Day: November 15, 2006

Human Rights Situation in Russia – Conference

Via chechnya-sl:

From: Céline Francis
Sent: Tuesday, November 14, 2006 7:06 PM
Subject: Transcript conference 7 November 2006

Dear all,

On November 7, ten leading Russian human rights defenders (see below) took part in a conference on the human rights situation in Russia at the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) in Brussels. During two hours, they tackled various issues: the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya, the current situation of human rights in Chechnya, the presence of extreme right groups in Russia, the (im)partiality of Russian courts, etc. You will find enclosed the transcript of the conference.

Yours, Céline

07 November 2006

Université libre de bruxelles – ULB


Fédération internationale des droits de l’homme (FIDH), International Helsinki Federation (IHF), Human Rights Watch, Groupe Tchétchénie


Lev Ponomarov, For Human Rights
Iouri Djibladze, Center for Development of Democracy and Human Rights
Svetlana Gannushkina, Civic Assistance
Tatiana Lokchina, Demos
Natalia Estemirova, Memorial Grozny
Stas Dimitrievski, Russo-Chechen Friendship Society
Oksana Tchelycheva, Russo-Chechen Friendship Society
Igor Kaliapin, Center against torture
Galina Kojevnikova, Center SOVA
Oleg Orlov, Memorial

Antoine Madelin, FIDH.

On Anna Politkovskaïa

Svetlana Gannushkina (Civic Assistance) explained her first encounter with Anna Politkovskaïa. It was in August 1996, when the journalist wanted to cover the arrival of a Chechen student with a bunch of flowers in a Russian school. Svetlana had to explain that most of the time Chechen students were unable to go to school in Russia because of their
lack of status. Anna was then a kind of ‘paparazzi’ journalist, a little snobbish. But then on, she began to be totally involved in a more pragmatic journalism and became a real human rights defender. During those years, she had lost weight and became hypersensitive.

Signs, not laws, govern Russia today. Everybody must guess and interpret them: this was for instance the case with Putin’s statement on the protection of natives signaling the beginning of the hunting of Georgians in Russia.

Oksana Tchelycheva (Russo-Chechen Friendship Society) added that Anna Politkovskaïa was on the list of threatened people in Russia, like Svetlana Gannushkina. Anna thought her international reputation would protect her, which was not the case. And since her death, repression followed. The Russo-Chechen Friendship Society was sued and doomed to liquidation. Meanwhile on a national channel, a documentary accused the High Commissioner for Refugees (HCR) of spying, the Danish Refugee Council of helping terrorists and Timur Aliev (Chechen Society Newspaper) of being related to Bassaev.

On the issue of the extreme right groups in Russia

Answering to the question about extreme right groups, Galina Kojevnikova (center SOVA) explained that it was not a new phenomenon. These groups existed already in the USSR. But skinheads’ groups appeared with the birth of the Russian Federation. The phenomenon has been dynamic: many little and scattered groups have been created, without links between them. Some years ago, they were mainly instable and closed (and present in small areas like courtyards). But they soon became extremely numerous, recruiting mainly among teenagers. During the two last years, there has been a radical change in these groups thanks to the official support. They became more stable and solid. Even after being sentenced, people keep coming back to these groups, in search of security. An extremely concerning fact is that membership is not restricted to one social layer of the society like before. Today, even wealthy young people, students, youth whose parents are working in law enforcement agencies are taking part to these groups.

For the last three years, political parties or movements have recruited them in order to create operational groups able to act during demonstrations or pogroms, like in Kondopoga. The late movement “we walk together” used to have links with skinheads. It gave birth to the new movement “Nachi” (Us), that must thus still have those connections. What is interesting is that those young people are not opposed to the
incumbent power. Their discourse is rather taken up by the parties themselves. This is thus becoming a self-feeding discourse.

