24 December 2003, 12:28

Government and society: everyone for himself?

Don Reba already regained his senses. He used a handkerchief and smiled pleasantly.

"I value your persistence," he said. "After all, you too aspire to some ideals. And I respect these ideals, although I don't understand them. I am very glad we've had a talk. Perhaps, one day you will relate your opinions to me and it is absolutely not ruled out you will make me revise mine. People are given to making errors. Maybe, I am mistaken and the goal I aspire to is not worth working as industriously and unselfishly as I do. I am a broad-minded man; I can quite picture that one day I will start working side by side with you..."

"We'll see," Rumata said, and went to the door.

Arkadi and Boris Strugatsky, It's Hard to be God


[But you must not yourself distinguish
Between a triumph and defeat]

Boris Pasternak

On December 27, 2002, Liudmila Alekseyeva and Svetlana Gannushkina, Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG) and Memorial representatives at the presidential commission for human rights, went out of the House of Government in Grozny, Chechnya, Russia. They went to examine points for temporary accommodation in which authorities were going to settle forced migrants from Ingushetia: the issue of their forcible return had been raised by the human rights advocates at the commission's first meeting with the president. Gannushkina and Alekseyeva went to work, in spite of insistent invitations to stay and have dinner. Half an hour later, Chechen separatists exploded the House of Government; dozens of people were killed. The dining room was destroyed totally. This case provides a vivid example of how difficult it is for human rights advocates to take up the right position with respect to the power, especially in conditions of an armed conflict.

* * *
Memorial's key tasks in the armed conflict area include collecting, systemizing and disseminating information about the situation with human rights and providing legal assistance to victims. A detailed account of Memorial's operation in Chechnya - its methods and results - is not only uninteresting to the reader, but also hardly pertinent. Indeed, if people know about us, why say it once again? And if they don't, so our operation is poor and therefore all the more uninteresting (1)... We will try to deal with this subject only as long as is necessary to relate other two aspects of the problem which the reader is not so conscious about and which can be interesting at least because of that: the interrelation between public organizations and between them and the power in the context of Chechen war.

* * *
Memorial, practically the first (2) and no doubt, the most numerous NGO in the post-perestroika USSR, saw its purpose in the commemoration of political repression victims in the USSR, as well as the study and publication of crimes of the past. However, history and modernity are always tightly interlaced. The human rights advocacy line in Memorial's activity took shape as soon as in 1989: it was impossible to talk about the past and keep silent about the present.

For the human rights movement in the former Soviet republics and post-Soviet Russia, the topic of hotspots from the very beginning became especially significant. It turned out the USSR integrity had rested on repressions alone; when they were over, ethnic tension rose and multiple bloody ethno-social conflicts burst out. Trying to prevent disintegration, the Union's center used force - and again, blood was shed. A refugee exodus started.

It is these lines - hotspots, refugees and discrimination - that became the priorities in the operation of the Human Rights Center Memorial.

* * *
The human rights movement's position was that time fundamentally different from what it is now. Crisis of identity in the Soviet society predetermined the ruin of the Soviet Union: the people simply ceased to understand the power, and the power collapsed. Those events can be interpreted as change in identity, in fact change of language. "Imperial Latin" was replaced by liberal Hellenic, a thesaurus of personal freedom and human rights. But that language was not native to those who came to power in Russia - more likely, they were "democrats" by the title. Nevertheless, the Russian power under Yeltsin - all that queer "Noah's Ark" - had to speak that language, without understanding, knowing or feeling it.

The situation for civil society was paradoxical in the early 1990s: it appeared that those in power were not "alien," but the conversation was strained. Indeed, it was difficult for the power to talk without knowing the meaning of words. On the other hand, fighting civil society and persecuting human rights advocates somehow seemed indecent that time. As a result, the power preferred to pretend not to see NGOs.

The latter, in turn, lived without "casting shadow." For several years, human rights advocates became invisible - Yeltsin's government did not see them.

* * *
As for human rights advocates, one would think there was no longer need for their services after August 1991.

Previously, heading for hotspots they just seemed to substitute for journalists in conditions of no freedom of speech. The free press emerged, and human rights advocates let journalists have their legitimate place, thus changing their own "ecological niche," switching to genres such as report and analysis and increasing their expert resources. At the same time, specific legal aid networks were established and developed in the 1990s - thus, Memorial's Migration and Law network numbers more than 50 free legal advice offices for migrants throughout Russia.

Besides, in the early 1990s it appeared Russia had not only gained democracy, but also got rid of wars - they were blazing beyond its borders. But all of a sudden - war, blood, troops, an ethnic purge: in the autumn of 1992, hundreds of people were killed in North Ossetia's Prigorodny district, and tens of thousands became refugees. A year later, in the autumn of 1993, shooting reached the center of Moscow - the president's victory in the conflict with the parliament claimed the lives of 150 people. In the autumn of 1994, the Chechen war began - then it was not yet called "first."

