Friday Night 04.27.07 -- Human Rights Advocacy in Chechnya: Job or Sacrifice? -- 04.27.07
Friday Night 04.27.07 -- Human Rights Advocacy in Chechnya: Job or Sacrifice?
1. About this Friday
2. About the Participants
3. About the film 'The Crying Sun'
4. 'Fascism is in fashion' by Anna Politkovskaya
5. 'A War That is Gone But Not Forgotten: A rare visit to Chechnya shows the cruel aftermath' by Sebastian Smith
1. About this Friday 04.27.07
What: Talk / Screening / Discussion
When: Friday Night 04.27.07
Where: 16Beaver Street, 4th Floor
When: 7 pm
Who: Free and open to all
Human Rights Advocacy in Chechnya: Job or Sacrifice?
Since the last Russian-Chechnyan war, the independent press in Russia has experienced a growing government's pressure and overwhelming control from the military power. After October 2006 killing of Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent Russian journalist, it's become clear that free journalism is no longer possible in Russia. As a result, North Caucasus has become isolated from the world's press as journalists feel reluctant to go and remain in the places like Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan, the parts of the Russian federal state subdued in violence of the Post-Soviet transition. Because of the passivity of civil groups and journalist community in Russia, there is a lack of protest against the abuse of human rights in the small national states as well as the parts of the Russian Federation, which were, or are engaged in conflicts with Russia. The task to cover and visualize the effects of such a bullying politics by the federal Russian state, like the mass disappearance of people in Chechnya, has taken over by the local human rights activists, who often risk their life and freedom to cover the events, which would be left out of public eye otherwise.
2. About the participants
Participants Zarema Mukusheva, Katya Sokirianskaia, Ousam Baysaev, and
Shamil Tangiev -- all are the activists from Memorial -- will discuss the history
of Russian-Chechen war conflict and possibility of human rights defense, which includes the visualization of the war, today in this region. Discussion will be moderated by Olga Kopenkina, New York.
Zarema (Zina) Mukusheva is human right defender who has been working at Memorial Grozny since 2000. As Memorial monitor, she used visual media to bring international attention to murders, mass graves, disappearances, and kidnappings in Chechnya. Zarema is the recipient of the 2005 Reebok Human Rights Award for young human rights activists who do courageous work in war-torn areas. Mukusheva is a graduate of Chechen State University with an MA in history.
Ousam Baysaev is a human rights defender, author, and reporter for Radio-Free Europe (Chechnya). Since 2000 he has worked in Memorial office in Ingushetia, documenting human rights abuse in Chechnya. He has co- authored a book series “People Live Here. A Chronicle of Violence of the Second Chechen” War, investigative reports “Zachistka”, “Anti-terrorist operation”. Since 2002 he is a news reporter for Radio-Marcho (RRE, North Caucasus desk in the Chechen language).
Shamil (Shamsudin) Tangiev is the Head of Memorial office in Grozny. Since early 2000 he has worked on documenting and reporting war crimes in Chechnya with particular focus on enforced disappearances and summary executions of the Chechen civilians. He has also been responsible for Memorial UNHCR sponsored work with internally displaced people in Chechnya, has co-authored Memorial annual reports on “Situation of Residents of Chechnya in the Russian Federation” and other publications on human rights violations in Chechnya. Tangiev holds a Degree in Law from Russian Institute of Economy and Law (Regional branch in Ingushetia).
Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya has worked in Memorial Nazran since 2003. She heads the programs “Database of Enforced Disappearances in Chechnya” and "Counting Fabrications of Criminal Cases within the Framework of Anti-Terrorist Operations in the North Caucasus." Sokiryanskaya, a graduate of Central European University in Budapest, with MA in political science of post-communist transition, holds a Ph.D. in political science from St Petersburg State University. She is Assistant Professor of Political Science at History Department of the Chechen State University in Grozny.
