Rights Activists Abandon Chechen Dialogue

A seven-month experiment in dialogue between human rights groups, the Russian army and civilian officials in Chechnya has ended in failure.

Rights Activists Abandon Chechen Dialogue

A seven-month experiment in dialogue between human rights groups, the Russian army and civilian officials in Chechnya has ended in failure.

An alliance of human rights groups working in Chechnya has pulled out of talks with the Russian military and local pro-Moscow authorities, complaining that there is no official interest in their concerns about torture and disappearances.

The nine organisations, which had held seven monthly meetings to discuss human rights abuses in the war-ravaged republic, declared that their dialogue had gone nowhere. The official partners have said that they want to continue the meetings.

"The experiment in creating an open 'Chechen discussion platform' has failed and that is the direct responsibility of the authorities, which was not ready to conduct an honest dialogue," said Alexander Cherkasov of the veteran human rights group Memorial, one of the members of the coalition.

On July 18, eight days after the NGOs pulled out of the scheme, Memorial's office in Grozny was raided by Russian soldiers. The group reported that federal soldiers broke down a locked door and were vandalising the reception area of its office, when staff returned and managed to force them to leave.

The dialogue scheme was created last November under the title "permanent working group on the problem of observing human rights in the Chechen Republic" by a collection of both Moscow-based and Chechen human rights groups.

Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky, who acts as official spokesman on Chechnya, and the then presidential human rights representative for the republic, Vladimir Kalamanov, gave their support to the project. (In a gesture of concern about continued human rights abuses in Chechnya, Kalamanov was replaced on July 12 by an ethnic Chechen, Abdul-Khakim Sultygov.)

The working group held seven meetings, five of them in Chechnya itself. However, the activists were so dissatisfied that they sent a letter to their "official partners" in June, containing concrete proposals to improve the human rights situation. "Only if these are carried out will these working meetings make any sense in the future," they said.

The letter raised the issue of the "mop-up" operations in Mesker-Yurt, Chechen-Aul and other villages, during which dozens of young Chechens were detained. Since then Memorial has published a list of 447 Chechens, who have been killed by federal forces in such actions or have simply disappeared.

However, no high-ranking senior officials attended the seventh and last meeting of the working group in Grozny, at which the NGOs had hoped to hear an official response to their letter.

"As soon as we arrived at the office of the special representative in Grozny, where the meeting was supposed to take place, we discovered that none of the official representatives had even been informed about it," said Minkail Ezhiev, of the Society of Russian-Chechen Friendship. "An hour and a half or two hours later one of the prosecutors and two police representatives turned up. Half an hour after that some representatives of the FSB and Akhmad Kadyrov's administration came."

As well as the "mop-ups", the NGOs are worried about the threat to force Chechen refugees to leave camps in Ingushetia, where they have been living since the beginning of the second Chechen war at the end of 1999.

On July 26, the first deputy head of the Federal Migration Service of the Russian interior ministry Igor Yunash said that all the tent camps in which Chechen refugees live in Ingushetia should be closed this year. Yunash said that no one would be forced to move back to Chechnya.

However, NGO activists say that the refugees are being put under strong pressure to move out. Baudi Dudayev, one prominent campaigner, said that the authorities used recent heavy rainfall as a pretext for getting rid of them. "Tents were flooded in Karabulak in the Bart camp, but the people living there were not given any help," Dudayev said. "Their tents were simply removed and the refugees had to leave."

The last remaining tent camps in northern Chechnya were reported to have been dismantled this week. The authorities said that all their former residents have been resettled.

The row over the camps in Ingushetia, combined with continued frustration about the "mop-ups," appears to have persuaded the NGOs to abandon the dialogue initiative. "It turns out that we had become a screen for the continuing abuses and violence," said Alexander Cherkasov of Memorial.

The official side expressed regret about the ending of the meetings. Speaking on the local radio station "Free Chechnya" the deputy special presidential representative Lyoma Khasuyev said the decision was "not serious" and "the authorities are ready for dialogue, as before".

Timur Aliev is a freelance journalist based in Nazran, Ingushetia.

Ingushetia, Chechnya
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