* * *
The "first Chechen war" began the same way as the second - with a lot of blood and a lot of lies.

On December 15, 1994, the "Sergey Kovalev Group" went into operation in the armed conflict area in Chechnya. Kovalev, Memorial's chairman and a Duma member, then also held the post of Commissioner for Human Rights of the Russian Federation; he had no actual rights and authority though, for lack of a law on commissioners. The Kovalev Group's operation was ensured by a number of Russian NGOs for human rights, primarily Memorial. In March 1995, when the Russian Duma dismissed Kovalev as Commissioner, the Group was titled Supervisory Mission of public human rights organizations in the armed conflict area in Chechnya. The Mission's delegations to Chechnya included various NGO representatives, Duma members and journalists; Memorial coordinated their operation.

Then, as it seems presently, the Group managed to achieve some noticeable results.

Kovalev's statements and information collected by the Mission was actively used by the media and caused some resonance in the public.

After half a year of unsuccessful attempts to organize peace talks in Budennovsk they managed to save thousands of people and stop the war for half a year.

The search for information about missing and forcibly detained people led to establishing trust with both warring sides and allowed saving quite a few human lives.

There is little merit in attributing other people's achievements to oneself, though. The media then also fulfilled their "human rights advocacy" function. Chechnya is small, a little larger than 100x150 kilometers, so the fact that it drew the attention of journalists all over Russia, with no ideological blinders on their eyes, in itself meant quite thick "civil oversight."

On the other hand, there was something even in the end of the first war that seemed to be someone else's hand intercepting our banner...

And then we all lost peace. In the stagnant second half of the 1990s, civil society in Russia and Chechnya proved unable to resist the party of war.

Going into the second Chechen war in Russia did not only coincide with change of the power, but it also became one of its key mechanisms, the main element of the election campaign.

* * *
In August 1999, federal forces' actions received prevalent support in Russia.

Firstly, this was explicable. The public would like to have at least minimum positive feelings about the power and army, but somehow, there were no reasons for that in the late 1990s, when suddenly an occasion came in handy. An obvious crime - the invasion of Dagestan by Basaev's and Khattab's units - finally met with a rebuff. The Russian authorities stopped turning a blind eye on crisis in Chechnya and the adjacent areas. The Russian army finally played the role of liberator.

Secondly, this was fair, basically. In that situation, the state did not just have the right, but was obliged to use armed forces to protect its citizens. Meanwhile, the military, for the first time after World War II, felt defenders of the people, so they behaved correctly in respect of them (3).

Finally, there is another important circumstance - the military's unusual openness in the course of action in Dagestan.

All this taken together led most Russian media outlets, the majority of voters and practically the entire Russian political establishment to support the federal forces' actions in first weeks of the "second Chechen war."

The military hysteria left no room for doubt, overwhelming the Russian information community after the explosions of apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk, which the authorities blamed on Chechens. Meanwhile, this version has not received sufficient confirmation up to now, as well as the parallel version that Russian special services had organized the explosions. So today we can only say, "There is no knowing of who did it; it is only known who used it," - war in Chechnya became the main instrument in pro-Putin forces' campaign at the parliamentary election in December 1999.

The public was not allowed, though, to find out if the federal forces' "positive image" was preserved after they were moved to Chechnya: an information blockade was imposed on the armed conflict area, which was much more stringent and effective than during the "first Chechen war."

All this made substantially more difficult both human rights advocates' operation in the armed conflict area in Chechnya and attempts to use its results to influence the situation. Meanwhile, there was a lot of job and interference was necessary.

* * *
Official propaganda maintained a "counter-terrorist operation" was underway. This, by definition, means the highest selectivity of actions, first of all targeted at saving civilians and only after that at destroying or capturing the "terrorists." In reality, the military action appeared to be taking place in a desert; nothing was done to preserve civilians' lives. On December 25, 1999, General Vladimir Shamanov's telephone message to the police authorities in the neighboring regions prohibited Chechnya's residents from going beyond its administrative borders. Everyone obeyed that order, save for Ingush President Ruslan Aushev - over 300,000 forced migrants arrived to Ingushetia.

Official Russian propaganda maintained "precision strikes" were dealt on the "terrorists," while massive and nonselective bombardments and firings were taking thousands of lives in Chechnya: a total of 6,500 to 10,500 were killed in the first nine months of the "second Chechen war," according to Human Rights Watch.

The best-known "precision strike" - the shelling on October 21, 1999, of the center of Grozny using missiles with cluster combat elements equipped with pellet bombs when more than 100 people were killed - was discussed in a live broadcast of the Vox Populi television program. General Shamanov then actually named the one to be held accountable, saying that "the superior chief's means was used," while the "superior chief" was General Victor Kazantsev.

On October 23, refugees' departure was stopped - the border was blocked by troops from Shamanov's group - and dozens of people were killed in a bombing on October 29 of a refugee column on the Rostov-Baku route near Shaami-Yurt, Chechnya. After several days, however, the military unblocked the border.

