On January 25, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) passed a resolution on the human rights situation in Chechnya. According to PACE’s website (assembly.coe.int), the resolution, which passed by a vote of 117 to 24, stated that the Strasbourg-based assembly “is deeply concerned that a fair number of governments, member states and the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe have failed to address the ongoing serious human rights violations in a regular, serious and intensive manner, despite the fact that such violations still occur on a massive scale in the Chechen Republic and, in some cases, neighboring regions in a climate of impunity.” The assembly also reiterated its “unambiguous condemnation of all acts of terrorism” and expressed “its understanding of the difficulties the Russian Federation faces in combating terrorism.”
The Strasbourg-based assembly said in the resolution that while it welcomes the fact that “a number of criminal cases were opened and some perpetrators were taken to court,” the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office has made “insufficient progress” in “elucidating and achieving successful prosecution of numerous human rights violations brought to its attention” by previous PACE reports on the human rights situation in Chechnya. “Impunity fosters more crime,” the resolution stated. “Both federal and regional law enforcement authorities must effectively investigate numerous specific and well-documented allegations of enforced disappearances, murder and torture brought to the attention of international public opinion and of the assembly in recent months by non-governmental human rights organizations. Moreover, the authorities should authorize the publication of the reports of all CPT [European Committee for the Prevention of Torture] visits and publish plans and steps taken to implement CPT recommendations.” The resolution also said that emphasis must be placed on “crimes against human rights defenders, lawyers, prosecutors, judges, forensic doctors and other law enforcement officials and against applicants to the European Court of Human Rights and their family members,” adding: “It is intolerable that reprisals against applicants to the Strasbourg Court take place and remain unpunished.”
The PACE resolution welcomed Russia’s law on parliamentary investigations that passed last year and urged Russia’s PACE delegation to request the establishment within the State Duma of “a committee of inquiry to investigate the failure of law enforcement structures to hold responsible perpetrators of serious human rights violations such as documented by the Assembly.” It also said that the Russian authorities “must take practical steps to address the issue of missing persons and ‘disappeared’ persons, particularly through introducing effective systems for identification and recording of bodies found and to make this information public.”
PACE declared in its resolution on Chechnya that it is “most dissatisfied” with the replies of the Committee of Ministers, the Council of Europe’s decision-making body, to its recommendations, charging specifically that the Committee of Ministers monitoring of the human rights situation in Chechnya, “launched by the Secretary General in June 2000, is now de facto at a standstill since the spring of 2004, despite repeated calls by the Assembly to intensify monitoring efforts.” The assembly, the resolution stated, “fears that the lack of effective reaction by the Council’s executive body in the face of the most serious human rights issue in any of the Council of Europe’s member states undermines the credibility of the Organization.”
PACE also expressed concern over the law on non-governmental organizations that President Vladimir Putin signed on January 10 (see Chechnya Weekly, January 19), which, it said, “falls short of the standards of the Council of Europe.”
The Associated Press on January 25 quoted a PACE deputy, Belgian Socialist Marie-Jose Laloy, as saying that the “timidity with which the international community has responded to human rights violations in Chechnya has thrown a cloak of invisibility over them” and that Chechens feel “abandoned and desperate.” Another PACE deputy, Dutch Socialist Erik Jurgens, said: “We are well aware of the problems the Russian authorities have in restoring law and order in Chechnya. But if you’re trying to restore law and order by violating human rights, the chances that you’ll succeed are small.” Newsru.com quoted Jurgens as saying that the situation in Chechnya was characterized by “absolute terror [and] fear,” and that “lawlessness” reigns in the republic. The report prepared last December by Rudolf Bindig of PACE’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, which provided the basis for the organization’s resolution on Chechnya, details human rights abuses in Chechnya and Ingushetia, including numerous kidnapping cases (see Chechnya Weekly, December 15).
Georgia’s PACE delegation also severely criticized Russia over its behavior in Chechnya. “One should stop chaos and call to account those who, under the cover of fighting criminals, keep on violating human rights,” said a member of its delegation, Elena Tevtoradze, during the debate over the resolution on Chechnya prior to its passage. Interfax on January 25 quoted Tevtoradze, who spoke out in favor of the draft resolution, as accusing the Russian authorities of manipulating information about the human rights situation in Chechnya “due to media censorship.” Novye izvestia on January 26 quoted Tevtoradze as saying that information from “international organizations” indicated that 27 people were murdered, 45 (including 8 women) disappeared and 38 were illegally detained in Chechnya in just the past two months.
