Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 105

A group calling itself “For an End to War and the Establishment of Peace in the Chechen Republic” announced yesterday that it was beginning a campaign to pressure the Russian authorities to enter into negotiations with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. The group, which was formed in late March by a number of leading human rights activists and writers, at that time sent appeals to both President Vladimir Putin and Maskhadov calling for an immediate start of negotiations without conditions and for an internationally supervised referendum in the republic to determine its political future. On May 24, the group received a reply from Maskhadov–dated April 20–in which the Chechen leader officially declared his readiness for negotiations without conditions. Putin has not responded. Members of “For an End to War and the Establishment of Peace in the Chechen Republic” include Sergei Kovalev, Sergei Yushenkov, Yuly Rybakov, Yelena Bonner, Lev Ponomarev, Valery Borshchev, Viktor Astaf’ev, Viktor Yerofeyev and Arkady Vaksburg. Another member, Oleg Orlov, who heads the human rights group Memorial, told a press conference yesterday that the group would disseminate Maskhadov’s response among international organizations, including the Council of Europe (Kommersant, May 31).

Last week, the Council of Europe’s head, Walter Schwimmer, criticized Russia for failing to carry out thorough investigations of human rights violations allegedly carried out by Russian forces in Chechnya, including those connected with mass graves discovered earlier this year. Earlier this month, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced Western governments and the Council of Europe for “deafening silence” over the discovery of some fifty bodies at Dachny, an abandoned village not far from the Russian military base at Khankala, just outside Djohar, in February (Agence France Presse, May 25). HRW charged that those discovered in the mass grave had been murdered by Russian troops and that the Russian military authorities had tried to cover up the murders (see the Monitor, May 17). Meanwhile, Amnesty International charged in its yearly report, which was released yesterday, that Russian forces in Chechnya “continued to target civilians, including medical personnel” despite the Russian authorities’ claims to the contrary, adding that “no perpetrator has been convicted of crimes against civilians.” The group’s annual report covered the period January-December 2000 (Agence France Presse, May 30).