On the power of the FSB in contemporary Russia

(Lev Ponomarov, For Human Rights) During the Soviet period, the intelligence service sought to control the State, but the Communist party was strong enough to control it. Years after the USSR’s breakdown, when Yeltsin was searching for a solution to retire in peace, the only provider of stability was the FSB. He then decided to appoint an unknown under colonel, V. Putin. Today, banks, media and even academic or dance institutes are under the FSB’s control. But how can we explain that there is any dictatorship or tyranny in Russia today? According to Lev Ponomarov, corruption is the main impediment: the ‘siloviki’ are too busy fighting each other in order to acquire parts in the market. Adding to this point, Stas Dimitrievski (Russo-Chechen Friendship Society) mentioned that Russia’s democratic revolution was mainly due to the absence of law of lustration in Russia.

Question about the soldiers coming back from Chechnya

Galina Kojevnikova did not know a lot of cases where former soldiers became skinheads. But what is undeniable is the trauma (Chechen syndrome) suffered by those soldiers. After their Chechen experience, a lot of them are just addicted to violence. They enter in the police or enlist in the army where they express their xenophobia. She said that the sentence “You the black, I killed a lot like you in Chechnya, and I’ll kill you too” has been heard from policemen meeting people in the streets.

Lev Ponomarov said that a lot of OMONs (special units of the Ministry of Interior) are in Chechnya. And because of the impunity they enjoyed there, they easily use violence when they come back (during demonstration for instance). An example: in Daghestan, they killed one person and maimed many others in April 2006. For Oleg Orlov (Memorial),
there is an even more serious issue. In Chechnya there are death squadrons responsible for disappearances and torture. Convincing evidences show that they are directly under the control of the FSB. These people, when they come back to their city, often receive important posts. And they inoculate the idea that violence can resolve everything.

Iouri Djibladze (Center for Development of Democracy and Human Rights) added that the SOM (svodnyj otrjad milicii, joint police detachment) is also present in Chechnya, for 6-month period now (3-month period before). Thus the whole law enforcement system in Russia has been contaminated. He does not speak about metastasis of the Chechen conflict in Russia, but of an infected wound.

On disappearances in Chechnya

(Natalia Estemirova, Memorial Grozny) There are fewer disappearances today in Chechnya. But there are presently many law enforcement structures there that must justify their existence. Their aim is searching for, and finding, terrorists. The great majority of the members of these structures are uneducated. They think that their gun represents the law. They abduct, torture people to make them confess crimes. We speak a lot about Abu Graib, but there are dozens of them in Chechnya: torture is widespread there. Igor Kaliapin added later that if they are uneducated, they know nevertheless perfectly what they do when they torture and forward the ‘confessions’ to the judge. Natalia gave some examples. There is one special structure in charge of the protection of the pipeline. Even the members of this structure are allowed to detain people for days. There is simply no other structure able to control their deeds. Another example: she received the map of a place where one person has been detained for more than one year and a half. A concurrent structure forwarded it to her. So these structures are also fighting each other, sometimes literally speaking.

How can we help this prisoner? There is nobody in Chechnya who is presently able to help him. The only hope of Memorial Grozny lies in an external intervention, especially the Committee for the prevention of torture (CPT) of the Council of Europe. The last visit of the CPT in Chechnya in 2006 had real positive outcomes: dozens of people were released. The organization hoped a similar outcome with the arrival of the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak. But he eventually could not come in October 2006 because of the conditions imposed by the Russian authorities.

The young males in Chechnya today sleep with their clothes, because they are afraid of being kidnapped during the night. Some are resigned and believe that being member of those Chechen structures is the only way to be secure. Once they enter within these structures, they take directly part to torture. Therefore they feel responsible.

About the risks of being a human rights defender in Chechnya, Natalia Estemirova told that they risk their life, but like every inhabitant of Chechnya today. During this spring, a collaborator of Civic Assistance (Svetlana Gannushkina’s organization) was kidnapped. And a witness of this disappearance died in suspicious circumstances. Everywhere in Russia, the human rights defenders are threatened (Svetlana Gannushkina is the first on the list of national-socialist groups edited on the web). But Natalia Estemirova thinks that their notoriety is their protection.

