15 July 2010, 16:00

Frank Judd: "Situation in Chechnya affects not only locals, but the global community as a whole"

Russian authorities have managed to isolate the Chechen Republic from western journalists and almost completely block the flow of independent information from the region. However, the commitment to act most cruelly and violently in Chechnya is in fact an evidence of Moscow's weakness; while the best way out is in improvement of social and economic life in Chechnya and launching the negotiation process. This was told in the interview to the "Caucasian Knot" by Lord Frank Judd, participant of the inter-party parliamentary group for defence of human rights of the British Parliament, former PACE's Rapporteur for Chechnya, who paid a visit to the republic as the head of the British parliamentary delegation on February 15-18, 2010.

Gregory Shvedov (G. Sh.): You prepared a wonderful report on the outcomes of your visit, containing a long list of recommendations. I'd be grateful to you if you could please comment some of them. For example, the first one, addressed to Russian and Chechen authorities: to ensure better transparency and accountability of placing federal funds in the Republic of Chechnya. What brought you to the idea of the need of better transparency and accountability?

Frank Judd (F. J.): I have no doubts that some money goes not to destination. Corruption exists at different levels, and something should be dome with it. We need to enforce better transparency and accountability both from those who allocate and from those who spend the funds.

G. Sh.: Another recommendation - number five - deals with the atmosphere of impunity that reigns in Chechnya and contains a subpoint of the need to provide protection to witnesses and members of their families.

F. J.: In the course of our February visit we faced the problem of pressure experienced by victims' families, relatives and friends; I mean intimidation. Justice is impossible in such conditions. Witnesses should be confident of their safety and that they can speak openly without risking to face terrible consequences. Arsons of the houses (of militants' relatives - note of the "Caucasian Knot" editor), etc.-- all that intimidating people.

G. Sh.: You have also drawn recommendations for the governments of Great Britain and EU member countries; one of them deals with the need to have a more complete coverage of the events underway in the region by independent mass media. Why European officials should care about their citizens' access to information from the faraway Caucasus?

F. J.: I think Russian authorities were quite efficient in isolating Chechnya. It's very hard for foreign journalists to get there, and the terms of their stay there are quite limited. As a result we have a deficit of information in Russia and, surely, among the world community on what happens in the Caucasus. What our help could be? Prior to offer help, we should know the picture, and only then offer. It's important. The worst thing is that the problem is not only in isolation, there are plenty of evidences that journalists, who know and cover the situation, are intimidated. To say nothing about Russian journalists: Anna Politkovskaya (assassinated on October 7, 2006) and Natalia Estemirova (kidnapped and assassinated on July 15, 2009) are brightest examples. It all gives rise to strained atmosphere, restricts the volume of information that reaches the broad public, while the data from there should arrive in full measure. It does not reduce the responsibility of the external world, which should permanently strive for truthful information about what happens in Chechnya. Too often I hear voices that journalists are too hard to get to Chechnya; therefore, they don't want to cover the situation there. I find it unacceptable. The situation in Chechnya is surely complicated; however, what happens there affects not only local residents but the world community as a whole. And media are just obliged to cover the events there.

While covering a certain event, one should not forget the context. The way journalists write their materials lacks out and away any context of the incessant confrontation and incessant, let me word it like that, warfare. Not a word about it: the event is covered without context, and readers can't understand the situation.

I am sure that the authoritarian system as such is giving rise to inflow of recruits to the army of world extremism, as people, mainly youngsters, lose hope and despair. But we see violence not only in Chechnya: it is already outside it, not only in Ingushetia and not only in Northern Caucasus. Isn't it obvious that recruits from Chechnya are already taking part in global extremist operations? From this viewpoint, the whole world in interested in solving the Chechen problem. We should address it in the interests of our own safety, since if we close our eyes on that, we'll train the army to be a threat to our society.

G. Sh.: Is the conflict in Northern Ireland able to help to understand how the cruelty of the army and police had mobilized people to protest? Through their violence, British special services had achieved the results similar to Caucasian ones. Can we borrow any lessons from their mistakes, analyze the actions of the British government and consequences of them, in order to offer measures to be taken for solving conflicts in Northern Caucasus, prevent further confrontation in the society and rough human rights violations?

