Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 4

In the run-up to the January 23 session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe devoted to the Chechen conflict, three PACE committees submitted written reports concerning their findings. The full texts of these reports are available in English on the website of the Prague Watchdog:

In his report, which was submitted on January 16, the chair of the PACE Political Affairs Committee, Lord Judd of the United Kingdom (Socialist Group of deputies), concluded that “the general situation in the Chechen Republic has not improved enough to ensure the full enjoyment of human rights and rule of law by the population as a whole.” Judd added, however, that “positive changes of attitude are now identifiable in the Russian Federation concerning the way to deal with the conflict.”

The Judd committee reaffirmed its members’ conviction that “peace in the Chechen Republic can only be achieved through negotiations in which the widest possible representatives of political and official elements in Chechen society must participate.” It was deemed necessary, further, “to intensify humanitarian assistance to those persons affected by the conflict as well as to promote the social and economic reconstruction of the Republic of Chechnya through more efficient and better financial measures.”

The Judd committee recommended, in addition, that the PACE Council of Ministers “ensure a long-term Council of Europe presence, in the form of an office” in the North Caucasus region and also urged the ministers “to assist the [Russian]authorities to establish a Council for the Protection of Human Rights in the Chechen Republic.”

On the subject of the war against terrorism, the Judd committee, in a draft resolution submitted to the assembly, affirmed: “The Assembly reiterates that the legitimacy of military action against terrorists cannot be used by any state, including the Russian Federation, as a justification for disrespect for human rights and rule of law or refusal to seek a political solution.”

On a personal note, Lord Judd added: “I am convinced that peace in the Chechen Republic can only be achieved through negotiations in which the broadest possible cross-section of political and official elements in Chechen society participate… The participation of Mr. Maskhadov, last elected President of Chechnya, in the process would enhance the chance of success.”

In its report, which was submitted to the assembly on January 21, the PACE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, chaired by Rudolf Bindig of Germany (Socialist Group of deputies), concluded bluntly: “No tangible improvement of the human rights situation in the Chechen Republic could be observed during the past year. In the view of the ongoing human rights violations in the Republic, many of them perpetrated by members of the Russian federal forces during ‘mop-up operations,’ and the clear lack of progress in investigating past and present crimes, and prosecuting and punishing the perpetrators, [thereby] creating a climate of impunity, the Committee finds that peace, the rule of law, and respect for human rights in the Chechen Republic were not restored last year.”

According to information gathered during the Joint Duma-PACE Working Group’s visit to Chechnya in December 2001, Bindig related, “only 102 cases were opened [against Russian military and police personnel in the republic] by the Prosecutor’s Office between May and December 2001; of them, the majority were dismissed or transferred. Only seventeen of the cases led to court proceedings, of which a single one ended in a conviction. Military courts had convicted eighteen servicemen in all for crimes against civilians….” This information prompted Bindig to observe: “The figures provided by the Russian authorities on the investigation and prosecution of crimes committed by federal servicemen against civilians pales in comparison to the hundreds of complaints of serious human rights violations which NGOs such as Memorial receive after each and every mop-up operation, regardless of which federal forces carried them out (army, militia or FSB).”

“I believe,” Bindig concluded rather gloomily, “that any peace process is doomed to failure if the human rights situation is not radically improved without further delay.”

On January 22, the PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography, submitted its report, authored by Tadeusz Iwinski of Poland (Socialist Group of deputies), to the assembly. Iwinski’s report, which focused narrowly on the refugee problem, was in some respects more upbeat than were those of his two colleagues. “The Rapporteur,” Iwinski wrote, “believes that the [refugee] situation in Ingushetia, however difficult, remains under control and has even improved since his last visit in November 2000.” Concerning the refugee camps within Chechnya itself, Iwinski observed: “The Rapporteur visited two camps in Znamenskoe, and he noted tangible improvements since his last visit in March 2000. He also visited a newly refurbished accommodation for returnees in Grozny.”

However, Iwinski too noticed the persistence of certain major problems, especially in the capital city, warning that “the conditions of living for the residents of Grozny remain particularly difficult.” “Less than 50 percent of Grozny’s children,” he noted, “presently attend school. This finding calls for the urgent attention of humanitarian agencies providing assistance in the sector of education.”

In a section which included recommendations, the Iwinski committee report urged the Russian and pro-Moscow Chechen authorities not to engage in “forced returns” of refugees to Chechnya and counseled that they “maintain the possibility of staying in the camps and benefiting from relief aid for all those who do not wish to return.”

To sum up, the overall impression one gains from a reading of the three PACE committee reports is a rather bleak one. Even the Iwinski report notes that the reason that people are not starving in the Chechen capital is essentially due to food relief being provided by two foreign NGOs: the Czech People in Need Foundation and the Danish Refugee Council. Food and other key assistance are also said to be provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the American International Rescue Committee, while the NGO Medicins du Monde are said to be delivering vital medical assistance to the Chechen capital. The Russian government itself is apparently doing very little in this regard.