Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 2 Issue: 44

On December 6, Lord Frank Judd, co-chairman of the joint working group of the Russian State Duma and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on human rights in Chechnya, told a press conference held at the Interfax news agency building in Moscow that he flatly saw “no improvement” with regard to human rights in the war-torn republic. Judd and his fellow PACE parliamentarians–Rudolf Bindig (Germany), Laszlo Surjan (Hungary), Lara Margret Ragnarsdottir (Iceland), Lilli Nabholz-Haidegger (Switzerland), Michael Spindelegger (Austria), and Mats Einarsson (Sweden)–had just returned from a fact-finding trip to Chechnya on which they had been accompanied by ten deputies of the Russian State Duma, led by Dmitry Rogozin, chairman of the Duma’s committee on international affairs. Judd is scheduled to make a formal address concerning human rights in Chechnya at the forthcoming January 21-25 session of the Parliamentary Assembly, to be held in Strasbourg (Gazeta.ru, December 6; Council of Europe Press Service, December 3).

During the Moscow press conference, Judd “implied that during his trip he received no convincing proof whatsoever of the claims by Russian officials that significant progress had been achieved in Chechnya since his last visit.” Referring to the Chechen refugee camps, Judd “said the conditions in which people are living on the verge of winter are disastrous.” Judd also “criticized the federal authorities for the severe clean-up operations that army units and Interior Ministry police continue to conduct in the Republic without the participation of prosecutors. Civilians are still forced to pay bribes at the numerous checkpoints in the Republic.” Judd also insisted “that the only solution in the Republic is to hold negotiations with the separatists, first and foremost with Aslan Maskhadov” (Gazeta.ru, December 6).

Assessing the effect of Judd’s words, Gazeta.ru observed: “Lord Judd’s comments obviously came as a shock to the Russian parliamentarians and Defense Ministry officials who sat by his side at the news conference: Firstly, they had hoped that Lord Judd would save his impressions and conclusions until January. Secondly, the meetings between the European and Russian parliamentarians on this latest visit had been relatively friendly. Thirdly, Russia had expected that the radically changed political situation in the world following September 11 would soften Lord Judd’s stance” (Gazeta.ru, December 6).

Judd’s statements on December 6 contrasted graphically with the initial positive assessments he had offered after arriving in Djohar (Grozny) from Mozdok in North Ossetia on December 3. The joint PACE-Duma delegation had proceeded directly to the government building in the Chechen capital where they had then heard briefings by the pro-Moscow Chechen prime minister, Stanislav Il’yasov; the Russian presidential envoy for human rights in Chechnya, Vladimir Kalamanov; the chief commander of the Combined Group of Russian Forces in Chechnya, Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltenskoi; and the commander of the North Caucasus Military District, Colonel General Gennady Troshev (Gazeta.ru, December 5).

During this meeting, Judd remarked that the situation with regard to human rights in Chechnya had improved visibly. “He noted that the judicial system in the republic is being gradually restored, that law enforcement bodies are working more effectively and that there have been less complaints from common Chechens about the arbitrariness of the federal forces during the so-called ‘clean-up’ operations.” General Moltenskoi assured the PACE delegates that “the number of checkpoints [in the republic] is soon to be reduced significantly,” while Vladimir Kalamanov “claimed that the human rights situation in the republic is now radically different from what it was before,” and Stanislav Il’yasov “spoke in detail about the restoration of housing and the creation of new jobs in the Republic.” General Troshev, for his part, “told the PACE delegation about the plans to reduce the number of military personnel stationed in Chechnya. Troshev also spoke about measures to prevent human rights abuses by certain military officials and servicemen.” Troshev, on the spot, then fired the military commandant of Argun district, Colonel Nikolai Sidorenko, from his post for actions which had resulted in several civilian deaths.

“General Moltenskoi,” the account in Gazeta.ru continued, “added that criminal proceedings had been instigated against eighteen [Russian] policemen. Most of them stand charged with extorting bribes at checkpoints.” Lord Judd inquired of those present “if the Chechen population had been informed about the recent meeting in Strasbourg dedicated to a peace settlement in Chechnya, attended by representatives from both sides of the conflict.” His hosts assured him that the populace had indeed been so informed, from radio bulletins. Following the generally friendly exchange, Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Duma delegation, “hailed the level of cooperation between the State Duma and Strasbourg delegates.” Finally,” Rogozin exultantly observed to the press, “they have understood what we wanted from them” (Gazeta.ru, December 5).

On December 5 the Duma-PACE joint delegation had been scheduled to visit a large Chechen refugee tent camp located in Karabulak, Ingushetia as well as a second tent camp situated in Znamenskoe, northern Chechnya, where two permanent officials of the Council of Europe are also stationed. (Financial Times, 6 December) Bad weather, however, prevented the helicopter carrying Lord Judd and the other members of the delegation from landing at the airport in Ingushetia, and so the helicopter headed directly to Znamenskoe. The delegation, it turned out, was subsequently unable to visit the camp in Ingushetia.

The prospect of a PACE visit to Ingushetia did, however, permit two Russian television networks, NTV and TV-6, to visit the tent camp there and to interview some of the refugees. “What I personally wish,” one woman refugee told NTV, “is that there was no war, and that they didn’t kill our men. And that our teenagers, who are all we have left, were not taken, and that they didn’t come at night for them.” Another woman refugee noted that they were being forced to eat “millet which chickens have already died from, and noodles with beetles.” A third woman complained: “There is a draft everywhere [in the tents]. There is a wind, a very strong wind” (NTV, December 3; BBC Monitoring, December 4).

