The Budanov verdict was not the only unpleasant New Year’s Eve story for Chechens. As the old year ended, Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced that it would block the continued presence in Chechnya of human rights monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Radio Liberty confirmed on January 3 that OSCE officials had said that their six-member mission, headed by Finnish diplomat Jorma Inki and based in town of Znamenskoe in northern Chechnya, had stopped work and that its staff was packing up their equipment and preparing to leave completely by March 21.
In yet another sign of an increasingly hard and self-confident line in its discussions with the west about Chechnya, Moscow now wants to limit the OSCE mission in Chechnya to humanitarian relief aid. This contrast with the mission’s original 1995 mandate, the first priority of which was “promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” In 1996 and 1997, led by Swiss diplomat Tim Guldimann, the mission played a key role in negotiating the fragile, uneasy peace between Moscow and the separatists, which lasted until 1999.
A Russian diplomat told Reuters on January 13 that Moscow has now suspended even discussing the possibility of keeping the OSCE’s six human rights monitors in Chechnya. “At this stage, we do not think that we will go on with any talks about a new mandate for a new mission in Chechnya,” the diplomat said. “I do not see any chance to go back for any kind of talks.”
Some rights advocates think that the OSCE has been insufficiently vigorous in defending its position. A report issued on January 14 by the New York-based Human Rights Watch noted the that OSCE Permanent Council “inexplicably” agreed in Dec 2001 to Russian demands that OSCE mission in Chechnya would not be open-ended but would need to be renewed at end of December 2002. Because the OSCE is a body of member states that acts by consensus, Russia thus acquired the power to shut down the mission unilaterally, which it has now done.
The Chechen separatists have criticized the OSCE mission itself since Guldimann’s departure, accusing it of not being aggressive enough in documenting and denouncing Russian attacks on civilians and other human rights violations. Agence France-Presse quoted an aide to Aslan Maskhadov as saying that the mission had turned a deaf ear to Russian atrocities.