Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 116

For an End to War and the Establishment of Peace in the Chechen Republic,” a committee composed of leading Russian human rights activists and set up in March, has written an open letter to the leaders of the G-7 group of industrialized countries asking them to raise the issue of massive human rights abuses in Chechnya with President Vladimir Putin when they meet in Genoa, Italy in July. During a press conference yesterday, one of the open letter’s signatories, Lev Ponomarev, who heads the For Human Rights movement, noted that the results of a poll carried out in May by the All Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) found that 63 percent of the respondents opposed continuing the war in Chechnya. Ponomarev alleged that the Russian media was deliberately ignoring this and other information questioning the military operation in Chechnya. “Not one newspaper has agreed to publish information about the work of our committee,” Ponomarev said. “Note that not one television camera is here. This the real ‘information policy’… that is being carried out today in Russia.”

Other members of the committee, including State Duma deputies Yuly Rybakov and Sergei Kovalev, claimed that the rate of casualties among Russian forces in Chechnya today is the same as it was a year ago. They said that in spite of this, the Russian military is threatening to spread their operation into neighboring Ingushetia. Members of the human rights group Memorial charged that in an effort to force Chechen refugees in Ingushetia to return to Chechnya, refugee camps are no longer being supplied with food and are receiving only out-of-date medicines. Kovalev, meanwhile, claimed that there was enough evidence to call the war in Chechnya a kind of “joint operation” between the Kremlin and Chechen separatist leaders such as Shamil Basaev and Arbi Baraev. Kovalev said that the federal forces know, for example, exactly where Baraev is hiding out but have deliberately avoided entering this house during so-called “mopping up” operations (Deutsche Welle, June 14; see also the Monitor, May 31).

The Monitor’s correspondent observed similar behavior by the Russian forces in the first Chechen military campaign (1994-1996), during which a number of influential Chechen rebel field commanders continued to reside unmolested in towns and villages officially under the control of federal forces. Many Russian journalists openly visited some of these field commanders, yet Russian troops, who were in some cases located just several hundred meters away, made no attempt to arrest the rebel leaders.

Meanwhile, the latest proof of the brutal nature of the Chechen conflict came today, with reports that the bodies of twelve murdered civilians had been discovered in the republic. Seven were discovered in woods near the village of Pobedinskoe. Six were identified. All were local residents–the youngest victim was born in 1985–and all had suffered gunshot wounds. A similar discovery was made near the village of Elistanzhi. Five bodies were found inside two cars–three in one, two in another–in a wooded area just outside the village. Both cars had been shot up and the bodies inside bore gunshot wounds. All five victims were local residents and ethnic Chechens (Russian agencies, June 15).