Memorial: Chechnya Rights Situation Improved, But Society Shows “Totalitarian” Signs

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 2

According to the Memorial human rights group, the human rights situation in Chechnya has improved but much remains to be done to stabilize the situation in the republic. Interfax on January 15 quoted Memorial’s chairman, Oleg Orlov, as telling a Moscow press conference that there have been “noticeable improvements in the situation” in Chechnya, but that “despite these improvements, we see signs of a totalitarian society.” He added: “You cannot help but notice the restoration of Grozny. This is a very impressive and noticeable effort. For the masses, this is a symbol of the return to normal life. The number of abductions and disappearances of people has also dramatically decreased. The situation concerning torture has also improved: there has been a fall in instances of torture.” On the other hand, the current regime in Chechnya “feels free to interfere in all areas of the lives of the people living in Chechnya,” he said, adding that monitoring the human rights situation in Chechnya has also become more difficult.

For her part, Svetlana Gannushkina, the head of the Civil Assistance committee and a member of the presidential civil society and human rights development council, said the observance of social rights has worsened in Chechnya. Interfax quoted her as saying that many refugees are being ousted from special temporary settlement centers both inside and outside Chechnya. “People are being forced back to Chechnya,” she said.

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on January 16 appealed to the Russian government to speed up work in discovering the fate of more than 1,000 people who have disappeared in the North Caucasus over the last 20 years, Reuters reported. ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger told the news agency during a visit to Moscow that Russian officials needed to do more to help the families of those who have disappeared to find out about their loved ones. “Our concern is that the families affected, who have relatives missing … get information on what happened.” Reuters quoted Kellenberger as saying. “If these persons have died, that the mortal remains be identified and that they are then transferred to the families.”

Kellenberger said the Red Cross has handed over documents to Russian authorities on 1,140 missing people in the North Caucasus about whom it wants information but that other organizations have lists of up to 5,000 missing people. He said the number of disappearances has “clearly decreased,” but added: “I do not think there is now nobody disappearing.” Kellenberger said Moscow should give a single organization oversight on the issue of missing persons and allow that body to coordinate effectively in order to ensure that cases were followed up. Kellenberger said Russian government officials should take the issue of those who have disappeared more seriously. “Some of them may think that what is being done is sufficient,” Reuters quoted him as saying. “That is not my opinion. We need a very clear strong political signal at the highest level.”

According to Reuters, Kellenberger also pressed Russia to allow the ICRC to resume teaching international humanitarian law to troops in the North Caucasus. He said the Russian authorities had allowed this but withdrew permission last year without giving a clear or convincing reason. Kellenberger also asked Russia to support a Red Cross push to outlaw “unreliable and inaccurate cluster munitions,” which, he said, hurt civilian populations.

Reuters noted that the Red Cross has reduced its North Caucasus budget this year to around $11 million as its focus shifts from handing out aid parcels to running development programs.