Memorial‘s Human Rights Center was created in 1991 for human rights research and advocacy of Memorial Society, a Russian historical and educational non-governmental association. It has a particular focus on human rights protection in the conflict zones in ex-Soviet Republics. Memorial also operates a Migrants Rights Network providing free legal assistance and counseling to refugees and forced migrants in 58 cities of the Russian Federation. Since the beginning of the second military campaign in 2000, Memorial has been the only Russian human rights group with permanent offices on the ground in the conflict zones in post-Soviet Republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia documenting human rights violations and offering legal assistance to victims.
3. About the screening of the film 'The Crying Sun'
“The Crying Sun” documentary focuses on the life stories of people from the high mountainous village of Zumsoy in the Chechnya who struggle to preserve their cultural identity and traditions in the background of military raids and enforced disappearances by the federal army, attacks by guerilla fighters and subsequent displacement. By helping to articulate these voices in the public and policy spheres, the authors of the documentary call on local and federal authorities to end impunity for human rights violations, and to restore policies for the return of mountain villagers to their ancestral homes. In the international advocacy fora, the video will help bring visibility to calls for justice in Chechnya. Produced by Memorial in cooperation with WITNESS in February 2007, 25 minutes long (Zarema Mukusheva, author; Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya and Shamil Tangiev, producers).
4. 'Fascism is in fashion' by Anna Politkovskaya
Published in: The Guardian
Saturday March 17, 2007
Murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya was fearless in her pursuit of truth. In this shocking extract from her final book, she chronicles the death of Russian democracy.
December 7 2003
The day of the elections to the Duma, the [same] day Putin began his campaign for re-election as president. In the morning he manifested himself at a polling station. He was cheerful, elated even, and a little nervous. This was unusual: as a rule he is sullen. With a broad smile, he informed those assembled that his beloved labrador, Connie, had had puppies during the night. "Vladimir Vladimirovich was so very worried,' Mme Putina intoned behind her husband. "We are in a hurry to get home," she added, anxious to return to the bitch whose impeccable timing had presented this gift to the United Russia party.
That morning in Yessentuki, a small resort in the North Caucasus, the first 13 victims of a terrorist train attack were being buried. It had been the morning train, known as the student train, and young people were on their way to college. When, after voting, Putin went over to the journalists, it seemed he would express his condolences. Perhaps even apologise for the fact the government had again failed to protect its citizens. Instead he told them how pleased he was about his labrador's puppies.
My friends phoned me. "He's really put his foot in it this time. Russian people are never going to vote for United Russia now." Around midnight, when the results started coming in, many people were in a state of shock. Russia had mutely surrendered herself to Putin.
Reports we received from the regions show how this was done. Outside one of the polling stations in Saratov, a lady was dispensing free vodka at a table with a banner reading "Vote for Tretiak", the United Russia candidate. Tretiak won. One opposition candidate twice had plastic bags containing body parts thrown through his window: somebody's ears and a human heart.
Were we seeing a crisis of Russian parliamentary democracy in the Putin era? No, we were witnessing its death. In the first place, the legislative and executive branches of government had merged and this had meant the rebirth of the Soviet system. The Duma was purely decorative, a forum for rubber-stamping Putin's decisions.
In the second place the Russian people gave its consent. There were no demonstrations. The electorate agreed to be treated like an idiot. The electorate said let's go back to the USSR - slightly retouched and slicked up, modernised, but the good old Soviet Union, now with bureaucratic capitalism where the state official is the main oligarch, vastly richer than any capitalist. The corollary was that, if we were going back to the USSR, Putin was going to win in March 2004. It was a foregone conclusion.
Ritual murders are taking place in Moscow. A second severed head has been found in the past 24 hours, this time in the eastern district of Golianovo. It was in a rubbish container. Yesterday evening, a head in a plastic bag was found on a table in the courtyard on Krasnoyarskaya Street.
Both men had been dead for 24 hours. The circumstances are almost identical: the victims are from the Caucasus, aged 30-40 and have dark hair. Their identities are unknown. Such are the results of racist propaganda in the run-up to the parliamentary elections. Our people are very susceptible and react promptly.
