Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 1

The pro-Moscow administration in Grozny has announced that voting for their proposed new constitution for the republic is set for March 23. Human rights specialists are questioning the legitimacy of both the constitutional text itself and the referendum intended to ratify that text.

Artyom Vernidoub of the website reported on January 13 that European observers have noted that the text includes provisions that are “unrealizable” under current conditions in Chechnya, such as freedom of movement and the immunity of private residences against unauthorized military or police searches. Jorma Inki of the OSCE office in Chechnya said that it is already clear that independent observers would not recognize the referendum vote as valid because the republic is still occupied by 80,000 federal soldiers and many potential voters are still refugees outside its borders. Vernidoub predicted that the OSCE would ignore the referendum, even though the Kremlin has invited it to monitor the voting.

Vernidoub cited tensions between the Kremlin and the head of the pro-Moscow forces in Grozny. Akhmad Kadyrov, who had wanted the draft constitution to include a provision requiring that the president of the Chechen republic be someone who has resided there for the last decade, which would sharply narrow the field of his potential rivals for that post. (The presidential election in Chechnya will take place in November or December of 2003, Abdul Khakim Sultygov, Putin’s envoy for human rights in republic, announced on January 14.) According to Vernidoub, Kadyrov reluctantly agreed to drop this demand after the Putin administration threatened to postpone the constitutional referendum to the end of 2003, and the presidential election until 2004.

In Vernidoub’s own view, more than half the proposed text’s provisions are infeasible under the current circumstances. Among his examples is Article 19, which states that “every person has the right to freedom and personal inviolability. No one may be held in slavery. Arrest, detention and holding in custody are allowed only by an order of a court of law.” Article 21 states that “no one has the right to enter the home against the will of the persons residing in it except in cases stipulated by federal law, or under an order of a court ruling.” Vernidoub commented that “the only way of ensuring that all those clauses are observed would be to halt operations against the rebels and to withdraw the troops from Chechnya. If not, the constitution, which will undoubtedly be adopted unanimously in March, will share the fate of the Soviet Constitution.”

Aleksei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center told Radio Liberty that Russian soldiers might be ordered to vote in the referendum, and that nobody even knows exactly how many civilians are now living in Chechnya. “You can get an answer to this question only from Allah,” he said. “According to the most frequently used [unofficial] Russian data, there are approximately 350,000 Chechens in Chechnya.” (The official figure is 530,000.) He said that under the circumstances, the pro-Moscow administration could adopt any text it wanted as a new constitution–“the Belgian Constitution, the French Constitution, or the libretto of ‘Swan Lake.'”