RUSSIA ENCOUNTERS SHARP CRITICISM AT THE SEPTEMBER PACE MEETINGS–SHOWDOWN IN THE OFFING FOR JANUARY?
Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 28
On September 24, a so-called ordinary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), meeting in Strasbourg, heard a presentation by Lord Judd of Britain on behalf of that organization’s Political Affairs Committee on the conflict in Chechnya. During his remarks, Judd noted that there would be what he called a “major take-stock debate” concerning the war at PACE’s forthcoming winter session in January of 2003. Judd’s comments summed up what he had written in his notes on the subject of two visits made by the Joint PACE/Russian State Duma Working Group to Moscow from July 10-12 and to Grozny and Moscow from September 3-5. (For the texts of the two reports, see the Prague Watchdog, Watchdog.cz, September 24.)
During the course of his remarks delivered at the September 24 session, Judd reported that he had witnessed certain improvements since his first visit to the Chechen capital in April of 2000: “There were people, traffic and even a few buses on the street. There were some booths and markets among the ruins. Schools are open, even if in a rather limited way…. Outside Grozny, in the countryside, fields are being cultivated. We were told of an agricultural surplus.”
“That said,” Judd went on, “there are still real security issues. Real fighters are still active. There are still military and civilian casualties, and there is still sinister targeting of Chechens who work for the [pro-Moscow] administration…. There is still harassment at numerous [Russian] checkpoints, with much humiliation to those subjected to checking. There is still the problem of the conduct of security personnel in general. There is also a failure consistently to apply the rules laid down by the [Russian] prosecutor-general himself. In addition, there are still considerable human rights issues. The most disturbing is undoubtedly the disappearances.” In light of such developments, Judd remarked, “I remain deeply concerned about the few convincing investigations that have taken place and about the altogether too lengthy and limited outcomes to them.” Judd also drew attention to the fact that, “The recent reports of the Council of Europe’s committee dealing with the prevention of torture have still not been published by the Government of the Russian Federation.”
“Everything I saw and heard,” Judd summed up, “strengthened my conviction that the overriding imperative is to work with our Russian colleagues in promoting a just and sustainable settlement [to the conflict].” (Watchdog.cz, 24 September)
During the question period–the deputies had put their names down on a list in advance–Judd came under some rather harsh criticism for his perceived low-key approach to ending the conflict. Deputy Surjan of Hungary emphasized that PACE was simply running out of time to help achieve a settlement. “Do we really think,” he asked, “that a cleansing operation can promote a spirit of reconciliation in the area?… Radicalism is increasing among the young generation not only in Chechnya, but also in Russia…. Violence is not a solution. The mission of the Joint [PACE-Duma] Working Group is to promote a spirit of reconciliation.”
Deputy Serinsen of Denmark underlined in her remarks concerning the political process within Chechnya: “We want to stress that the right order should be political negotiation, including with the Maskhadov side, abstention from violence by both sides, followed by a census, a referendum, elections and a new constitution drafted by those who, at that time, will be the legitimate representatives of the Chechens.” What, Serinsen wondered, gave those currently engaged in drafting a new Chechen constitution a sense that their actions were legitimate? “The Council of Europe should not be involved in a process seen by the Chechens as hostile.” Serinsen ended by focusing on the issue of values: “The Council of Europe’s values,” she stressed, “are at stake. I am sure that in the long run the Russians will realize that to continue the war does not pay, and that the only way forward is to negotiate a peaceful solution with the participation of all those who have a legitimate right to represent the people.”
Deputy Ragnarsdottir of Iceland noted in her remarks that there continued to be reports that Chechens were being pressured to move from safe areas like Znamenskoe in the north of the republic to troubled spots like the capital. Deputy Zwerver of the Netherlands focused certain of her comments on the possible coerced relocation of Chechens back to their home republic. “Lord Judd wrote in his report,” she recalled, “that the people he spoke to on his one-day visit to Grozny felt no pressure to return… Human rights organizations working in the region tell a different story. Whom should we believe?” On the issue of humanitarian aid to Chechen IDPs, Zwerver affirmed: “I stress that it is a Russian responsibility to deliver aid. I see no mention of that in the report. The international community is there not to replace the Russian authorities, but to support them.” And she concluded: “It cannot go on like this… We are like a Greek chorus agonizing in the wings. I think that it is high time again to start a discussion about sanctions and the credentials of the Russian delegation.”
Deputy Markowski of Poland called upon Russia “urgently to stop the military action in Chechnya; General Maskhadov is ready to do so. It must begin the process of dialogue, with the mediation of international observers.” “If no action is taken [by Russia],” then, he warned, “we must ask questions about Russia’s failures to observe the rules and principles of the Council of Europe.”
Deputy Hancock of the United Kingdom, after defending Lord Judd against certain of deputy Zwerver’s criticisms, went on to suggest that action was needed now. “Time is running out,” Hancock maintained, “and the Assembly is owed a full explanation from our Russian colleagues about what they intend to do to put human rights back on a level footing…. The Assembly must move on, and I hope that we will do so in January .”
Two representatives from Russia also addressed the session. Mr. Sultygov, President Putin’s official representative to Chechnya, suggested that the Council of Europe should focus its efforts on economic and social assistance to the republic. He confided that he had heard “no complaints about forcible repatriation to Chechnya.” Deputy Slutsky of Russia, for his part, said “he believed his colleagues now understood that Russia intended to bring a normal life back to the Chechen Republic. Displaced people had returned to Grozny of their own free will from tent camps and railway wagons.”
In his summing up remarks, Lord Judd, responding to deputy Zwerver, noted: “What I actually said [in the report] was that some of the returned displaced people with whom I spoke said that they had felt pressured into returning and that the process of their return had been degrading. However, others-apparently honestly-said that they had returned of their own free will.” And he cautioned in conclusion: “We must not wait until January … We will take stock seriously in January, but I hope that by then we will have a convincing story to tell about progress towards [a] political solution…”
Following Judd’s comments, deputy Jakic of Slovenia, the chairperson of the PACE Political Affairs Council, remarked: “It is probably time to ask Lord Judd to present a new document with concrete proposals for future actions by our Assembly” (Watchdog.cz, September 24).
The September session of PACE also dealt with the thorny issue of the harsh threats being made by the Russian leadership against Georgia over the alleged presence of terrorists in the Pankisi Gorge region. The assembly passed a resolution that called on the Russian authorities “to refrain from any action or declarations, which might interfere in the internal affairs of Georgia or violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia…” (Watchdog.cz, 25 September) The resolution passed despite the fact that all eleven Russian deputies attending the session voted against it. In comments made to journalists, Peter Schieder, the speaker of PACE, underlined: “The Council of Europe will not permit a war between two states which are its members” (Gazeta.ru, September 26). The chair of Russia’s delegation, Dmitry Rogozin, for his part, assailed the PACE resolution as “pro-terrorist,” warning that “Georgia is a state which actively sponsors terrorism” (Lenta.ru, September 26).
To sum up, a showdown of sorts appears to be shaping up for the PACE plenary session which is to be held in January of 2003.