The following article was written by Martin Kaul, Memorial's intern in 2005.
Memorial's point of view does not always coincide with that of Mr. Kaul,
especially it does not coincide in the aspect of the number of civilians
and soldiers killed during first and second Chechen wars.
From Chechenization to Palestinization -
The Human Rights Situation in Chechnya and North Caucasus in 2004
1. The political development
More than two years ago President Putin declared the military phase of the Chechnya conflict to be over. Since then he has tried to stabilize Chechnya through the process of a political "normalization" and the strengthening of local administrative institutions, the so called "Chechenization".
Not only the assassination of the pro-Moscow Chechen president Ahmad Kadyrov in May 2004 showed how unsuccessful this policy is.
In 2004 Russia got struck by the worst terrorist attack in its modern history. Russia's second armed conflict in Chechnya has entered its fifth year. The Republic of Chechnya continues to be the site of the most serious human rights crisis in today's Europe with bloodshed and numerous unpunished human rights abuses - not only on the side of the Russian armed forces.
As an overall development one can see that the conflict zone of Chechnya continues to spread over its borders to the neighbouring republics of Ingushetia, Northern Ossetia and also Dagestan, destabilizing the whole region. Moreover, also in the last year terrorists from North Caucasus took their conflict repeatedly to Russian cities far away from the actual conflict zone. Therefore, the process of "Chechenization" seems to be accompanied by the development of a "Palestinization"; the widening of the armed conflict out of Chechnya.
Moreover, the ongoing crisis in the Northern Caucasus is deeply affecting the Russian society as a whole. It is one thing what the Russian army in its current state is doing to the Chechen people, but the other side of the story is what Russia is doing to itself: The "Chechen syndrome" among security forces returning from their service in Chechnya spreads an atmosphere of disregarding human rights to other parts of Russia. Also such legal cases, as the recent one of the Chechen young woman Zara Murtuzaliyeva1, must be seen as strongly affected by growing nationalism and racism in Russia, the tendency in Russian society to demonize Chechens as a group.
Many of today's disturbing trends in Russia in terms of the erosion of civil liberties, the suppression of the free press etc. cannot be put at the feet of the war in Chechnya, but the alarming signs of it certainly began with the second war in 1999.
What we are witnessing today in Russia is a retrogressive process in which Russia is being transformed into an autocracy with a decaying social structure. It is, in terms of crime statistics, now one of the most violent countries in the world. It is a country locked into a territorial myth which is based on the notion that if you control a lot of territory, you're a great country.
As some scholars put it, the Chechen issue is not only delaying the post-imperial transformation of Russia, it is helping to reverse it.
2. The Human Rights situation
While the large-scale military fighting in Chechnya is over, human rights abuses still continue in the conflict, committed by both sides. Killing, Disappearances, torture, terrorist bombings, summary executions, rapes etc. are frequent occurrences.2
Until this time HRC "Memorial" possesses information on 293 persons killed in the year 2004 in Chechnya. They became victims of armed raids, the so-called zachistkas (sweep operations), bombs, mines, executions etc.
Many of the operations carried out to kill Chechens are more and more not conducted by the federal forces, but by members of the heavily-armed and well-trained presidential security service, the so-called Kadyrovtsy; a 5.000-men private army which includes a number of former separatist fighters.
The victims of 2004 add up to the total estimates indicating that during the first and second war in Chechnya, probably more than 200.000 civilians died, which amounts to 20% of the entire Chechen population. 20.000 - 40.000 Russian soldiers lost their lives during the same time and the casualties among the Chechen forces might be comparable. Seeing this kind of death toll, it is no wonder that for instance the "Committee on Conscience" of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. has put Chechnya on its genocide watch list.
For detailed information see our monthly bulletins from the conflict zone.3
For the year 2004 HRC "Memorial" has registered 411 abductions on the territory of the Chechen Republic. Of these cases, 189 people were freed or ransomed (in some cases after having been tortured), 24 were found dead (in some cases with signs of torture), and 173 are still missing.
In 10 cases we established that after a while (between 10 days and several weeks) the abducted persons were "legalized" as supposedly legally arrested and serving their sentences.
Among the kidnapped persons are many usual Chechens, but also kidnapping is used by both sides as an instrument to influence the political development, as the recent abductions of relatives of the Chechen president Maskhadov showed.4
Chechnya is a modern catastrophe in many respects, one of them being the situation of refugees:
During the time of the second Russian war in Chechnya, Ingushetia's population almost doubled with the arrival of Chechen refugees. Closing the tent camps, the last one got closed in June 2004, and pressuring people to return to Chechnya can be seen as a part of a larger government strategy to put the Chechnya "problem" back into Chechnya to claim the situation as "normalizing".
