Rights Activists Take Bush to Task for Meeting Shamanov

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 15

The website of the Memorial human rights group (Memo.ru) on April 5 published an open letter from 13 leading Russian human rights activists to President George W. Bush, protesting his Oval Office meeting with Vladimir Shamanov, the retired Russian general accused of war crimes in Chechnya (Chechnya Weekly, April 5).

“On 26 March 2007 you received at the White House Lieutenant-General (retired) Vladimir Shamanov, adviser to the minister of defense of the Russian Federation and chairman of the Interagency Commission for POWs, Internees, and MIAs,” the letter stated. “In the course of the ‘second Chechen war’ the name of General Shamanov, who commanded the ‘West’ group of federal forces, became a symbol of flagrant and wholesale violations of human rights. At the start of the conflict, he attempted to prevent the civilian population from leaving the area of combat operations. Such crimes committed in Shamanov’s ‘zone of responsibility’ as the shelling of a convoy of refugees outside the village of Shaami-Yurt on 29 October 1999, the killings of residents of the village of Alkhan-Yurt at the beginning of December 1999, [and] the shelling and bombardment of peaceful residents in the village of Katyr-Yurt, [which had been] declared a ‘security zone,’ on 4 February 2000, gained general notoriety. In regard to two of these cases, the European Court of Human Rights handed down decisions providing, inter alia, for the reversal of decisions dismissing the criminal cases based on these crimes rendered by the Russian prosecutor’s office ‘owing to the absence of a corpus delicti.’”

The letter continued: “Although the White House press office subsequently maintained that the meeting with Vladimir Shamanov was agreed to without the knowledge of the U.S. State Department, in the contemporary political context it continues to be perceived entirely unambiguously. Like it or not, the international community has been sent a message: the leader of the world power waging a ‘war on terror’ receives a general who is justifiably suspected of complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity. Mr. President! Superficial White House ‘apologies’ are insufficient in so serious a situation. We would like to hear your explanations. Was the meeting with Shamanov a misunderstanding and impermissible mistake or do you believe that during ‘counterterrorist operations’ international standards of human rights and humanitarian law are inapplicable and that war crimes and crimes against humanity may go uninvestigated, and the criminals unpunished? We await your response.”

The letter was signed by Oleg Orlov of the Memorial Human Rights Center, Svetlana Gannushkina of the “Grazhdanskoe sodeistvie” (Civil Assistance) Committee, Lyudmila Alekseyeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Tatyana Lokshina of the Demos Information and Research Center, Yury Dzhibladze of the Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Natalya Taubina of the Public Verdict Foundation, Aleksandr Verkhovsky of the Sova Information and Research Center, Igor Kalyapin of the Nizhegorod Committee Against Torture, Lev Ponomarev of the For Human Rights movement, Gleb Yakunin of the Committee in Defense of Freedom of Conscience, Oksana Chelysheva of the Nizhegorod Foundation in Support of Tolerance, Madina Magomadova of the “Mothers of Chechnya” group and Ruslan Badalov of the Chechen National Salvation Committee.