Speaking to members of the Chechen parliament in Grozny on February 20, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said that he was in favor of offering a new amnesty for members of “illegal armed formations,” Kavkazky Uzel reported. Kadyrov said that previous amnesties had “contributed to the return of many people, drawn into the illegal armed formations by fraudulent means, to peaceful life, and also improving the socio-political situation in region.” He said that “many young people aged 18 to 30, who grew up during the years of anarchy and were beguiled by extremists of all stripes using Islamic slogans as a cover, continue to serve their sentences for committing crimes under the statute ‘participation in illegal armed formations’.”
Kadyrov said that an “accusatory bias” had predominated in many investigations involving such crimes, which had led in some cases to the “pronouncement of sentences without sufficient evidence” or based on confessions that had been extracted using threats of violence “aimed at both the accused themselves and their relatives.” He added: “These cases have been registered by human rights organizations and mass media; there is also evidence of [such facts] in some criminal cases that have been brought against law-enforcement officials.”
An amnesty, said Kadyrov, would alleviate the suffering of mothers and be a further incentive to achieve peace in the North Caucasus.
The previous amnesty for rebels in the North Caucasus lasted from July 2006 through January 2007. Last June 22, Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev, who also heads the National Anti-Terrorist Committee, told the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s parliament, that 546 militants had disarmed and surrendered to the authorities under the amnesty, adding that it was possible another amnesty could be announced but that this should not be done in a “hurried” manner. Just a week before Patrushev’s comments, Ramzan Kadyrov had declared that “to endlessly raise the issue of an amnesty for those who continue unlawful activities [and threaten] the lives of peaceful citizens and representatives of the law-enforcement [is something] we cannot and will not ever do.”
In addition to floating the possibility of a new amnesty, Kadyrov has invited members of the Memorial human rights group to meet with him in Grozny on February 22 to discuss the situation in Chechnya, Kavkazky Uzel reported on February 21. According to Memorial, among the topics that will be discussed at the meeting are the principles by which human rights work, the possibility for retrying criminal cases that were fabricated against residents of Chechnya, and problems connected to disappearances in the republic, including the failure to investigate abductions or identify bodies. The Memorial activists who will attend the meeting with Kadyrov also plan to raise such issues as the mistreatment of Chechen inmates in prisons outside the republic, torture and the fabrication of criminal cases, uninvestigated crimes against Chechens by members of power structures and illegal prisons in the republic. In addition, the Memorial staffers plan to bring up the issues of internally displaced people in Chechnya and how to return people displaced from Chechen mountain villages back to their homes.
Last May 31, Kadyrov accused Memorial of spreading “non-objective information” for reporting that the Akhmad Kadyrov Foundation was exacting tribute from residents of the republic. “We have always strived for a constructive dialogue with the authorities and remain constant in that aspiration,” Memorial said of its upcoming meeting with Kadyrov.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch stated in a press release announcing the publication of a new report detailing actions taken by Russia’s government against non-governmental organizations that NGOs working on Chechnya are “especially vulnerable.” The a February 20 press release noted that throughout much of 2007, the Information Center of the Council of Non-Governmental Organizations (SNO), a group that provides daily bulletins on the situation in Chechnya and Ingushetia, was “threatened with dissolution by the tax service for being improperly registered and failing to pay back taxes.” According to Human Rights Watch, the SNO is challenging a fine for the equivalent of $20,000 imposed by the tax service. Prague Watchdog reported on February 7 that the Chechen branch of Russia’s Federal Registration Service is seeking to close the SNO. According to the website, the SNO was initially accused of committing various administrative irregularities and subsequently charged with “inciting ethnic discord” (Chechnya Weekly, February 7).
Kavkazky Uzel reported that the Public Council for Aid in Guaranteeing Human Rights, a new entity headed by the mayor of Grozny, Muslim Khuchiev, held its first meeting in Grozny on February 15.