On December 6, when Grozny had already been surrounded by the federal forces, the command produced an ultimatum to the residents demanding that they leave the city; otherwise they would be considered gangsters and terrorists, and destroyed. However, the carpet bombing of Grozny with vacuum bombs, the destruction of the city with its residents did not happen.

On January 11, 2000, General Kazantsev again announced blocking administrative borders for male population. "Only children under the age of 10, men over 65, and women will be viewed as refugees" - but it did not either go as far as fulfilling this order.

These episodes are quoted here because every time journalists and human rights advocates made them public, which made the government to give up their plans. This was possible, although television channels practically in all their reports followed the official line. Information received even from the few independent Russian and foreign journalists in the conflict area (Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky should be mentioned in the first place) all the same allowed reconstituting developments.

This was possible, although not as clear and detailed as in the "first Chechen war": as I say, censorship and self-censorship was already telling on the Russian media. Yet all the same, as the federal forces were establishing their control in Chechnya, new war crimes became known: mass killings in Alkhan-Yurt in December 1999, in Grozny's Staropromyslovsky district in January 2000, and in Novye Aldy in February of the same year.

* * *
However, there was no response to all that in Russia. The situation in political quarters changed drastically: while one could talk about a "party of peace" in 1994-96, only individual politicians could now afford "opinions of their own." Considering changes in the public opinion, this was not favorable for parties, and it did not yield electoral benefits. Thus, one of the two "democratic" electoral blocs, the Union of Right Forces, supported the war and overcame the 5% barrier at the Duma election in December 1999. The other party, Yabloko, was the only one to come out with a distinct antiwar position - and it lost votes.

Human rights advocates, having lost support in the political sector, were on the brink of becoming marginalized (4).

The condition of journalists in the armed conflict area grew worse in the winter of 2000.

In January, Andrei Babitsky was detained by federal special services; after complicated combinations (5) he appeared in court, received a suspended sentence and had to leave Russia. This was a signal to all journalists trying to work independently in the armed conflict area.

In February, the German TV reporter Hefling, who received from the Russian stringer Oleg Blotsky a video recording of a burial place taken in Chechnya and produced it as his own, was accused of falsification (6). This deterred Western journalists for long from using someone else's materials.

Thus, the information blockade on the armed conflict area became practically absolute.

* * *
These circumstanced demanded that human rights advocates build their operation in a way different from what was in the "first Chechen war"; a brief and knowingly incomplete review of their activities follows.

In the last few months before the war, Memorial's expeditions (7) operated in the North Caucasus, including in some areas adjacent to Chechnya: Ingushetia, the Stavropol territory, North Ossetia and the Karachay-Cherkess Republic.

Operation in the conflict area began in the conflict's first weeks (8). In September 1999, Memorial's officers were in the Novolaksky district, Dagestan, which Basaev's and Khattab's units invaded from Chechnya; and in the combat area in Karamakhi, Dagestan. Replacing each other, groups then operated in Ingushetia and Chechnya producing their prepared files at press conferences in Moscow.

At the start of the "second Chechen war," in the autumn of 1999 to the spring of 2000, continuous monitoring of the situation in the region was conducted by Human Rights Watch, an international NGO (apparently, it should be considered the leading human rights organization in the Chechnya issue in that period) (9).

In the winter of 2000, Memorial's permanent office in Nazran, Ingushetia, was established which served as a basis for entire operation in the conflict area. Waiting-rooms opened in Chechnya's Grozny and Urus-Martan in October, then in Gudermes. Migration and Law lawyers provide free legal aid here, social workers go to camps for forced migrants and points of temporary accommodation, while Civil Assistance, an organization cooperating with Memorial, provides humanitarian aid. Parallel monitoring is conducted of the condition of forced migrants and on a broader scale, of the situation with human rights in the conflict area. It should be mentioned Memorial does not conduct everyday monitoring with everyday news mailings or news posting on a website. This is connected with its specifics and its style of operation developed over many years - reliability first, and only then speed: any piece of information is checked many times. The site (10) features individual files and reports on the situation in the region; a Violence Chronicle has been kept since July 2000 which features reports on all known facts of violation of inalienable human rights by both parties of the conflict. A list of missing people is kept and updated (11).

Originally, government representatives responded to these attempts to break the information blockade with reproaches: thus, they asked why files on crimes were directed to the media instead of the prosecutor's office. However, these reproaches soon died away: every year Memorial files hundreds of inquiries to the Prosecutor General's Office and the Chechen prosecutor's office, so they fail to answer them in time.

Currently, continuous monitoring of the situation with human rights in the Chechnya is carried out by several more Russian public organizations for human rights. Among them, the Society for Russian-Chechen Friendship should be mentioned (12). In 2001, the Committee for National Salvation of the Chechen Republic went into operation, established among the forced migrants residing in Ingushetia (13).