In 2004 the about 30.000 remaining Chechen refugees were forced to move to one of the many spontaneous settlements, to seek shelter in the private sector or to return to Chechnya, to their mostly ruined homes.
A detailed report on the situation of the Chechen refugees on the territory of the Russian Federation can be found on our website.5
The city of Beslan stands as a symbol for the most terrible terrorist attack on the soil of the Russian Federation. Terrorists took 1.150 children, parents and teachers as hostages, 365 people had to die during those 3 days in the beginning of September 2004.
President Vladimir Putin saw this tragedy as an attack on Russia, which emanated from outside Russia as a part of the wider front of international terrorism. While almost all terrorists came from the North Caucasus and the Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev later claimed to have planned the raid the Russian president did not even mention the word "Chechnya" a single time in his address to the nation shortly after the catastrophe.6
Sadly, this event was not isolated. In 2004 Russia has suffered several terrorist attacks with connections to Chechen terrorists, killing many dozens of innocent people and with targets ranging from the Moscow metro and domestic passenger flights to a terrorist raid on a building belonging to the Ministry of Interior in the neighbouring Russian Republic of Ingushetia in June 2004.
These terrorist acts must be condemned and cannot be excused by anything. But at the same time the denying of any possible link between these incidents and Russia's policy in the North Caucasus cannot be seen as very honest and is a dangerous policy followed by the Russian administration.
3. The position of HRC "Memorial" or Is there a way out?
As a Russian NGO, HRC "Memorial" will not take any position or even side on a political issue as the status of Chechnya.
Nevertheless, we are particularly disturbed by the lawless actions of those who act on behalf of the state, i.e. staff-members of federal and local enforcement agencies. The state never has the right to use illegal methods, even while fighting rebels or terrorists.
Stopping the human rights abuses has to be a first step to peace and a political solution of the conflict. Here the Russian government has to take the first actions.
The Russian leadership declines to hold talks with moderate Chechen separatists (in earlier days even Putin made the difference between terrorist and separatists). Instead, Russia seeks to kill them, to capture them or to extradite them from abroad.
The Russian leadership should know though, that it is highly difficult to end a war when you refuse to negotiate with the enemy, meaning that you're aiming for the enemy's unconditional surrender.
In a guerrilla war, as in Chechnya, such a stance is quite unrealistic.
Moreover, abolishing human rights abuses and starting to communicate with the Chechens has to be commenced quickly, because Russia may be running out of time: While polling data shows that most Chechens are quite moderate in their views and still willing to reach some kind of settlement with Russia, there is accumulating evidence that the younger Chechen fighters are being radicalized and are turning to a variant of militant Islam. The older fighters still have memories of a shared existence with Russia and Russians - the younger fighters have no such memories. The longer the conflict lasts, the more likely the dynamics of the conflict will push in the direction of the extremists.
From the Chechen perspective, the first war in Chechnya (1994-1996) was about sovereignty, freedom and national recognition. Today, in addition the aspect of revenge might be even more important to many Chechens. The traditional Caucasian principle "blood for blood" is leading only to the aggravation of the situation, especially in connection with the process of "Chechenization", since this tradition above all plays an enormous role among the people of the Caucasus. Without a political solution the bloodshed might go on for years or even decades to come. For neither Russians nor Chechens is a military or political victory remotely in sight.
The international community has a moral and political obligation to protect the fundamental rights of the people in Chechnya and the surrounding parts of Russia. Chechnya has to be kept on the international agenda; it is certainly not an issue to be swept under the rug. More than that governments, IOs and NGOs should put much more pressure on the Russian government and, most important, be much more honest with Russia: This is in the interest of the international community, which is in need of a well developing Russia as a partner and also it is in Russia's interest, aiming to become a full member of the international community.
The HRC "Memorial" will continue its work on Chechnya and the North Caucasus, support the people in the region in their fight for their rights and supply the Russian state actors and the international community with information from the ground - in 2005 and as long as necessary.
The war in Chechnya will not see any winners.
It is our hope that all involved actors, including the international community, will understand that and look intensely for a political way to solve the conflict.
The Chechen people are waiting for a peaceful life 10 years already and the clock keeps ticking...
2 Concerning the following data one has to take into account that HRC "Memorial" is an NGO with limited resources and therefore not able to carry out monitoring on the whole territory of Chechnya. HRC "Memorial carries out monitoring in 5 out of the 17 regions of the Chechen Republic and our statistics include only the cases documented by monitors of "Memorial" New information on crimes in 2004 is expected throughout the first months of this year, so that these number will regrettably surely increase. Also the real numbers of abductions and especially raping might be much higher, since many relatives do not report such incidents.
6 see the presidential speech under http://president.kremlin.ru/eng/speeches/2004/09/04/1958_76332.shtml