Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 14

The Washington Post on April 4 took the Bush Administration and European governments to task for failing to criticize Russia about human rights in Chechnya. The newspaper referred to the recent Human Rights Watch report on disappearances in Chechnya, which detailed 43 “enforced disappearances” that occurred in 2004, including several dozen new cases, most of which occurred in the past months (see Chechnya Weekly, March 23).

“For the most part people outside Russia don’t speak much about these crimes,” the newspaper editorialized. “U.S. officials are reluctant to press Mr. Putin on Chechnya while seeking his cooperation elsewhere in the world; the Bush administration’s vulnerability to charges of human rights abuse in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere also may be an inhibiting factor. Most European officials face no comparable charge of hypocrisy but, driven often by commercial considerations, are even less willing to offend Mr. Putin by discussing his crimes against humanity in Chechnya. And the conflict seems so intractable, and many of the Chechen fighters themselves are so unsympathetic, that there is a tendency to shrug and move on to other issues. Meanwhile Chechen civilians continue to fall victim to fighters on both sides of the conflict. The population once numbered 1 million; though no one knows exactly, probably hundreds of thousands have been killed, wounded, ‘disappeared’ or forced to move during two wars with Russia (the first lasted from 1994 to 1996). No one can force Mr. Putin to negotiate an end to the war, and for now perhaps no one can conjure a negotiating partner. But the U.N. Human Rights Commission could insist that disappearances be investigated and that responsible officials be held accountable.” Human Rights Watch strongly criticized the European Union for declining to introduce a resolution on Chechnya to the 61st session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, as it has done in past sessions, saying it was “unconscionable” to “look the other way while crimes against humanity are being committed” (see Chechnya Weekly, March 23).

Meanwhile, Freedom House on March 31 released its special report to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, entitled: “The Worst of the Worst: The World’s Most Repressive Societies 2005.” The New York-based human rights group ranked Chechnya alongside two other territories, Tibet (under China) and Western Sahara (under Morocco), and 16 countries – China, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Haiti, Laos, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. Chechnya received the lowest possible rating on Freedom House’s scale – a “7” for political rights, a “7” for civil liberties – and thus was deemed “Not Free.” Freedom House’s report on Chechnya charged, among other things, that the “new police and security structures” under President Alu Alkhanov “are engaged in widespread criminal activity and rights violations.” “Particularly notorious is the former Presidential Security Service – renamed the Akhmad Kadyrov Special Purpose Regiment in 2004 – which is reportedly involved in extortion, adductions, trading in contraband, and the maintenance of unsanctioned prisons and torture chambers,” it stated.

For his part, Russia’s human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin criticized all sides in the Chechen conflict in his report for 2004, Kavkazky Uzel reported on April 1. “Despite the authorities’ aspiration to carry out a gradual transition from the use of strictly military [methods] to political methods of settlement, to establish the normal functioning of state and social institutions, the situation in Chechnya remains complex and tense,” the report read. “It is generally recognized that the responsibility for gross and mass violations of human rights rests with all of the conflict’s main actors. A necessary and appropriate fight against terrorism must include as an important component excluding conditions that promote the ‘nurturing’ of a mass of new terrorists.”

“The issue of methods of settlement and Chechnya’s future status are the subject of a report of the human rights ombudsman,” Lukin’s report continued. “However, it is obvious that neither the authorities nor Russian society at large will do without new, non-traditional views on the problem and the way to resolve it, including using worldwide experience in settling crisis situations. The current situation should not be oversimplified, reducing it simply to the dilemma of whether or not to hold negotiations with the separatist leaders, who have discredited themselves. The priorities here must be not only the unity and integrity of the Russian Federation, but also the protection of basic human rights and freedoms of citizens – both those in the conflict zone and those suffering as a result of the conflict beyond [the conflict’s] borders.”

At least one veteran human rights activist criticized Lukin’s report for being too timid on Chechnya. The Moscow Times on April 1 quoted Lev Ponomarev of the For Human Rights movement as saying he was disappointed that Lukin had not called for negotiations. Ponomarev added that by stating that the Chechen separatist leaders had “discredited themselves,” Lukin showed he did not support such negotiations. “There is a sharp borderline that Lukin does not cross,” Ponomarev said. “He doesn’t want to get involved in political issues.”