In Chechnya, there are actively operating groups of human rights advocates - for example, associations of relatives of civilians that "disappeared," were detained by federal militarized agencies, or are missing; such are Dog Teshar ("The Hope of the Heart") in Grozny and "War Victims" in Urus-Martan.

In the course of the armed conflict, a lot of foreign organizations for human rights sent their missions to the North Caucasus and issued documents dedicated to the situation in Chechnya; among them are Amnesty International and Federation International des Ligues des Droits de L'homme (FIDH). Besides, the "human rights advocacy" element is also present in the work of a number of international humanitarian organizations operating in Chechnya and Ingushetia.

* * *
During the armed conflict, organizations for human rights constantly appealed to international structures addressing their reports to them, meeting their delegations in Russia, or lobbying at their headquarters in Strasbourg or Geneva.

Over the "second Chechen war," numerous intergovernmental organizations repeatedly considered the issue of observing human rights in the armed conflict area in the North Caucasus. There is an opinion that the international community has removed this issue from its agendas, and the "second Chechen war" has been declared Russia's "internal affair," so Russia can finally relax. They say this decision was made by the most representative international organization, the United Nations Organization, or more precisely, its agency "in charge" - the Commission on Human Rights. At least Russian officials say so, and oddly enough, many human rights advocates agree with this.

Both are most likely to be wrong, the former in their euphoria and the latter in dejection. In reality, everything is much more complex. The situation is - simultaneously! - both not as poor and much worse. The potential of appealing to the international community is not exhausted. It is quite another matter that it is becoming more and more difficult to be heard. Over these years, the situation with observing human rights in Chechnya has more than once been the focus of consideration for international organizations. At some moments this problem disappeared from the agenda, at other moments it came back again, and documents adopted were different, too - with different proportions of "human rights" and "real policies."

Remarkable is the evolution of the attitude to the Chechnya problem on the part of the Council of Europe. Thus, Chechnya seemed to have been removed from the agenda by late 2001. The widespread explanation was that the international situation had changed after the September 11 terrorist acts in the US and after the start of the international counter-terrorist operation, and even more so after Russia joined it. However, this blindness of the world community was not sudden: international organizations had been growing less concerned with developments in Chechnya for a long while already. From the very beginning of the conflict in the North Caucasus, organizations for human rights appealing to the international community first of all addressed European structures - this is where Russia's obligations for observing human rights and political settlement of conflicts were the most specific, and there were legal and political mechanisms to control how these obligations are fulfilled. As soon as in January 2000, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) considered the Chechnya issue for the first time. In the spring of the same year, a groundbreaking resolution was adopted demanding that Russia observe human rights: the Russian delegation was stripped of the vote and it was recommended that COE member states lodge inter-state suits against Russia at the Strasbourg Court, while the Committee of Ministers should suspend Russia's membership of the COE. It seemed this was a victory, a victory of law over "real policies," but... it is "irresponsible" legislature representatives that constitute the Assembly, while it was the executive that was supposed to make the decision. So as soon as in May, the Committee of Ministers which consisted of the COE member states' foreign ministers refused to put this recommendation into practice. The ministers are "serious people," so they won't quarrel over "small points." The motivation in the Committee's decision was certainly different: "some progress made in the area of observing human rights." No European state applied to the Strasbourg Court. In informal conversations, officials from the Foreign Ministries of a lot of countries said they were ready to join such a suit if another state lodged it first. No first were found. Besides, politicians don't like to look funny: when these two recommendations had not been implemented, in January 2001 the PACE fully confirmed the authority of the Russian delegation - to be sure, again with reference to "improvement of the situation."

However, in the following years, strong-worded statements on the situation in Chechnya were made by both Alvaro Gil-Robles, COE Commissioner for Human Rights, and Walter Schwimmer, COE Secretary General. Last in this series should be mentioned the report "The human rights situation in the Chechen Republic" by Rudolf Bindig, secretary of the COE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, which contained the recommendation: "if the efforts to bring to justice those guilty of human rights abuses are not intensified, and the climate of impunity in the Chechen Republic prevails, the international community should consider setting up an ad hoc tribunal to try war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Chechen Republic, modelled on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, to be empowered to try all such crimes committed in the Chechen Republic"

In just the same way, the voting at the 59th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights by no means predetermines future decisions of this and less so of other international forums. A lot also depends on the rules of some or other intergovernmental structure, and on the operation of NGOs, their activity and coordination. Thus, in the "Conclusions and Recommendations" on the issue of Russia's observing the Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, published by the UN Committee against Torture on May 16, 2003, considerable attention was paid to various aspects of the situation with human rights in Chechnya formulated quite clearly and unambiguously.

* * *
Exactly because the situation with human rights in Chechnya repeatedly became the subject for consideration at forums of intergovernmental organizations whose delegations repeatedly visited the region, the Russian authorities were forced to respond - so governmental and "public" "human rights" structures were created or inspired. Formally, these organizations to some or other extent handled "human rights advocacy" and very actively contacts with international organizations, which was apparently their key task.