Putin does not simply lack competitors. The whole background is an intellectual desert. The affair has no logic, no reason, no sparkle of genuine, serious thinking. Candidate No 1 knows best and requires no advice. There is nobody to moderate his arrogance. Russia has been humiliated.
Ivan Rybkin has announced he will stand [against Putin]. He is the creature of Putin's main opponent, Boris Berezovsky, now in exile abroad. Rybkin used to be the speaker of the Duma and chairman of the National Security Council. Who is he today? Time will tell.
January 6 2004
Those at the top and bottom of our society might as well be living on different planets. I set off to see the most underprivileged of all: Psycho-Neurological Orphanage No. 25 on the outskirts of Moscow. The surroundings here are warm and clean. The patient carers are kind, very tired, overworked women. Everything here is good, except that the children don't cry. They are silent or they howl. There is no laughter.
When he is not grinding his teeth, 15-month-old Danila is silent, peering attentively at the strangers. He does not look at you as you would expect of a 15-month-old baby; he peers straight into your eyes, like an FSB interrogator. He has catastrophically limited experience of human tenderness.
The wave of charitable giving in Russia stopped in 2002 when the Putin administration revoked tax privileges for charities. Until 2002, children in our orphanages were showered with gifts and new year presents. Now the rich no longer give them presents. Pensioners bring them their old, tattered shawls.
Meanwhile, our nouveau riche are skiing this Christmas in Courchevel. More than 2,000 Russians, each earning over half a million roubles [£10,000] a month, congregate for the "Saison russe". The menu offers eight kinds of oysters, the wine list includes bottles at £1,500, and in the retinue of every nouveau riche you can be sure of finding the government officials, our true oligarchs, who deliver these vast incomes to the favoured 2,000. The talk is of success, of the firebird of happiness caught by its tail feathers, of being trusted by the state authorities. The "charity" of officialdom, otherwise known as corruption, is the quickest route to Courchevel.
The body of Aslam Davletukaev, abducted from his home on January 10, has been found showing signs of torture. He has been shot in the back of the head. Aslan was a well-known Chechen human rights campaigner. Our democracy continues its decline. Nothing in Russia depends on the people; Putin is resuscitating our stereotype: "Let us wait until our feudal lord comes back. He will tell us how everything should be." It has to be admitted that this is how the Russian people likes it, which means that soon Putin will throw away the mask of a defender of human rights. He won't need it anymore.
8.32am: there has been an explosion in the Moscow metro. The train was heading into the city centre during the rush hour when a bomb exploded beside the first door of the second carriage. Thirty people died at the scene, and another nine died later from their burns. There are 140 injured. There are dozens of tiny, unidentifiable fragments of bodies. More than 700 people emerged from the tunnel, having evacuated themselves without any assistance. In the streets there is chaos and fear, the wailing sirens of the emergency services, millions of people terrorised.
At 10.44 the Volcano-5 Contingency Plan for capturing the culprits was implemented, more than two hours after the explosion. Who do they think they are going to catch? If there were any accomplices they will have fled long ago. At 12.12 the police started searching for a man aged 30-35, "of Caucasian appearance". Very helpful.
Ivan Rybkin has disappeared. A bit of excitement in the election at last. His wife is going crazy. On February 2, Rybkin harshly criticised Putin and his wife believes that did for him.
No details have yet been established of the type of bomb used in the metro. Putin keeps repeating, as he did after Nord-Ost [the attack by Chechen militants on a Moscow theatre in 2002, which ended with 130 hostages killed when special forces gassed and stormed the building], that nobody inside Russia was responsible. Everything was planned abroad. A day of mourning has been declared but the television stations barely observe it. Loud pop music and cheerful TV advertisements make you feel ashamed.
Two of those who died are being buried today. One is Alexander Ishunkin, a 25-year-old lieutenant in the armed forces. His Uncle Mikhail identified his body in the mortuary. Seven years ago Alexander's father was killed, and since then Alexander had been the very dependable head of the family. Even in issuing his death certificate the state can't refrain from dishonesty: the box for "Cause of death" has been crossed through. Not a word about terrorism.
