Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 42

The Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) held its General Assembly in Moscow on November 11-14, bringing together representatives of Helsinki Committees from throughout Europe, Central Asia and North America. The meeting, which was hosted by the Moscow Helsinki Group, featured a roundtable, “Human Rights Crisis in Chechnya and no End in Sight?”, which was co-chaired by IHF President Ludmilla Alexeyeva and IHF Vice-President and former member of the German Parliament Ulrich Fischer. Among the roundtable’s featured speakers were Dokka Itslaev of the Memorial Human Rights Center and Tatyana Lokshina of the Moscow Helsinki Group.

As reported by Novye izvestia on November 15, Dokka Itslaev, who represents Memorial in Chechnya, took issue with the oft-made claim of Russian and Chechen officials that the organs of state power are functioning normally in Chechnya. Federal troops, he said, continue to detain Chechen men during zachistiki, or security sweeps, and the detainees are subsequently found dead or simply not heard from. Over the last four years in the Urus-Martan district alone, he said, there have been 102 murders and 205 disappearances. At the same time, servicemen suspected of involvement in the crimes are almost never interrogated about them. “Therefore it cannot be said that a prosecutor’s office has been created and is working on the territory of the Chechen Republic in the form envisaged by Russian law,” Itslaev said. He also said that Chechens swept up in anti-terrorism operations have been unable to seek redress in the republic’s courts, adding that Chechnya’s Supreme Court leaves in force any verdict reached by a lower court.

Addressing the roundtable on the subject of the “political process” in Chechnya, Moscow Helsinki Group program director Tatyana Lokshina stated: “It’s a sin to speak about that which in fact doesn’t exist. Simply doesn’t exist. There exists a soap bubble, which from a great distance flashes with bright colors.” Echoing the comments of Dokka Itslaev, she said that recent zachistki have been carried out by mixed groups of federal military and local Chechen security forces, making it even more difficult to determine who committed crimes. She also gave an example of official Russian obfuscation concerning human rights in Chechnya. During recent Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe hearings on the subject, one of the speakers painted a grim picture of the situation in the republic, after which Deputy Prosecutor General Sergei Fridinsky, who was in attendance, criticized him for incompetence and using information “spun out of thin air.” According to Lokshina, the speaker responded: “But, Mr. Fridinsky, you personally gave me that information in your own office on May 26 of this year.” “To lie also requires ability,” Lokshina observed.

According to an IHF press release put out on November 15, the group’s General Assembly adopted a resolution stating that “blatant violations of human rights and humanitarian law,” including forced disappearances, extra-judicial executions and torture, remain “pervasive” in Chechnya, and perpetrators are not brought to justice. “Civilians are the main victims, suffering from atrocities primarily committed by federal troops and Chechnya law enforcement agencies, but also by the rebels,” the resolution states. It also calls the Chechen conflict a catalyst for “an increasingly repressive and authoritarian regime in the country” and “a militarized society,” condemning in particular the call by Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov to detain family members of suspected terrorists. The IHF General Assembly also “affirmed its strong belief that the Chechen conflict can only be solved by political means” and that “all sides that are needed to reach a viable political settlement must be engaged in negotiations in order to overcome the present impasse,” the press release stated. The meeting called the offer made by the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees to Chechen rebels to mediate peace talks with the federal authorities “a specific constructive step.”

Meanwhile, Dmitry Grushkin of Memorial told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Russian service on November 14 that around 250 inhabitants of Chechnya have been murdered this year. Some 300 people, he said, were kidnapped between January of this year and the end of October. Half of these were freed, 20 were found dead and 128 disappeared without a trace. Generally, members of the “power structures” – the military, police and security agencies – are responsible for kidnappings, Grushkin said.