The U.S. State Department’s latest annual report on human rights around the world, released on February 25 and available on the department’s website, www.state.gov, included tough criticisms of kidnappings in Chechnya. The report quoted the estimates of such respected, independent human rights monitors as Memorial and Human Rights Watch. It observed that “there were numerous investigations into kidnappings, but as of January, only one of the 1,178 criminal cases initiated in relation to kidnapping had resulted in the commencement of criminal proceedings against an employee of the state law enforcement agencies. In the view of many observers, Government forces were implicated in many of the kidnappings. This led Rudolf Bindig, the Council of Europe’s (COE) Rapporteur, to complain of a climate of impunity for state forces in Chechnya.”
The report acknowledged the shift from large scale “zachistki” security sweeps to smaller, “targeted” operations, but relayed continued reports of disappearances and other abuses in connection with the smaller operations as well.
The State Department noted “additional discoveries of mass graves and ‘dumping grounds’ for victims allegedly executed by government forces in Chechnya. There were no reports by year’s end that the Government intended to investigate earlier cases.” It also observed that “Representatives of international organizations and NGOs who visited Chechnya reported little evidence of federal assistance for rebuilding war-torn areas.” It found “widespread reports of the killing or abuse of captured fighters by federal troops, as well as by the Chechen fighters…a policy of ‘no surrender’ appeared to prevail in many units on both sides.”
The report summarized the October arrest of dissident attorney and former FSB official Mikhail Trepashkin (see Chechnya Weekly, January 7), noting that it “raised concerns about the undue influence of the FSB and arbitrary use of the judicial system.”
Especially noteworthy were the State Department’s comments on last year’s constitutional referendum and presidential election in Chechnya, repeatedly cited by the Kremlin as milestones in pacification. State wrote that “the authorities declared that the draft constitution, which called for the republic to be an ‘integral and inseparable’ part of Russia, had been approved by a wide margin. Some human rights observers were critical of the process, asserting that the serious security situation in Chechnya and the inability of supporters of Chechen independence to mount a campaign against the referendum deprived it of validity. The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) did not deploy a full-scale observer mission, rather it sent a small technical assessment team. According to team leader Hrair Balian, ‘the organization and conduct of the referendum were not without shortcomings.’ Following approval of the referendum, a presidential election took place in Chechnya on October 5. Although international monitoring was limited, the reports of local monitors and press reports suggested that it did not meet the standards for democratic elections. The main candidates had been the acting head of the Chechen administration, Akhmed Kadyrov, who was the candidate of the central authorities; Aslanbek Aslakhanov, who represented Chechnya in the Duma; and Malik Saidulaev. Before the elections, Aslakhanov dropped out to accept a position in the Kremlin, and Saidulaev was disqualified when the Chechen Supreme Court ruled that he had not been properly registered. The official Russian media coverage of the election campaign was strongly supportive of Kadyrov.”