Rybkin has been found. A very strange episode. At midday he announced he was in Kiev. He said he had just been on holiday there with friends and that, after all, a human being has a right to a private life! Kseniya Ponomaryova promptly resigned as leader of his election team. His wife is refusing to talk to him. In late evening he flew into Moscow from Kiev, looking half-dead and not at all like someone who has been having a good time on holiday. He was wearing women's sunglasses and was escorted by an enormous bodyguard. "Who was detaining you?" he was asked, but gave no reply. He also refused to talk to the investigators from the Procurator's Office who had been searching for him. It was later announced he might withdraw his candidacy. In St Petersburg, skinheads have stabbed to death nine-year-old Khursheda Sultanova in the courtyard of the flats where her family lived. Her father, 35-year-old Yusuf Sultanov, a Tadjik, has been working in St Petersburg for many years. That evening he was bringing the children back from the Yusupov Park ice slope when some aggressive youths started following them.
In a dark connecting courtyard leading to their home the youths attacked them. Khursheda suffered 11 stab wounds and died immediately. Yusuf's 11-year-old nephew, Alabir, escaped in the darkness by hiding under a parked car. Alabir says the skinheads kept stabbing Khursheda until they were certain she was dead. They were shouting, "Russia for the Russians!" The Sultanovs are not illegal immigrants. They are officially registered as citizens of St Petersburg, but fascists are not interested in ID cards. When Russia's leaders indulge in soundbites about cracking down on immigrants and guest labourers, they incur the responsibility for tragedies such as this.
Fifteen people were detained shortly afterwards, but released. Many turned out to be the offspring of people employed by the law-enforcement agencies of St Petersburg. Today, 20,000 St Petersburg youths belong to unofficial fascist or racist organisations. The St Petersburg skinheads are among the most active in the country and are constantly attacking Azerbaijanis, Chinese and Africans. Nobody is ever punished, because the law-enforcement agencies are themselves infected with racism. You have only to switch off your audio recorder for the militia to start telling you they understand the skinheads, and as for those blacks ... etc, etc. Fascism is in fashion.
The Candidate Rybkin soap opera continues. Before this, Rybkin had the reputation of being a meticulous person, not a heavy drinker and even slightly dull. "Two days in Kiev" are very much out of character. Rybkin reports that after he disappeared he spent a certain amount of time in Moscow Province at Woodland Retreat, the guest-house of the Presidential Administration. He was taken from there and found himself in Kiev. He says further that those controlling him compelled him to call Moscow from Kiev and talk lightheartedly about having a right to a private life.
Alexander Litvinenko in London and Oleg Kalugin in Washington, former FSB/KGB officers who have been granted political asylum in the west, have suggested that a psychotropic substance called SP117 may have been used on Rybkin. [Litvinenko died in London last November after being poisoned.] This compound was used in the FSB's counter-intelligence sections and in units combating terrorism, but only in exceptional cases on "important targets". SP117 is a truth drug that prevents an individual from having full possession of his mind. He will tell everything he knows. These statements will not save Rybkin. Putin has won this round against Berezovsky, now his sworn enemy, but his pal in the late 1990s.
Ivan Rybkin has announced that he will not be returning from London. A defecting presidential candidate is a first in our history. Nobody now has any doubt that the regime drugged him.
The Sultanovs, the family of the little girl Khursheda who was murdered by skinheads in St Petersburg, have abandoned Russia and gone to live in Tajikistan. They took a small coffin containing the child's remains.
Everything is being reduced to absurdity. The appointment of [Mikhail] Fradkov as prime minister by the Duma deserves an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. 352 votes in favour of a man who, when asked what his plans for the future were, could only blurt: "I have just come out of the shadow into the light." Fradkov is a man of the shadows because he is a spy. We have a truly third-rate prime minister. The country is sinking into a state of collective unconsciousness, into unreason.
Silence and apathy. Nobody can be bothered to listen to the drivel coming from the television. Let's just get it over with.
