Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 37

On the eve of the Russia-EU summit, October 3, a group of Russian human rights activists testified in Brussels before the European Parliament’s sub-committee on human rights. The subject was human rights in Russia, particularly in the North Caucasus. Afterward, one of the participants, Tanya Lokshina, chairwoman of the Demos Center for Information and Human Rights Research, told Kavkazky Uzel that she had just returned from Chechnya and spoke in Brussels almost exclusively about the situation in the republic and the North Caucasus more generally. “I spoke about how undoubtedly for a person who saw Chechnya in 1999–2000 there are evident signs of life now,” Lokshina told the website. “And a person who remembers Grozny back then cannot but notice certain outward improvements, cannot be but happy about this. I have traveled to the republic regularly over the last two-and-a-half years and see some outward improvements, when I compare the situation before the middle of 2003 with what is happening now: cars are on the streets, open stores and cafes, a lot of people, well-dressed young lads who chatter for hours on mobile phones. You see this, and at the same time you understand that it is nothing more than a very thin film of normality over a terrible abscess that has not gone away. And this is very important to recognize.

“Comparing Chechnya today with what was most terrible during the second war is itself somewhat improper because any given place following the end of active military operations…will look better than at the height of those operations,” Lokshina said. “And I said that, actually, problems are hidden below that thin film of normality that might fool some: extra-judicial executions, torture, disappearances, the absolutely uncontrolled arbitrariness of the power structures, already both federal and local. The problem of fabricated criminal cases on charges of participation in illegal armed formations, terrorism, possession of weapons, etc., is very acute. And the atmosphere of impunity hasn’t gone away.

“People in Chechnya, from my point of view, are more afraid now than several years ago,” Lokshina continued. “People have despaired of complaining; they in many respects are convinced that no one will ever help them. They even do not attempt to resolve problems through the legal [system], inasmuch as the experience of the previous years show that this is completely hopeless. The dominant emotion in the republic is fear. And against the backdrop of this all-embracing fear a certain illusion is formed; a soap bubble is blown of a political process whose final milestone, according to the official rhetoric, will be the parliamentary elections scheduled in Chechnya for November 27.”

Lokshina quoted Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles as testifying at the hearing that he had also seen “certain improvements” in the situation in Chechnya during his yearly visits there since 1999 but that the problem of abductions has not been solved. Those abducted are not found, she quoted Gil-Robles as saying, while those who carry out the kidnappings are neither identified nor brought to justice. Without resolving the fate of those who have disappeared, the Chechen conflict will not be finally resolved, he said.