Russia’s North Caucasus – Human rights and conflict dynamics
Over ten years have passed since Yeltsin announced a second full ground offensive against Chechnya with the words “we want to end once and for all the centre of international terrorism in Chechnya.”
But what has Moscow achieved? The harsh policies pursued during continuous anti-terrorist operations in the region probably fuel rather than soothe conflict. Recent developments in North Caucasus suggest that the islamist insurgency is spreading. These issues were discussed at a seminar hosted by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee in cooperation with the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs this Wednesday.
- Torture is an integrated part of the legal system in Chechnya, and it is a manifestation of political will, said Mantas Kvedaravicius, a Cambridge Unversity researcher that has done research on torture in Chechnya from an anthropological and philosophical point of view. In his presentation he discussed how torture is a part of the legal system in Chechnya. – What is the application of law in Chechnya? The fact is that you can look at the torture cell as a miniature of society; people are doing, and act as the state wants. The torturers are not interested in the truth, all they want, is a confession, and these confessions are presented before a judge and used to convict innocent people, said Kvedaravicius. This is also a career advance opportunity for the people working in the system. The system of torture and fabricated trials, and those people working in this system, are doing Kremlins dirty work, and fulfilling their policy of fighting terrorism in Northern Caucasus.
Usam Baisaev, from the Russian Human Rights Organisation Memorial gave in his presentation an update on the current status of human rights in Chechnya. – The so called elections where Ramzan Kadyrov has been elected president of Chechnya, has neither been free, fair nor legitimate. Ramzan Kadyrov has been hand picked by Vladimir Putin to fulfill Kremlin’s policies in Chechnya. Kadyrov is running a Quisling-government, and it is not built on the support of the Chechnyan people, Baisaev stated in his presentation. According to Baisaev, the human rights situation in Chechnya has in the last two years gotten worse. In 2009, 90 people where reported kidnapped. Out of these, 10 has been found killed, 18 has disappeared and the last 58 has been tortured and then released. Only four of these people has been further investigated, and are considered criminals. Since the anti-terror operation officially ended in April 2009, 292 person have been killed. The situation for human rights in Chechnya is still very grave, and unfortunately, it is getting worse.
Part two of the seminar was dedicated to discussing the conflict dynamics in the region. Grigory Shvedov, an expert on the region and chief editor of the web-site Caucasian Knot was in his presentation concerned with the recent developments in North Caucasus, especially when it comes to terror situation and the different protests that has occurred in 2009. –Counter-terrorist operations have increased, and during the last year there have been 380 special operations targeting so-called terrorist groups. 330 people have been reported killed in these operations, which have taken place in several of the republics in North Caucasus. There is also an increase in the number of Muslim religious communities that are active in the region. Growing in the region is also a new form of nationalism coming from the republics that before never would dream about sovereignty or independence from Russia. These two kinds of groups, the muslim groups that are fighting their jihad against the Russian federation and for a muslim, sharia based state in the region, and those supporting nationalism may find together in a common cause against Russia in the North Caucasus. The situation will be very interesting to follow in the next few years, Shvedov stated in his presentation.
Julie Wilhelmsen, a doctorate fellow and researcher at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs discussed in her presentation Russia’s policies toward the North Caucasus. She underlined that it has been very difficult to discuss different policies in the region because Putin came to power as the one who fixed the conflict situation in Chechnya. The image of a problem solved has led to a standstill in the discussion regarding the conflict. Chechnya is won, and should not be talked about, even though this is obviously wrong. The situation in North Caucasus is very challenging for Kremlin, and the last year Medvedev has addressed it more openly. But the rhetoric is still the same: “Terrorists must be hunted down and killed”, as Medvedev said in 2009, is a continuation of the hardliner rhetoric that Putin stood for in dealing with North Caucasus. There have been small changes in policies except for a new North Caucasus federal district. Kremlin policy is still steering by force, not by co-operation.