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Judd: Chechen Dialogue Must Go On

In his first interview since stepping down as Council of Europe rapporteur on Chechnya, Lord Judd tells IWPR the political dialogue sponsored by the body must continue.
By Thomas de Waal

Lord Judd, who resigned as special rapporteur to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on March 23, said he wants to see it sponsor a new broad political conference that would include Chechen rebel fighters.


The British peer formally proposed the idea before stepping down in protest at Moscow's refusal to postpone its constitutional referendum in Chechnya. It will be discussed at the council's parliamentary assembly session next week.


"The council should organise a seminar or a hearing which should involve the widest possible cross-section of people, including those Chechen fighters that are prepared to come, to discuss the political process and how it can be moved forward," Lord Judd said in an interview this week at the House of Lords in London.


He said the timing and location of the event should be flexible: it was more important that it was "broad-based" and included many different parties in the dispute.


Since the beginning of the second Chechen war in 1999, the Strasbourg-based Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has been the most active international body monitoring the conflict. Russia has been a member since 1996.


Lord Judd, a former Labour member of parliament and director of the charity Oxfam, took up the job of rapporteur in November 1999 and made frequent trips to Chechnya.


He drew criticism both from the Russians for his trenchant criticisms of their policies and from some human rights activists who said he was not paying enough attention to the human rights situation. Instead, he made political dialogue a priority. Two years ago, he tried to arrange talks in Strasbourg, involving representatives of Aslan Maskhadov's rebel government, which failed at the eleventh hour.


But his broad-church approach came under strain when Moscow decided to hold a constitutional referendum in Chechnya on March 23.


The new constitution, which declares the republic unequivocally to be part of the Russian Federation, has provoked controversy both in Chechnya itself and Moscow. No international body, including the Council of Europe, sent observers to monitor it.


This week the Russian authorities declared that of the 90 per cent of Chechnya's electorate that allegedly turned out for the vote, a massive 96 per cent had approved the new constitution.


President Vladimir Putin hailed the outcome and said the referendum had "resolved the last serious problem relating to Russia's territorial integrity". He promised to speed up reconstruction work in Chechnya.


However, few have accepted the validity of the vote, as opponents had called for a boycott and journalists reported low activity at polling stations. In one of many suspicious results, the traditional militant region of Vedeno, homeland to Chechen radical warrior Shamil Basayev, was said to have delivered an overwhelming "yes" vote for the new constitution.


After his last visit to Chechnya in January, Judd declared that it was premature to hold a referendum there without holding a proper debate about the political alternatives. He told the council's parliamentary assembly he would step down if the vote went ahead - a decision which took effect on March 23.


"The way in which the Russians went berserk when I announced that I was going to step down, I think completely proved to me that my decision was right," Judd told IWPR.


He says he is worried that Moscow will now use the adoption of the referendum as an excuse to reject other political initiatives.


"Of course it could make [the situation in Chechnya] more difficult because it will reinforce the Russian arrogance, plus the fact that they will say they've got the authority now, plus the fact that as this war goes on and the deals that are being done on the war - the tacit deals - carry on, they don't feel much international pressure."


The council's parliamentary assembly has yet to decide if it will appoint a new rapporteur to replace Lord Judd. But he said he was pleased that Chechnya was now on "the mainstream agenda" of three of the assembly's committees.


Rudolf Bindig, a German member, of the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee, infuriated the Russians early this month when he argued for an international tribunal to be set up to deal with war crimes committed in Chechnya.


Before the referendum, Peter Schieder, president of the parliamentary assembly, also wrote in the Moscow newspaper Izvestia that the human rights situation in Chechnya was "deplorable" and that "the Russian authorities must do much more than what they have been doing so far, and do it immediately, if they want the people of Chechnya to trust and participate in the political process the referendum is meant to launch".


Judd said that he believed the council - which is the oldest working pan-European institution - was keeping Chechnya on Europe's agenda. Of his proposed conference he said, "I think it is something the Council of Europe can do, just provide a framework to which more people can come than might to other occasions."


On the controversial point of inviting rebel fighters he argued, "Among those fighters there are different elements and there are those who are fighting for what you and I recognise as political objectives.


"There are others who are fighting for Jihad, for militant Islam and for nothing that you or I would recognise as a political objective. Don't strengthen their hands! The others have got to be won back into the political process."


Judd said that he will continue to engage with Chechnya but as an "ordinary member" of the parliamentary assembly. As well as being attacked for his stand in Moscow, he said he had got many messages of support from Russian colleagues.


Several times in the interview, the departing rapporteur repeated that he sincerely hoped Moscow's latest political strategy for Chechnya would work, but that everything he had seen in the republic convinced him it would not.


"God knows one what one wants is peace and some safety for the people of Chechnya. I just hope that I'm proved totally wrong and the Russians are right, that my doubts and cynicisms are totally unfounded - but I can't see I've reached that point."


Thomas de Waal is IWPR's Caucasus Editor


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