Group Sees No Improvement
David R. Sands
The Washington Times
August 8, 2003
Human rights abuses
in Chechnya remain rampant despite a highly touted referendum
staged last month by the Russian government to ease the political
and humanitarian crisis in the breakaway republic, Chechen advocates
"Unfortunately, one can easily see that the situation has
not changed for the better" since the March 23 referendum
on a new constitution, said Eliza Moussaeva, an official of the
Memorial Human Rights Center. Memorial provides legal aid to the
nearly 100,000 Chechen refugees who have fled the brutal war and
now live in the neighboring Russian province of Ingushetia.
"Why did we even need to have the vote if it wasn't going
to change the situation for the better and bring reform?"
said Mrs. Moussaeva, who spoke at a Capitol Hill briefing arranged
by the U.S. Helsinki Commission, an independent U.S. agency that
monitors human rights in Europe and Russia.
T he Chechen conflict, closely identified with Russian President
Vladimir Putin, began in 1999 as a bid by Moscow to crush once
and for all ethnic Chechen separatists who had resisted central
authority. But Russian forces have been able only to establish
shaky control in Grozny and a few other Chechen cities, and the
conflict has degenerated into a grinding guerrilla struggle with
both sides accused of atrocities.
In Moscow yesterday, the Chechen interior minister in the pro-Moscow
government administering the province said 46 persons were abducted
in the month since the referendum, in which the new constitution
was overwhelmingly approved. Interior Minister Ali Alkhanov and
his aides told a Moscow news conference that Russian troops and
pro-Russian police officers in Chechnya were responsible for many
of the illegal
detentions and disappearances.
Maureen Greenwood, advocacy director for Europe and Eurasia at
Amnesty International, said at the Capitol Hill hearing that the
Chechen struggle had become a "forgotten war," overlooked
in the international focus on Iraq and in the absence of independent
international observers to report on the conflict.
The Bush administration
supported a resolution that the European Union presented last
week before the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva to condemn
violations by Russian military and security forces in Chechnya.
But the U.S. declined to co-sponsor the measure and it was narrowly
Ambassador Michael Southwick, chief U.S. delegate to the Geneva
gathering, said the Chechen population had experienced "unendurable
suffering" in the war, but also held out hope the referendum
"will enable a political process to take hold that produces
a lasting reconciliation in the area."
Bela Tsugaeva, information manager for the Ingushetia-based human
rights group World Vision, said a potential humanitarian crisis
looms for about 92,000 Chechen refugees living in temporary camps,
private houses and even abandoned industrial sites in Ingushetia
because of the violence across the border.