Well, so he's been elected. By and large, the concept of ruling the country by the same methods used in conducting the "anti-terrorist operation" has been vindicated: L'Etat, c'est Putin.
· In G2 on Monday: Politkovskaya's devastating report on the Beslan school hostage disaster; and on Tuesday, her interview with Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen warlord suspected of involvement in her murder.
Extracted from A Russian Diary,
copyright © Anna Politkovskaya 2007.
5. 'A War That is Gone But Not Forgotten: A rare visit to Chechnya shows the cruel aftermath' by Sebastian Smith
This story appears in March 12, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.
GROZNY, RUSSIA—One day last summer, Khamzat Tushayev joined the ranks of the disappeared. His wife, Satsita, trembles as she tells the story, which starts with a June 7 phone call from a man claiming to be with the prosecutor's bureau. The caller asked Tushayev, 47, a former separatist rebel, to come in for questioning—which he did the next morning. "I stayed at the gate, and the guard let my husband inside," she recalls. "I waited and waited. He didn't come back. So I asked the guard to phone the prosecutor's office. But this was what they said: 'There was never any such person here.'"
Satsita, 43, has not seen her husband since. Her repeated inquiries, aided by Russia's leading human-rights group, Memorial, have come up empty. Such is the Kafkaesque world of Chechnya in what officials call peacetime.
This devastated corner of Russia—where a 12-year separatist war cost the lives of some 50,000 to 100,000 civilians and some 10,000 Russian soldiers—has dropped out of western view. Yet the Chechen conflict is key to understanding the new Russia. President Vladimir Putin sees his ruthless military campaign here as a cornerstone in his quest to bring order; critics say that it reflects Putin's wider authoritarianism that has crushed the free media and much political opposition throughout Russia.
An unapologetic Kremlin claims success in breaking the violent Chechen rebellion, which began as an independence movement before morphing into Islamist radical-ism. Guerrilla leader Shamil Basayev, instigator of the 2004 Beslan school-hostage massacre, died last summer in an explosion reportedly rigged by Russian agents, and little remains of his fighting force. "We are part of Russia. You can't argue with that," says Akhiyat Zaitov, 64, as he surveys the knee-high ruins of thousands of houses in his home village, Bamut, once a bastion of guerrilla resistance.
In the capital, Grozny, where years of Russian bombardments wreaked vast destruction, life is returning at a startling pace. Flashy, glass-fronted businesses stand where months earlier there were just skeletons of buildings. Fountains sparkle on the central square where hundreds died in some of the fiercest urban battles since World War II.
Hearts and mines. Yet there are signs of hollowness in the Kremlin's declared victory. On a rare trip by a foreign journalist to the strategic southeastern Vedeno valley, Russian troops could be seen on high alert as their armored columns trundled through semideserted villages. Hilltops are dotted with military positions, and locals say land mines make the forests too dangerous to enter.
Day-to-day security in swaths of Chechnya is left to locally recruited Kremlin-loyalist forces, who run things much as they please. This makes their de facto chief, Putin-appointed President Ramzan Kadyrov, perhaps the most important man in Chechnya. Kadyrov, 30, is the son of a prominent Islamic leader who in 1999 abandoned the rebels for the Russian side and served as Kremlin-installed local president before being assassinated in 2004.
In the Chechen villages and small towns, the young Kadyrov's power seems unlimited. His portraits are peppered across the ruins of Grozny, at the entrance of many villages, and on the windshields of his supporters' cars. Local television is filled with his pronouncements. Mysteriously wealthy, the burly, bearded Kadyrov boasts about his private zoo, which includes a lion and a wolf, in his home village of Tsenteroi. When he turned 30 in October, guests danced on a floor littered with money. Like some medieval potentate, he accepted a flood of gifts, reportedly including a Ferrari sports car, that would raise eyebrows anywhere, not only in poverty-stricken Chechnya.
