Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 46

A gruesome discovery on the outskirts of Djohar [Grozny], the Chechen capital, has further underscored the brutality of the Chechen conflict. Vsevolod Chernov, chief prosecutor for Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration, reported earlier this week that a total of forty-eight bodies had been found in Dachny, an abandoned village not far from the Russian military base at Khankala, just outside Djohar. While the Russian authorities have claimed that the village was used by the Chechen rebels as a graveyard for their slain fighters, the Associated Press quoted an unnamed official in the pro-Moscow administration as saying that the village may hold up to seventy bodies, including women and children. Meanwhile, Oleg Orlov, who heads the human rights group Memorial and returned from Chechnya over the weekend, said he was sure that that the Chechen rebels had nothing to do with the mass grave and that a majority of the bodies had obviously been buried there during the period after the federal forces took control of Khankala. Orlov said he believed the bodies belonged to victims of extra-judicial killings carried out by Russian troops. Some of the bodies in the grave have been identified, and Memorial activists believe that the authorities are trying to cover up the military’s involvement in the killings. The group plans ask to the State Duma to hold open hearings on the discovery of mass graves in Chechnya (Radio Liberty, Moscow Times, March 5; AP, March 4).

Last week, just after the first bodies were discovered in Dachny, Alvaro Gil-Robles, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner who at the time was on a fact-finding mission in Chechnya, called on the republic’s pro-Moscow administration to carry out an “even-handed” investigation into who was responsible for the deaths (AP, March 1). Upon his arrival back in Moscow on March 3, Gil-Robles again urged the Russian authorities to investigate alleged abuses by federal troops but in general said the situation in the breakaway republic was gradually improving, including in the area of human rights. During a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Gil-Robles said in particular that that the republic’s local governing bodies and judicial system were being restored and that prosecutorial structures were working more actively. He called for the creation of joint working group to include representatives from the office of Vladimir Kalamanov, Russia’s human rights ombudsman for Chechnya, and from the Prosecutor General’s Office, whose aim would be to improve control over investigations into citizens’ complaints and providing information to the public. Gil-Robles said he fully supported President Vladimir Putin’s decision to reduce the size of the Russian military contingent in Chechnya and to transfer coordination of the antiterrorist operation in the republic to the Federal Security Service. The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner said the main problems left involved restoring the republic’s socioeconomic sphere and resettling displaced persons, and he promised to try and mobilize international support for the Russian government’s efforts in these areas. For his part, Foreign Minister Ivanov said he supported Gil-Robles’ efforts to involve international aid organizations in helping Chechnya’s population and to hold a second international seminar on creating a civil society in Chechnya and democratically reintegrating it into the Russian Federation (Russian agencies, March 3).

Not surprisingly, Russian Public Television (ORT), the country’s main television channel, described Gil-Robles as having a “rather constructive position on Chechnya.” The 51-percent state-owned channel said that the reason for his position was simple: “The Council of Europe commissioner is a Spaniard, and in Spain they know about terrorism not simply from hearsay [the Basque separatists]” (ORT, March 3; see also Chechnya Weekly, March 6).