Perhaps, when giving up some effective measures of influence on Russia in connection with the situation in the armed conflict area in Chechnya, European and other international organizations considered statements of Russia's official representatives that governmental and non-governmental organizations take effective measures to protect human rights and investigate committed crimes.

Thus, the Duma set up a Commission for the Promotion of Normalization of the Socio-political and Socio-economic Situation and Observation of Human Rights in the Chechen Republic; its interaction with the PACE commission headed by Lord Judd resulted in establishing the joint Duma-PACE (Judd-Rogozin) group, and in holding two - in September 2000 and June 2001 - hearings of the Chechnya problem in the Duma in which this group participated. Perhaps, the European parliamentarians decided that finally the Russian public and state realized how serious the crisis was and active discussion was underway in search of a way out. However, those hearings up to now remain unique for Russian official structures as to the number of participants and tension of discussion. If this was done "for export," the goal was achieved, and if it was done for "domestic consumption," than it wasn't. The Duma's commission proved effective only in this - propagandistic - sense.

The same can be said about another government institution, theoretically meant to protect citizens in a conflict area. Established on the COE initiative, the official structure for human rights - the service of the Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for the Promotion of Human and Civil Rights and Freedoms in the Chechen Republic (14) proved to be incapable of reducing violence and protecting civilians from power abuse on the part of militarized agencies; however, it was a lot of use while of receiving numerous international delegations visiting this conflict area in the North Caucasus.

In this enumeration, one can't but mention the third official human rights structure established on the UN Commission on Human Rights' recommendation. In 2000, the resolution adopted at the commission's 56th session called on the Russian government for immediate investigation into violations of human rights and humanitarian law norms in Chechnya which required urgent establishment of an independent commission according to internationally recognized standards. Without delay, "initiated from below," the National Public Commission was set up headed by former justice minister Pavel Krasheninnikov; however, neither the procedure according to which it was set up, nor its staff allow speaking about any accordance with international standards accepted with regard to such commissions. We do not know if this commission did anything specific to investigate crimes and hold those guilty accountable.

* * *
The armed conflict in the North Caucasus from the very beginning became an important home policy tool for Putin who was then prime minister. It was an example of how a "small victorious war," if used skillfully, allows at first obtaining a parliament majority and then the post of president. But the seizure of power did not end with that.

What followed was building the "hierarchy of power." Dividing the country into seven federal districts and appointing his representatives there, Putin made the governors more remote from him. Changing the procedure according to which the upper house was formed, turning it into an assembly of appointed (not elected!) representatives and removing the governors from it, Putin transformed the Federation Council into an obedient, hence senseless, institution.

The "fourth estate" - the media - was next in line. Control was stepped up over state-run channels (15). Boris Berezovsky was removed from the ORT ("Public Russian Television") channel.

In 2001, under the slogan of "dispute between economic entities," Vladimir Gusinsky's media empire was routed: the NTV channel's leadership was changed (16), Segodnya newspaper was closed, and the editorial staff of Itogi magazine was fired (17). The discussed reasons included highlighting the Chechnya subject from a standpoint different from the official one.

Such consistency of the authorities' action can be called sensible: they used the disunity of the Duma, the governors, and the media. When the governors were being stripped of authority, they had no opportunity to apply to the Duma. It had not been worthwhile taking up the media before control was established over the parliament to which they could have applied for protection. On the other hand, it was their fault: the media had not previously stood up for the Federation Council because journalists en masse had quietly hated the "regional barons."

The Kremlin's promoters used the disunity of the public and lack of solidarity to build up "managed democracy."

This process could not stop: the promoters needed new and new projects, not to lose their job. The government's next move, which did not only seem logical but inevitable, was to establish control over civil society structures, over NGOs. This undertaking was not a success - at least at the first attempt.

Feeling that the situation is different, NGOs made an attempt of self-organization as far back as in 2000. "Network" NGOs having offices in many regions, such as Memorial, the Moscow Helsinki Group, the Consumer Societies Confederation (CSC), the Socio-Ecological Union, the Glasnost Defense Foundation (GDF), and so on, at first formed a roundtable called People's Assembly to develop common approaches in some areas (e.g. such as access to information) and improve interaction in the regions between their local offices. However, when in May 2001, having done away with NTV, the Kremlin's promoters took up civil society, this community of public organizations showed its viability.

Originally, it was obviously assumed to single out the public sector "elite" that would represent it as a corporation. Among others, they tried to invite Alexander Auzan (CSC) to meet with the president. He observed his colleagues from the coalition should be called, too. They told him he alone was the real human rights advocate, while the rest (Memorial and so on) had been necessary before, to overthrow the communists. Auzan repeated his suggestion, so they did not invite him to the president, either. Later, they tried to call Liudmila Alekseyeva (MHG) the same way - but all in vain.