F. J.: I have no doubts that the years of suppression and injustice had strengthened extremism in Northern Ireland. From the inception of the conflict the measures to settle it only aggravated the situation. Extremists are especially efficient in the atmosphere of estrangement and ambiguous attitude to them by broad population. People don't wake up in the morning thinking, "I'd report to the police about it." That is why it's so important to overcome this ambiguous attitude. People should understand that criminal actions are inadmissible. However, it's possible only where justice gains force and acquires new quality and when people obtain new economic opportunities and trust in social justice. Extremists feel much harder to act in such conditions. Since we started seeking chances for peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland, the count of diffident persons went down; there are almost no people sympathetic to violent methods, since everybody saw particular achievements. To gain success, we had to come to terms with the need to start dialogue with the political wing of the IRA (Irish Republican Army). Once you start a dialogue aiming to launch peaceful settlement, you can't move preconditions, since all the terms should be the point of negotiations. The step-by-step process resulted -in positive changes only recently -as a result of such process - we've achieved final settlement. But it's only possible when both parties take mutual obligations. It's a hard way; it demands intellectual, emotional and psychological efforts. The path of least resistance is much easier. I find the decision in favour of rough force an evidence of weakness and defeatist moods. My thoughts might be not always correctly understood, but I can't abide stupidity. And the policy resulting in growth of extremists I find to be a manifestation of stupidity. We need to be wiser.

G. Sh.: You recommend that Great Britain and EU members revise the request of the Chechen administration to open its representative offices in Europe…

F. J.: I believe we should be especially careful in this issue. The present Chechen authoritarian regime tries to open its representative offices. What sort of offices will they be? Will they promote (or help to conduct, -note of the "Caucasian Knot" editor) operations of shadowing or extradition to homeland? There're all sorts of threats...

G. Sh.: That is, you believe that the decision on possible opening of representative offices of the Chechen Republic in Europe needs special consideration?

F. J.: If Chechnya is a part of Russia, it should present its interests through Russia's federal structures. If Chechnya strives for certain autonomy, then, we can talk about cooperation, but only with the honestly elected representative authority. Are the incumbent government and Chechen parliament honestly elected, free and democratic assemblies? Therefore who, devil take it, will these Chechen offices represent?

G. Sh.: You also recommend reviewing the asylum-granting and refugee-return policies with the aim to ensure protection of endangered Chechens. Your report is on Chechnya, but you also talk about the situation in Northern Caucasus as a whole. Do you think that in future these policies should be revised in relation to the whole region?

F. J.: Of course. I find return of refugees absolutely unreasonable until there's no complete confidence that once at home they'd escape any inadmissible treatment. Until there's a slightest risk of oppressions, physical violence or - moreover - a murder, any repatriation, in my opinion, is absolutely inadmissible.

G. Sh.: The front page of your report bears a photo of Natasha Estemirova, and in the foreword you mention missing persons…

F. J.: I've already mentioned intimidation and oppression of witnesses - it's all terrible. But human disappearances are still more terrible. When you don't know where you relatives are and what happened with them - it's a tragedy.

G. Sh.: Soon we'll mark one year after the murder of Natasha Estemirova, but the inquiry has failed to present any persuading results. What do you think, is there any sense to remind about importance of this inquiry? What was the atmosphere you saw around the "Memorial" in the course of your visit?

F. J.: I greatly grieve of the fact that there's no progress in the situation. When the inquiry into this crime just started, we heard statements of the sort: "It's all OK, the inquiry is underway." I'm indignant: anyone can launch an inquiry; but was at least one of them finished satisfactorily? A grave crime was committed... - no results. Naturally, the cases of well-know rights defenders have special value, but crimes against ordinary people are also greatly disturbing.

We wanted to discuss the situation and our criticism directly with President Kadyrov, and we were highly disappointed when he found no time to meet us (the meeting with Ramzan Kadyrov was on the agenda of the first day of the visit, but then was cancelled, - note of the "Caucasian Knot" editor).

We (the authors of the report - Lord Frank Judd and Jo Swinson) are highly worried with incessant attempts (of the authorities, - note of the "Caucasian Knot" editor) to endanger the critically disposed organizations, such as the "Memorial". In the course of our meetings we heard no criticism of "Memorial" from local NGOs, on the contrary, many expressed their respect for it. The persistent intention to separate the "Memorial" from local human rights organizations looks still more disgusting. Initially, the Chechen authorities expressed hope for closer cooperation, but then they condemned the work of the "Memorial" (note of the "Caucasian Knot" editor: On September 23, 2009, Ramzan Kadyrov said in his interview to the newspaper "Zavtra" (Tomorrow): "The 'Memorial' is an organization invented to undermine Russia. The people who gathered there are not Russia's patriots. A man was born in Russia, lives in Russia - how can he speak so badly about his Homeland? I feel nasty to talk to such persons"). And when we met the employees of the office of the Chechen Ombudsman, many things pronounced by Nukhazhiev made a very unpleasant impression on us. The people who are doomed to stand for truth should not make this sort of very detrimental remarks.

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