But Putin needs Kadyrov, whose militia forces—popularly dubbed "Kadyrovtsy"—are proving effective against rebel remnants. Unlike the Russians, the Kadyrovtsy know the territory, they know the language, and, most important, they know the complex, unwritten rules of Chechen society, based on ancient mountain laws and the traditions of eclectic Sufi sects. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Memorial cite another characteristic of the Kadyrovtsy: enthusiasm for Russian methods of rooting out rebel suspects, namely torture, kidnapping, and illegal execution. According to Memorial, between 3,000 and 5,000 people—like Satsita's husband—have "disappeared" in the past six years. Even official government sources put the figure at about 2,700. And although the figures drop every year, they remain alarming in a traumatized society of about a million people. Last year, Memorial—which is able to operate only in 30 percent of Chechen territory—listed 172 kidnappings, with half of those still missing and nine found dead.
Many observers—most notably the slain Russian investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya—have accused Kadyrov of personally promoting these abuses. Two days before her October 7 murder in Moscow, Politkovskaya branded Kadyrov a "heavily armed coward" and the "Stalin of our times." But the Kremlin does not share these qualms, and Putin has bestowed on Kadyrov the country's highest honor, Hero of Russia.
What does cause jitters in Moscow is that the bulk of the estimated 7,000 armed men associated with Kadyrov are themselves former rebel fighters enticed or coerced into switching sides. "Everyone knows the so-called pro-Moscow militias in Chechnya are in fact tribal military formations loyal only to their chiefs," said Moscow-based military affairs specialist Pavel Felgenhauer. "Basically, the rebels in Chechnya have entered a rest period and are getting training under the Russian flag."
Chechen panache. The ambitious Kadyrov, meanwhile, is using that unquestioned power to shed his image as a Kremlin puppet and become something of a national leader. His growing number of admirers, especially youths who grew up with little but war, point to his typically Chechen panache and his ability to say what ordinary people are thinking. He has appealed to the many devoutly Muslim Chechens by calling for women to wear head scarves, for permitting polygamy, and for banning gambling.
A sad irony is that in many ways Chechnya again resembles the legal black hole that characterized de facto independence in the 1990s. And now that corrosion is spreading into Russia proper. In September, another top Chechen leader who switched sides to become a Russian officer, Sulim Yamadayev, was reported in the Russian media to have led a mafia-style armed raid on a meat processing plant located on a valuable piece of real estate in St. Petersburg—more than 1,500 miles from Grozny. In November, another legalized warlord, Movladi Baisarov, was gunned down in central Moscow—resisting arrest, by the official account. With journalist Politkovskaya shot dead and former spy Alexander Litvinenko, another opponent of Putin's actions in Chechnya, fatally poisoned in London, the Chechen-related body trail—regardless of who carried out the killings—seems to be spreading.
Worryingly for Moscow, discontent stretches across the North Caucasus region, a patchwork of tiny ethnic minorities that, like the Chechens, share poverty, Islam, and often histories of chafing at Russian rule. An extensive underground network connects armed bands—sometimes Chechens, sometimes members of other ethnic groups, and sometimes including a handful of al Qaeda-linked foreigners. They attack police, soldiers, and officials while preaching radical Islam as an alternative to Russian rule. The authorities tend to respond with brute force, rarely attempting to address the roots of the unrest, which human-rights organizations list as economic hopelessness, political disenfranchisement, and thirst for revenge against the security forces.
Satsita, like most Chechens, knows exactly how destructive and futile this cycle of conflict can be. A brother-in-law was killed fighting the Russians. A daughter became a suicide bomber after her husband of six weeks was shot by soldiers. Satsita's husband joined the rebels but won amnesty. Now, he has vanished. As tears slide down her cheeks, she says, "I have lost all hope."
Tony Wood, «Putin's Colonial War»: In: New left review 11, sep oct 2001. Available in: http://newleftreview.org/?view=2353
«Spreading Danger: Time Ror a New Policy Toward Chechnya.» Carnegie Policy Brief. Report by Fiona Hill, Anatol Lieven, and Thomas de Waal. Available in: http://www.CarnegieEndowment.org