In June 2001, promoters with Gleb Pavlovsky at the head launched preparations for the "Civil Forum" that was mean to be a congress of several thousand NGO delegates that would elect representatives from the corporation. It was already clear, firstly, that the Forum by definition would not be representative without at least some of the People's Assembly member organizations; secondly, that it was impossible to split them. Negotiations with Vladislav Surkov, deputy chief of staff for the Russian president, led to developing conditions on which they were ready to take part in organizing the Forum. Its meaning was now different. Now it was dialogue with the power about several dozen subjects on corresponding negotiation floors. The government joined the Forum's organizational committee overtly, like NGO representatives. No election was planned at the Forum - shaping the corporation was postponed. And most important, Chechnya became almost the main topic under discussion.

The Civil Forum occurred in Moscow on November 21-22, 2001. Apart from a plenary session at the Kremlin Palace of Congresses, several dozen discussions took place. One of them was called Chechnya Is Our Common Pain and Trouble: Ways to Achieve Peace and Accord. The corresponding "negotiation floor," too, went into operation.

NGOs held consultation and meetings with representatives of the command of the United Group of Troops (Forces) in the North Caucasus (UGT(F)); the commandant's office of the Chechen Republic; heads or deputy heads of federal agencies in Chechnya; and Chechen government representatives. Four meetings occurred (titled Permanent Working Group) in 2002: on January 12, February 28, April 25 and July 8.

In Moscow, NGO representatives met with people from the presidential administration and federal agencies (the prosecutor's office, Interior Ministry, Defense Ministry, Federal Security Service and others) only once after the Forum, on March 22.

This "affair with the power" lasted six months and NGO representatives quit negotiations.


On the government's part, organization of the meetings was undertaken by presidential aide Sergey Yastrzhembsky (chiefly meetings in Moscow) and Vladimir Kalamanov (chiefly in Chechnya), Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for the Promotion of Human and Civil Rights and Freedoms in the Chechen Republic.

In between these meetings, contacts were maintained with the prosecutor's office, the Special Representative and military commandants.

A series of NGO were in charge of organizing the meetings on the NGO part: Memorial, the Women of the Don Union, the Moscow Helsinki Group, the Society for Russian-Chechen Friendship, and the Chechen Committee for National Salvation; a series of other NGOs operating in Chechnya and among forced migrants in Ingushetia were also drawn into the negotiation process. It happened so that Memorial became the coordinator among NGOs.

In the first stage of the "negotiation floor's" operation, it seemed specific constructive results could be achieved.

Even in preparing for the first meeting in Chechnya, close interaction with the Chechen Prosecutor's Office was outlined: it was arranged that Memorial would fax the Chechen Prosecutor, Mr. Chernov, inquiries about violations of human rights that required immediate response; this way, "hot on the heels," they even managed to free 20 people illegally detained by Ministry of Interior troops. This episode remained the only one, though.

At the very fist meeting in Chechnya on January 12, cardinal gaps were revealed between NGO and government representatives in evaluating the situation with human rights in Chechnya - a different result was hardly possible, though. With all these gaps, one could at best try to join forces to develop real measures to protect the population from illegal violence, or at worst to make it easier for NGOs to receive information about the process of investigation into crimes, about what authorities do to improve the situation, and the like.

Most NGO proposals were turned down by the government, but one proposed package of specific measures received approval from all attending government representatives, including UGT(F) Commander General Vladimir Moltenskoi:

  • armored vehicles' sides shall have numbers;
  • after the "clean-up operation," local government heads shall be provided with the list of detainees mentioning what agency detained them and who is delivered to what place;
  • chiefs of examination groups entering homes shall name themselves.

However, at the next meeting in Chechnya on February 28, it turned out no one was going to turn these proposals into an order.

The same question was posed to Sergey Yastrzhembsky in Moscow on March 22, and we received full support. As a result, on March 27 the UGT(F) Commander issued order N80 which included our proposals.

The order - given it was fulfilled and observed - could contribute to prevention of grave crimes against Chechnya's civilians and to a relative improvement of the situation with human rights there. The fact that Order N80 was issued became the only real result of six months' meetings, but negotiation made sense even with this only result. The order, given it was fulfilled as it was, could become a noticeable step at the beginning of progress towards improvement of the situation with human rights in Chechnya.

This order did become "noticeable." Radio and television (especially in Chechnya) broadcast government representatives at various levels report on it as a significant breakthrough in the cause of human rights advocacy in Chechnya.

However, in three months it turned out the order was everywhere and persistently unexecuted. No "clean-up operation" was conducted in accordance with its provisions. Without naming themselves, people in disguise broke into houses, insulted and beat the tenants, robbed, and finally, carried people away without indicating the destination, by armored vehicles that had no side numbers. Detainees were beaten and tortured, and no detainee lists were delivered to local government heads. The bodies of some detainees were found - with traces of torture, often exploded. However, the military now demanded that local government heads at the end of a "clean-up operation" sign a statement of no grievances against them...

