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Rights Groups to End Contacts With Russia in Chechnya

July 13, 2002|JOHN DANISZEWSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Human rights groups announced Friday that they are ending an ongoing "dialogue" with Russian security and military officials in Chechnya, charging that promises to curtail human rights abuses and identify those responsible have been ignored.

Representatives of the two main groups, Memorial and the Moscow Helsinki Committee, said they will continue to monitor abuses in the republic but not participate in meetings with government, military and police officials because the talks have been proven largely futile.

Lyudmila Alekseyeva, chairwoman of the Helsinki group, told a news conference here that it was a "difficult and sad" decision to give up the contacts, which grew out of a summit in November between officials and representatives of nongovernmental groups.

"But to continue these fruitless discussions would have been even more difficult," she said. "Human rights organizations would have been used as a smoke screen behind which lawlessness would take place."

Russia's presidential information office issued a statement saying the decision was unfortunate.

"The federal authorities receive the decision ... to end negotiating activities in Chechnya with regret," the statement said. "In our opinion, the coordination between the authorities and the NGOs was developing well."

Russian army and police troops entered Chechnya in late 1999 to subdue the rebel republic, which had long been seeking independence from the Russian Federation. About 80,000 troops remain, unable to fully quell a stubborn insurgency and frequently accused of extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses. The Kremlin has said that when crimes are uncovered the perpetrators are to be punished.

On Friday, President Vladimir V. Putin named an ethnic Chechen economist who had been working as an advisor to the lower house of the Russian parliament as his human rights envoy for the republic.

The envoy indicated that he would be balanced in his assessments and even displayed some sympathy for the security forces. "We should be mindful of how heavy the burden is on Russian troops in Chechnya," said Abdul-Khakim Sultygov.

Human rights activists said they were not optimistic that Sultygov would be more successful in protecting Chechen civilians than his predecessor, Vladimir A. Kalamanov, a respected diplomat who held the post for two years.

Both the government and the human rights groups agreed that the main achievement of the dialogue between the government and the rights groups was the issuance March 27 of the so-called Order 80.

It required troops in Chechnya carrying out zachistki, or cleanup operations, to have visible numbers on their armored vehicles; to identify themselves when conducting searches; and to give local authorities a list of names and reasons whenever terrorist suspects are taken away, including stating where they will be held. In exchange, local administrators were obliged to sign a statement confirming that the zachistki were carried out properly.

In practice, said Tatyana I. Kasatkina, executive director of Memorial, Order 80 was ignored except for its last provision. "Local administrators, at gunpoint, have been intimidated into signing those papers for the military," she said.

In the meantime, "hundreds of cases started against the military for human rights violations remain indefinitely suspended because the guilty parties can't be established," she said.

Despite the withdrawal from dialogue, Kasatkina says Memorial will continue its human rights work in Chechnya.

Memorial issued a report Friday on an anti-rebel purge in the village of Chechen-Aul, near the Chechen capital, Grozny, that it said took place June 11-24.

According to the report, soldiers did not introduce themselves as they searched the village and entered homes. Initially, the searches went smoothly, but later groups of servicemen behaved with increasing roughness toward the population, it said.

Memorial said that, according to its information, "the most serious violations" of Russian law and Order 80 occurred.

It attached a list naming 12 residents said to have been killed. In addition, the group said, three unidentified bodies were found on the village outskirts and two men were blown up inside a deserted house.

Prisoners were in some cases abused, the report said. Memorial cited a disabled man, Nurdi Dakayev, who it said was taken away June 19 and tortured.

When Dakayev's body was returned to relatives June 21, a hand was missing, the report said. Another body was returned to relatives headless, the Memorial report asserted.

*

Sergei L. Loiko of The Times' Moscow Bureau contributed to this report.

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