcast chilling film footage of Russian security forces abusing suspected Chechen rebels in their custody (see the Monitor, March 22, 2000). The organization Human Rights Watch, in urging PACE not to restore Russia’s voting rights this year, reported that Russian forces were continuing to commit such abuses, along with others such as extracting ransoms from the families of detainees and extra-judicial killings (see the Monitor, January 23).