We wrote about that to the commander, prosecutor, Chechnya's commandant, talked about that at meetings. No government representative denied that. Yet questions such as "What is being done to enforce fulfillment of the order?" or "Who was held accountable for its persistent violation?" were not answered. Overall, most inquiries to the prosecutor's office were not answered to the point - it seemed they were disappearing in a "black hole." The prosecutor's office did not refuse to answer though - it said "later."

We were told that "in Russia it is impossible to demand that orders are fulfilled without delay"; that time was necessary "to get started"; that no haste should be made, but movement should be "step-by-step." We could not agree with this: it was about human lives, blood, and a complete loss of people's trust in the power. "Step-by-step" movement is possible when at least any real steps are taken - but what was going on discredited the very idea of a "negotiation floor" on problems of human rights in Chechnya.

We did not want to take part in making a show. We could not allow "co-operation to ensure human rights in Chechnya" to serve as a cover for abuse of power and illegal violence.

We brought this position home both to our colleagues and to our negotiation partners. However, most agencies' representatives simply did not come to another meeting in Grozny on July 8. Most likely, the blame should be laid on the Special Representative's staff that had been disorderly enough to forget to invite them. But this became the last straw: all NGOs left the "negotiation floor."

Thus ended human rights advocates' six-month "affair" with the government. A defeat? Maybe. But the formulae in Order N80 sound like a sentence the government passed on itself.

* * *
In October 2002, the sentence sounded in Moscow. The "small victorious war," the tool to ensure "continuity of power" came to Moscow, the Dubrovka theater, three years later.

After Nord-Ost, the government has already named those guilty, the enemy's "associates": journalists. In this act of the tragedy, no place was found for human rights advocates, even in the chorus; the government mentioned them later, for irrelevant talks about peace.

Seven years earlier, in Budennovsk, after the unsuccessful onslaught on the hospital seized by Shamil Basaev, human rights advocates, including Oleg Orlov and Sergey Kovalev launched talks and attained not only the release of the hostages, but also the start of a peaceful settlement actually suspending war in Chechnya for six months.

Human rights advocates were not involved in the Nord-Ost events. No one interfered with the onslaught, so it was a "success." Like in Budennovsk, the terrorist act and the "counter-terrorist operation" led to more than 100 people killed.

However, the proposal is to forget about a peaceful settlement in Chechnya. What's the reason? What has changed? Everything. The leadership and the public. Russia and Chechnya.

The rescue of the hostages in Budennovsk turned out possible only because attempts to launch a negotiation process had not stopped over the preceding six months of war, in which the Kovalev Group had provided mediation. During the "second Chechen war," sporadic peace initiatives did not become a process. And there are several reasons for that.

In the "first Chechen war," under the "democrats," the government was an eclectic structure in which "human rights advocates," perhaps, were just an element of decoration. But even in this capacity, Sergey Kovalev had some official status. This status provided a support that allowed turning the world over.

In the "second Chechen war," "human rights advocates" and "peace-makers," deprived of any, if symbolical, support in power, could not be serious mediators, either for the Chechens or for the generals. On the other hand, Putin's government showed resolve and needed no talks and, accordingly, mediators - unlike Yeltsin's inconsistent government that used to combine talks and force at least to observe the decencies.

Not only has the Russian leadership changed. Although the Chechen party through Maskhadov has more than once announced advisability of talks, this willingness is less and less coinciding with opportunities. The ability to negotiate has substantially been wasted in these years of wars. Comparing with tongue-tied Movsar Baraev, Shamil Basaev in Budennovsk can almost appear to be a diplomat. Now Basaev himself comes out against any talks, and he even sends Baraev to Moscow to make these talks impossible.

It looks like he is a success in this. The Russian "party of war" can celebrate victory along with him. Those defeated include the killed hostages and the people of Russia and Chechnya.

During the "first Chechen war," there was no total mutual bitterness - unlike many hotspots in the former Soviet republics. In spite of its efforts, "special propaganda" on both sides was not able to impose the image of enemy on the people of Russia and Chechnya. Russian journalists and soldiers mothers, as a rule, could freely move in Chechnya, while Chechens could go outside the republic. Both still saw not only and not as much an enemy "on the other side," as a human. Perhaps, this is what made it possible to stop war in 1996.

"People living" - such lines can still be seen among Chechen ruins, but neither politicians, nor journalists - practically none of them, nor Russian citizens - en masse, want to see them. What can be said about the attitude to us of those people who "live" there? Both sides watch the same TV programs. "I came not to send peace, but a sword" - his other words: "Love your enemies" - it is suggested that these should be forgotten.

It is not a custom presently to talk about rights and freedoms; what is praised now is imperialism. The "silent sound of the divine Hellenic speech" is being replaced with "golden Latin." The change of tongue goes along with change of the subject. They do not talk about developments in the North Caucasus - or, more precisely, there is nothing to talk about: the official standpoint is not subject to doubt. It is not about bans here, more likely reluctance to doubt. Sometimes this is very frightful - to realize the scene and time of action. It was noticed quite a while ago that not the hero, but the chorus is killed in the modern tragedy.

