Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 20

A group of Russian human rights activists signed an open letter calling for negotiations with the Chechen rebels. “The Russian authorities, by way of resolving the Chechen crisis, have for several years now been suggesting only a combination of punitive military operations, direct terror by ‘death squads’ and Kadyrov spetsnaz, and the imitation of restoring the Chechen Republic’s state structure with the use of crudely falsified elections,” reads the open letter, which was posted on the Prava Cheloveka v Rossii (Human Rights in Russia) website, hro.org, on May 20. “The lack of prospects for such a policy is obvious. The war is every more quickly crawling around the North Caucasus, the resistance has added to its armory the wide use of terrorist methods, a significant part of the ranks of the militants [consists of] religious radicals. A vicious circle of terror and force has formed. As a result of five years of the second Chechen war, militarism and the dictates of the special services have triumphed, the democratic system of governance is practically completely destroyed, [and] direct and latent censorship has been established.”

The signatories called for negotiations with the separatists, and stated that, to this end, Russian law should be changed so that the separatists are given the right, if they put down their weapons, “to struggle openly and legitimately for the independence of the Chechen Republic by political methods, including the possibility of creating regional political organizations and participating in governmental structures. On the basis of such a plan, the separatist leaders must guarantee the repudiation of armed struggle and state that those who violate the peace process will the brought to justice and, jointly with the federal forces, harshly suppress any provocations.”

They called on the Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) not to drop demands that the Kremlin begin negotiations and “to demand an immediate end to punitive operations in Chechnya.” They also called on democratic governments and international organizations to offer the Russian government assistance in preparing “consultations” between Russian officials and representatives of the resistance that would exclude only those guilty of crimes against humanity.

The open letter’s signatories included Oleg Orlov, Lyudmila Vakhina and Aleksandr Cherkasov of Memorial; Lev Ponomarev and Yuli Rybakov of the For Human Rights movement; and Gleb Yakunin of the Committee for the Protection of Freedom of Conscience.