On January 14-17, two monitors of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Lord Frank Judd of Britain and Rudolf Bindig of Germany, visited the North Caucasus region and the Republic of Chechnya. They were in Chechnya proper from January 15-17. While in Chechnya, the two emissaries were accompanied by Vladimir Kalamanov, President Putin’s human rights representative in Chechnya, by Lieutenant General Ivan Babichev, the Russian military commandant of the republic, and by Leonid Slutsky, deputy chairman of the International Committee of the State Duma. (The two monitors are to present reports at the PACE winter session, scheduled to take place from January 22-26 in Strasbourg.)
Perhaps the central concern of the two monitors during the trip was to ascertain the status of the justice and court systems in Chechnya, especially as they relate to alleged criminal activities and human rights violations committed by the Russian military and police. On January 14, the monitors met with Vladimir Bukreev, first deputy chairman of the Military Court of the North Caucasus District, and Aleksandr Sukhorukov, chairman of the Garrison Military Court in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia (Strana.ru, January 14). During this meeting, Judd reportedly stated that “it is absolutely clear to him that there exists a rather large discrepancy between the number of appeals–for example made by the special representative of the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Kalamanov–and the number of instances according to which criminal cases are brought forward” (Nezavisimaya gazeta, January 16).
In a meeting with the Chechen head of administration, Akhmad Kadyrov, and the top Russian prosecutor of Chechnya, Vyacheslav Chernov, Judd questioned his interlocutors “about the alleged massacre of civilians in Alkhan-Yurt in December 1999 and in Grozny and Aldy during January and March [of 2000].” Judd observed, “We have a great deal of documents on mass killings for which there have been no prosecutions. But we have been told the military was not responsible.” Mufti Kadyrov “refuted” this statement by stressing “that the separatist rebels had also carried out brutal atrocities against Chechen civilians.” During a visit to a newly opened court in Znamenskoe, both monitors voiced concern “at the failure of military prosecutors to take up a single case involving the murder of Chechen civilians by Russian troops” (Agence France Presse, January 15). “We have undertaken titanic efforts,” Vladimir Kalamanov countered, “to restore the judicial system in Chechnya” (Strana.ru, January 15).
As was reported in the previous issue of this newsletter, the monitors also visited a Chechen refugee camp situated in the Nadterechnyi District of Chechnya. “It is very bad that people are required to live in the winter cold in tents,” Judd commented dryly, which drew a spirited retort from Putin’s human rights representative. In Kalamanov’s opinion, “many refugees who are living in tent camps could already have returned home to Grozny and other districts of the republics.” Kalamanov also attacked the authorities of the neighboring autonomous republic of Ingushetia, who “are dramatizing the situation with the Chechen refugees in order to attract more money from the federal budget into Ingushetia” (Kommersant daily, January 17).
A visit to the “scandalously famous isolation prison in the village of Chernokozovo” in northern Chechnya was another destination of the delegation. The Russian Minister of Justice, Yuri Chaika, specially flew down from Moscow to accompany the monitors on their visit to this prison. Unexpectedly, the delegation was met at the gates of the prison by a delegation of Chechen women who “maintained that Chechen men suspected of participating in armed opposition have been moved from Chernokozovo to other cities of Russia-Shakhty, Pyatigorsk and Stavropol–and that nothing is known about their fate.” An employee of the pro-Moscow administration of Naursky District, Said-Ali Akhmadov, admitted to the monitors that “only small-time crooks” were now being housed at Chernokozovo (Kommersant daily, January 17). When interviewed by the monitors, the inmates at Chernokozovo stated, predictably, that they had no complaints.
The delegates arrived in central Djohar on military helicopters “flying early in the morning, fast, low and at an angle” to elude any separatist attempts to bring them down (Financial Times, January 20). Flying into the city, Judd and Bindig “saw landscapes the like of which had not been seen in Europe since World War II–city center entirely razed by bombardments” (Agence France Presse, January 16).