She added one precision: there are new NGOs regularly created in Chechnya, whose goal is to send the message of the normalization of the Republic to the West.

What can Europe do?

Natalia Estemirova is waiting for more activities, more interest from Europe. Chechnya is not only the problem of Russia. Everywhere in the world authorities diminish democracy in their struggle against terrorism. The first step, according to Stas Dimitrievski, is to call things by their names. The concept of violations of human rights is extremely elastic and defines situations of varying seriousness. We thus have to call war crimes and crimes against humanity when there are. Nowadays Russia is not a democracy. The EU and the Council of Europe must understand this fact when they are discussing with Russia. When we talk with a crocodile as it was a cat, it can bite our hand or head. The EU does not have a ‘dialogue’ with China, but only of relationships. If Europe speaks about a dialogue with Russia, let it be a real dialogue. The EU knows exactly what is going on in Russia. If Europe needs gas and oil, Russia needs to sell it.

He advised the European citizens not to let their governments barter human rights for gas or oil. The EU and the Council of Europe are two unique phenomena, but they lack a real determination to defend their goals.

The question of the (im)partiality of the Russia courts

According to Igor Kaliapin (Center against torture), there is no independence of the courts in Russia. There are two reasons for this: the historical tradition and the corruption of the judges. In Soviet times, judges had substantial prerogatives. But justice was effectively
a mise-en-scene. Some of these judges are still working today and they forwarded their practices. They are still contacting the FSB or the prosecutor to ask which sentence must be given. The second reason is the easy corruptibility of the judges. Judges are easily corruptible: accepting goods, the repainting of the court paid by the administration, etc. Besides, the judge is dependent of the regional authorities. Thus if the governor contacts him and asks for a particular sentence, the judge will obey. For instance, we can cite the trial of Stas Dimitrievskij: He was condemned, even if the witnesses kept repeating that he could not be accused of ‘ethnic hatred’. Despite this, the plenipotentiary representative to the Volga Federal District dictated the sentence.

Justice in Russia uses the criteria of efficiency. Each court must conduct a certain number of cases each month. This is translated by a wide use of extortion means in order to obtain confessions. For instance, a man confessed two crimes perpetrated at the same time 10 kilometers of each other. The lawyer explained that the man succeeded in splitting himself in order to commit those murders. The man was condemned. The prosecutor keeps the statistics about the sentences: the elucidation rate of serious criminal cases is 90%. This outcome is totally unrealistic with such a poorly equipped police.

What are the solutions to the Chechen conflict?

(Oleg Orlov) If he had to give a short answer, he would say: there is no solution. And unfortunately, this is a little bit true. If we had asked him this question some years ago, he would have been able to provide some paths where the EU could help. But the situation today is deadlocked with the implicit support of the EU. The creature designed by the Kremlin – Ramzan Kadyrov – has become a threat for Russia itself.

The idea of negotiating with separatists is no more possible. The only one which whom this was an option – Aslan Maskhadov – was killed. If an exit exists, it must be far away, and he does not see it. We can presently decrease the evil, but not erase it. The human rights defenders can impede a worsening of the situation, but not substantially. He does not believe in an improvement of the human rights situation in Russia with the incumbent regime.

We must continue speaking about violations of human rights. The EU must ask for proceedings of the Russian penal cases. But the EU cannot change the regime in Russia. It is up to the Russians to change it, and up to the human rights defenders to find a common language with Russian citizens. But for now the majority of Russians do not support them.

Svetlana Gannushkina concluded that if we, European citizens, cannot act against Putin, we can do one thing. We must grant refugee status to the asylum seekers. Because in Chechnya there are only two alternatives for the young people: either going with the Kadyrovtsy, or being unable to sleep at night.

Céline Francis