While the PACE resolution on Chechnya was highly critical of Russia human rights violations, some observers question whether it will yield concrete results. “Unfortunately, it is difficult to speak of real consequences of PACE passing the resolution on Chechnya,” Kavkazky Uzel on January 24 quoted Aleksandr Cherkasov of Memorial as saying. Cherkasov noted that the Committee of Ministers is made up of the foreign ministers from all the Council of Europe’s member states, including Russia, and makes decisions on the basis of consensus, meaning that “the Russian authorities have the possibility of blocking any significant resolution taken by PACE.” Therefore, Cherkasov said, the resolution on Chechnya was probably more for internal rather than external consumption. “But there’s one ‘but,'” Cherkasov added. “Russia this year assumes the chairmanship of the Council of Europe. In that connection it will be difficult for it to make an offended face and leave.”
Still, State Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev, who heads Russia’s PACE delegation, dismissed the PACE report on Chechnya as biased, Itar-Tass reported on January 25. “The main factor in human rights violations in the republic is terrorism,” Kosachev said. He noted that 60 percent of Chechnya’s “able-bodied population” remains unemployed and that the federal authorities have spent 2 billion euros for Chechnya’s needs since 2000. “This information was known to PACE rapporteur on Chechnya Rudolf Bindig, but it was not included in the report that was prepared in a rush and reflects only one point of view,” he said. “The report ignores efforts taken by Chechen authorities and, in fact, it plays into the hands of those who are interested in the republic’s destabilization.” Akhmar Zavgayev, a member of the Federation Council, the United Russia party and Russia’s PACE delegation, claimed that 582 mercenaries from 42 countries have been detained in Chechnya. Chechen Prosecutor Valery Kuznetsov said on January 24 that 70 gangs totaling 700 people, around 100 of whom are “mercenaries from foreign states,” are currently operating in Chechnya, Itar-Tass reported.
Another member of Russia’s PACE delegation, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, called on PACE to come up with a specific prescription for Chechnya and invited PACE deputies to visit the republic. “You have to thank Russia for what it’s done in Chechnya,” the Novaya politika Internet newspaper (novpol.ru) quoted Zhirinovsky as saying on January 25 during the debate over the resolution. “Give a formula for a settlement! Let us together travel there and we’ll resolve it.” The ultranationalist leader insisted that Russia has done everything possible to resolve the situation in Chechnya. “Pull out troops? We pulled them out. Sit at the negotiating table? We sat,” said Zhirinovsky. “You thought the Chechens would handle it? They didn’t handle it.” He also claimed that “mercenaries” with foreign passports are in Chechnya. “It’s fighters from Afghanistan, Central Asia…with passports handed out by the embassies of Georgia and Turkey.” Responding to the Georgian delegation’s comments about Russian rights violations in Chechnya, Zhirinovsky said that Georgia should “address itself to the problem of the Meskhetian Turks and solve it.”
The pro-Moscow Chechen administration also criticized PACE. Nurdi Nukhazhiev, head of the department for the upholding of constitutional rights of citizens on the territory of Chechnya, which is part of the Chechen presidential administration said Chechnya could resolve human rights problems on its own. “We can do it within the framework of the Chechen and Russian constitutions,” he told Itar-Tass on January 23, commenting on the PACE session’s discussion of human rights in Chechnya. “The referendum on the Chechen constitution, the presidential elections and, finally, the election of the Chechen parliament, which completed the formation of all branches of power in Chechnya, show that we are quite capable of coping with the human rights problem.” Nukhazhiev described the PACE discussion of the issue as “speculation on temporary difficulties of the Chechen Republic,” adding: “Just tell me: who takes closer to heart the human rights problem—the Chechen president or PACE?”
Meanwhile, the lower house of Chechnya’s parliament, the People’s Assembly, announced that it was setting up a commission to be in charge of searching for abducted and missing people, RIA Novosti reported on January 24. “More than 2,000 people have gone missing in the Chechen Republic over the course of two military campaigns,” said the parliament’s speaker, Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, who will chair the commission. “The authorities are obliged to establish their whereabouts, clarify their fate and identify the burial places of the dead.” The commission, he said, will assist law enforcement agencies to do their work and make this work more transparent. “Since the first days of the work of the [Chechen] parliament, people began to address us with letters and statements asking us to find their relatives, so we put this issue on the agenda immediately,” Abdurakhmanov said. “People should know what is being done to identify the whereabouts of those missing. People should feel that the authorities protect them.”