In its report, TV-6 interviewed a Chechen refugee woman named Malika Seidulaeva who had recently fled from the Chechen capital: “The tent [in which she and her family live] has to be patched up, but at night it is still cold. The children are constantly ill. Only ruins remain from the house in which Seidulaeva lived.” Another woman refugee told TV-6: “There haven’t been any changes as a result of his [Lord Judd’s] coming and going. He should come here and ask what we want” (TV-6, December 4; BBC Monitoring, December 5).

Judd’s visit to the tent camp in Znamenskoe, Chechnya appears to have negatively impressed both him and the other PACE delegates. Such conditions, Judd commented to Andrew Jack of the Financial Times, are “simply not acceptable.” He pointed out that he had seen worse in Africa and elsewhere but, “this is in Europe.” While in Znamenskoe, the PACE delegates also met with the two permanent officials of the Council of Europe who are based in that settlement. The two “are working against the odds in launching investigations requested by the local population, which has lodged more than 7,000 formal complains [against the Russian military and police]” (Financial Times, December 6).

Returned to Moscow from Chechnya, the PACE delegation on December 5 met with the deputy procurator general of Russia, Nikolai Makarov; with Vladimir Elagin, Russian federal minister for the affairs of Chechnya; and with unnamed high-ranking officials of the FSB. (Council of Europe Press Service, December 3) During his meeting with Makarov, Judd emphasized that “the PACE delegation is interested in questions of the presence of procurators during [internal] passport checks in Chechnya; in the course of investigation of three mass burial sites found on the territory of the republic; and in bettering the position of forced migrants.” Makarov pledged to make available “objective information” (RIA Novosti, December 5). By the end of December, minister Elagin told the PACE delegates, 2,000 new homes and 100,000 meters of municipal housing will be made available within Chechnya. Practically all Chechen children are now able to attend school. Currently 150,000 residents of the republic have employment, while “precisely twice as many” do not. Noting that the refugees were not returning to Chechnya “largely due to an absence of security guarantees,” Elagin also emphasized that many of the refugees were in fact bogus. “Of 61,000 persons checked, it emerged that 17,000 were not presently residents of the Chechen Republic, while 6,000 more gave addresses in Chechnya which did not exist” (RIA Novosti, December 5).

At 10:00 a.m. the following morning, December 6, Judd presented his unexpectedly harsh and critical assessment of the human rights situation in Chechnya at a Moscow press conference. In a broad-ranging interview with journalist Il’ya Maksakov, which appeared in the December 7 issue of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Judd proceeded to detail the reasons for his unhappiness. “Both in Grozny and in Znamenskoe,” he recalled, “it became clear to me that a great deal remains to done. Because, speaking honestly, the representatives of the administration of the Chechen Republic are not saying what the people who assembled in Strasbourg were saying. The latter said that for the achievement of peace and stability in Chechnya negotiations without prior conditions are needed, in which the broadest strata of the populace should participate. They also spoke of the necessity of creating an independent consultative council which naturally would work as an official but also a fully independent organ. Many in Strasbourg also stated that representatives of Maskhadov should participate in the negotiations.”

“But that,” Judd underlined, “we did not hear in Chechnya. It seems to me that much of what they [the pro-Moscow officials] said to us in Chechnya does not at all correspond to the line of the President of the Russian Federation, inasmuch as his representative [Viktor Kazantsev] is now talking with a representative of Maskhadov [Akhmed Zakaev]. But they said to us: ‘We do not believe in negotiations with those people.’ So there is a great deal to be done both by the President of the Russian Federation and by those people who assembled in Strasbourg.” Judd stressed his conviction that “there is not and there cannot be a military solution either in Chechnya or in Afghanistan.” ” Firm peace and stability,” he underscored, “can be facilitated only politically. That is what the Council of Europe occupies itself with.”

Judd also shared his impressions concerning the refugee camp in Znamenskoe which he had visited: “I was very disturbed,” he said, “by what I saw in the refugee camp. The situation there is very onerous, and it is not getting better. It even seems to me that it is getting worse. The sole positive factor I can cite is that people are now receiving their pensions and other benefits. But the filth, the leaking tents, twenty-three persons to a single tent…. I entered five tents. In one of them, I made the acquaintance of a man and woman who are over 80 years old…. Children have no clothing in which to attend school in winter. There is not enough medicine, there are very few toilets, the possibilities for elementary hygiene are limited. Everyone wants to return home to Chechnya, but they don’t see any possibility of doing so. Their homes are destroyed, an unsettled situation remains in Grozny, and they are simply afraid to return.” And Judd then noted regretfully: “There are de facto never difficulties when it comes to finding money to purchase weapons or ammunition, but, for some reason, it is not possible to find even an insignificant portion of such sums in order to foster human conditions of existence.”

To conclude, Lord Judd has made abundantly clear the reasons for his unhappiness over current Russian policies toward Chechnya, especially in the sphere of human rights. Despite what had been agreed to in Strasbourg before he flew to Russia, the pro-Moscow civilian leadership in Chechnya, as well as the Russian military and police, seem patently uninterested in any negotiated settlement which would include the separatists. The Putin leadership’s stance on this question, Judd implies, remains in need of clarification. Only a negotiated political settlement, Judd insists, would stand a chance of putting an end to over two years of bloodletting. In addition, he is appalled that thousands of Chechen refugees–a number of them children, the elderly and infirm–are being required to face a third harsh North Caucasus winter while living in fragile tent camps. Russia, he suggests, should reassess its priorities; it can do better.