* * *
Several days before the terrorist act in the Dubrovka theater, there was an announcement that a new presidential commission for human rights was being shaped; Ella Pamfilova had been appointed its chair as far back as in July. The commission, apart from anyone, included Svetlana Gannushkina (Memorial), Liudmila Alekseyeva (MHG), Alexei Simonov (GDF), Alexander Auzan (CSC), Sviatoslav Zabelin (Socio-Ecological Union), and Valery Borshchev.

At the president's first meeting with the Commission on December 10, 2002, the key subject was the condition of forced migrants. In the first place, the matter under discussion was about Ingushetia where pressure on forced migrants aimed at making them come back to Chechnya had become overt by that time: as a matter of fact, the Iman refugee camp near Aki-Yurt had been liquidated by force.

The conversation with the president resulted in suspension of the liquidation of camps and ousting of refugees. A commission was sent to clarify the situation in the North Caucasus which included Alekseyeva, Gannushkina and Pamfilova, along with Stanislav Ilyasov, Minister for Chechnya Affairs, and General Igor Yunash, deputy head of the migration authority.

This episode opens the article, though...

* * *
As we can see, relations remain complex between NGOs, in particular Memorial and the government. One can hardly talk about any success, but admitting defeat appears to be early, too. It's difficult to find one's place in these relations. What was right, time will tell... that hasn't come yet.

In German translation, the article was published in The War in Shadow. Russia and Chechnya (Der Krieg im Schatten. Russland und Tschetschenien: Collected articles / Comp. Florian Hassel - Frankfurt am Mein: Suhrkampf Verlag, 2003.), titled as An Affair with the Kremlin; it is published on the site with the kind permission of the compiler.


(1) All information collected by Memorial in the armed conflict area in Chechnya is posted at http://www.memo.ru; some files are translated into English and German.

(2) The initiative group Memorial emerged in 1987.

(3) This could bee seen even in Dagestan, in the process of the onslaught on and "clean-up operation" of Karamakhi, a "Wahhabi enclave," where the military behaved as on the enemy's territory.

(4) At the meeting, Anatoly Chubais, a leader of the Union of Right Forces, said: "You are talking about what shouldn't be done, but a politician can't speak like that: we need to know what to do" - reluctant to hear the human rights advocates say "impossible under any circumstances," not "shouldn't."

(5) At first he was put in the "filtration point" in Chernokozovo, then delivered to some alleged representatives of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria's armed units - in reality to Adam Deniev's formation loyal to the federal side. When after several weeks those tried to deliver the journalist with a forged passport across the border with Azerbaijan, he managed to escape... and was arrested for "forgery."

(6) Himself, Blotsky by no means suffered after that; on the contrary, his book about Vladimir Putin was published in huge quantities.

(7) Chief executive officer: T.I.Kasatkina; Central Office: 12 Maly Karetny per., Moscow, Russia, 103051; Email: memhrc@memo.ru.

(8) Operation in the armed conflict area is underway as part of the Hotspots program, director - Oleg Orlov

(9) One should mention the HRW reports (see at http://www.hrw.org/): Burying the Evidence: The Botched Investigation into a Mass Grave in Chechnya (May 2001); The 'Dirty War' in Chechnya: Forced Disappearances, Torture, and Summary Executions (March 2001); and Last Seen . . .: Continued "Disappearances" in Chechnya (April 2002).

(10) Web site: http://www.memo.ru/hr/.

(11) Note that in 1999-2000, first months of the "second Chechen war" A. Blinushov's (Ryazan-based Memorial) electronic mailing list and the War and Human Rights section on the Human Rights in Russia site (http://www.hro.org/war/; A.Blinushov and S.Smirnov are the project managers) were nearly the most informative resources on the situation with human rights in the armed conflict area in Chechnya, featuring files of human rights organizations and articles from the media.

(12) The organization was set up in Nizhny Novgorod on April 17, 2000. Web site: http://www.uic.nnov.ru/hrnnov/friend/. I.Ezhiev chairs the regional office in Chechnya and Ingushetia. The Moscow Helsinki Group (L.Alekseyeva is the head) is the partner in Moscow.

(13) R.Badalov is the head; the Committee works in close connection with the Movement for Human Rights (L.Ponomarev is the head).

(14) Vladimir Kalamanov headed it from the moment it was set up in February 2000 to the first half of 2002; Abdul-Khakim Sultygov took over from July 2002.

(15) Thus, the program on Radio Russia devoted to human rights was closed in summer 2000.

(16) The NTV journalist staff resumed broadcasting on the TV-6 and then TVS channels; however, the degree of opposition was noticeably reduced.

(17) The staff resumed publication under the Yezhenedelny Zurnal brand.

Author: Alexander Cherkasov, Memorial Human Rights Center (Moscow);

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