Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 8

On February 21, reported that the representatives of leading Russian human rights groups will boycott the human rights conference organized by the Chechen government that is scheduled to take place in Grozny on March 1. “We consider it impossible to participate in the work of the human rights conference in Grozny conducted by Ramzan Kadyrov,” read a statement released in Moscow that was signed by, among others, Lyudmila Alekseyeva, chairperson of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and Lev Ponomarev, leader of the For Human Rights movement. The signatories said they would not go to the Grozny conference because “both we and the international community know a great number of cases of gross violations of human rights by representatives of the current Chechen authorities.” The statement added: “Today the territory of the Chechen Republic continues to be a place of massive and gross violations of human rights, including extra-judicial killings, kidnappings and torture, corruption and extortion of humanitarian aid and compensation.” Kommersant, on February 21, quoted the statement’s signatories as calling the planned Grozny human rights conference “a cynical ploy, the goal of which is to use the well-deserved authority of many human rights activists, human rights movements and the human rights idea in Russia and the international arena, as a way to strengthen the legitimacy of the existing illegitimate regime in Chechnya.”

Lyudmila Alekseyeva told Interfax that she had received an invitation to participate in the Grozny conference but would not do so because she does not believe “that it is possible to talk to Ramzan Kadyrov about human rights.” She added: “I do not want to be shown with Kadyrov on television so that people think that human rights activists acknowledge him.” Lev Ponomarev said that he had not received an invitation to the Grozny conference, reported. “Personally, I did not get an invitation, but Alekseyeva got one, and we decided to make a general statement so that it was understood why the human rights activists do not want to go to Grozny, irrespective of whether they were invited or not,” he said.

Other human rights activists, however, were less categorical. Svetlana Gannushkina, chairperson of the “Grazhdanskoe sodeistvie” (Civil Assistance) Committee, said that she had received an invitation from the Chechen authorities but would not be able to attend the conference in Grozny because she will be in Prague to receive a human rights award. “There is now a critical political situation in the Chechen Republic because of the change in leadership, and I do not regard it as necessary to participate in such a conference,” quoted her as saying. “However, in reality, I consider cooperation with the authorities in the area of human rights on concrete issues to be absolutely necessary, including with Kadyrov. But now, I do not think that such a meeting will play the role that I think it ought to play.” Still, on February 21, Kommersant quoted Gannushkina as saying: “The conference will not resolve any real problems; it will work only for the personal PR of Ramzan Kadyrov. Had it been Alu Alkhanov’s idea, I would have gone.”

Aleksandr Brod, director of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, said he had not received an invitation to attend the Grozny conference, but that those human rights activists who had received invitations ought to attend. “One should not tie the situation only to one person, to approach it with only negative aims and paint everything in dark colors,” he said. “It is necessary to have a dialogue with all representatives of the powers-that-be.” Brod added that rights activists have had many problems with the Chechen authorities concerning kidnappings and the effectiveness of the fight against crime and corruption, but that it was necessary to talk to them about these issues. “If our organization had received an invitation to participate in the conference, we would have agreed and could speak to the Chechen authorities [directly].”

Meanwhile, Aslambek Aslakhanov, Putin’s adviser on the North Caucasus, said that the human rights activists’ criticism of Kadyrov was not constructive. “Kadyrov, more than anyone else, is interested in getting things in order in the sphere of protecting human rights and the fight against kidnapping. Judging by the demands that Kadyrov is placing on the Chechen law-enforcement system, he is genuinely engaged in putting things in order, and I want to wish him success in this.” Aslakhanov claimed that thanks to the efforts of the Chechen authorities, the number of kidnappings has dropped. “It is already not possible to say that any kind of mass kidnappings are continuing,” he said. “Sometimes such cases occur. And it is necessary to find…those involved in these crimes. In general, I suggest that a special unit be set up that will neutralize the people involved in kidnappings.”