In the center of the city, the monitors met with local representatives of the well-known human rights organization, Memorial: “Usman Asaev of the Memorial human rights group told delegation leader Frank Judd, within earshot of senior Russian officials, how Chechen civilians were in constant risk of being arrested or shot by Russian forces.” Judd observed that he found the testimony by Asaev and other witnesses “very disturbing.” Another Memorial representative, Aslambek Khasiev, informed Judd that there were still many separatist fighters present in the city. “The Russians control some points of the city during the day,” Khasiev said, “but at night it is completely under the control of the rebels.” Vladimir Kalamanov angrily dismissed these statements by Memorial representatives as “an unworthy spectacle.” Five Chechen women buttonholed General Babichev and asked him for news of family members “who had been missing for more than a year” (Agence France Presse, Strana.ru, January 16).
In their meeting with Chechnya’s pro-Moscow head of administration, Akhmad Kadyrov, the delegates heard him state that he intended to present his program for the future development of the republic to President Putin on January 17. Kadyrov strongly supported the idea of reducing the number of Russian troops in Chechnya. He bridled, on the other hand, at a suggestion that he might want to negotiate with President Maskhadov: “I have more than once proposed to him,” Kadyrov remarked, “that he apologize to his people for having betrayed them.” But, Kadyrov then proceeded to reveal, he has in fact been negotiating with unnamed Chechen field commanders (Strana.ru, January 15).
The meeting of the delegation with Lieutenant General Valery Baranov, commander of the Combined Group of Russian Forces in Chechnya, reportedly resulted in some heated exchanges. When Judd noted that he had repeatedly heard complaints from Chechen civilians concerning their “harsh treatment” by the military, Baranov shot back: “Present me with just one fact! If such a fact is presented, a criminal case will be initiated” (ORT, Novostei, January 17).
During their visits to Moscow and to the North Caucasus region, Judd and Bindig also met with General Anatoly Kvashnin, chief of staff of the Russian Armed Forces and with retired General Vladimir Kazantsev, President Putin’s chief representative to the Southern District, and they held a two-hour discussion with a group of Russian parliamentarians. In remarks broadcast over NTV on the eve of his departure from Moscow, Judd remarked that it would be wrong to suggest that all was well with Chechnya. He noted that his delegation had “heard much about disappearances and suffering of civilians, harassment, mistreatment and extortion” (Reuters, January 17).
During the time that the PACE delegation was in Russia, it was announced that the Russian parliamentary delegation to the January 22-26 meetings in Strasbourg would be cut in half. One presumed result of this change would be that former Russian human rights commissioner and Duma deputy Sergei Kovalev would not be permitted to attend the sessions. Leonid Slutsky, deputy chairman of the Duma’s international affairs committee, who accompanied the PACE monitors to Chechnya, stated unambiguously: “If one speaks of PACE, then the absence of Sergei Kovalev will have a certain positive significance” (Rosinformtsentr, January 18). In an interview with Russian state television, Dmitri Rogozin, chairman of that Duma’s international affairs committee, worried aloud over the fact that Latvia had assumed the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, but he expressed a hope that “our Latvian colleagues will have the wisdom, responsibility and the objectivity to report the truth concerning the real progress in the sphere of human rights which is taking place in Chechnya (RTR, January 18).
To sum up, while the visit of the PACE monitors to Chechnya contained elements of a Soviet-style “Potemkin Village,” it seems clear that Judd and Bindig did nonetheless manage to gain a fairly accurate view of what is happening in Chechnya. Both will be giving major reports this week at the PACE meetings in Strasbourg. On January 22, during its opening session, the PACE assembly reportedly “declined to confirm the powers of the Russian delegation.” A number of European delegates were said to be “insisting on a reexamination of the participation of the Russian delegation in the session in connection with the infringement of human rights in Chechnya.” A final decision on this issue is to be taken on January 25, following the discussion on the report concerning Chechnya prepared by Lord Judd (Lenta.ru, January 22).