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Russia's War Against Chechnya Widens and Worsens Terrorism, Experts Say

(Washington, DC -- July 28, 2005) Representatives of three human rights organizations told a RFE/RL audience last week that the Russian government's war in Chechnya was creating terrorism, not stopping terrorism in the region. Aaron Rhodes, Executive Director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Eliza Moussaeva, former head of the regional branch of Memorial in Nazran, Ingushetia, and Oksana Chelysheva, editor for the publication of the Nizhniy Novgorod-based Russian-Chechen Friendship Society all agreed that Chechnya was the "worst human rights situation in the entire OSCE (Organization on Cooperation and Security in Europe) region," and that the sixth year of the war was proving to have "the same rate of violence [against the population] as past years."

Rhodes described the conflict in Chechnya as "not a war on terrorism," but a "war against the population," which is "creating terrorism." He noted that "like other CIS countries where autocrats are using terrorism as a pretext to violate human rights to maintain themselves," Russia itself is "declining" as the government puts the country on a "mobilization footing" threatening the development of its own civil society. He expressed disappointment with the international community's response to Chechnya as a "failure of international institutions," which were created "for human rights abuses like Chechnya." Rhodes said that the "European Union was too divided" to deal with Chechnya, the ministers of the Council of Europe "ignore PACE (the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe)," and the OSCE "rarely speaks of it." He urged U.S. officials "to speak out" about Chechnya because "when the U.S. doesn't speak up it shows a double standard and alienates the democratic forces in many countries."

Eliza Moussaeva's human rights organization, Memorial, monitors human rights violations, the legal process in Chechnya, and provides refugees assistance. It also works on cases brought before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Moussaeva said the Russian government's policy of "Chechenization of the conflict" has not brought stability to Chechnya, rather "the civilian population is now stuck between the Russian [military] forces and also are targets of the Russian-backed Chechen government forces." "Fright is the main condition" of the people in Chechnya, she said, where Memorial is only able to monitor up to 25 percent of Chechnya's territory. Moussaeva cited a reduction in the number of "disappearances" of civilians in Chechnya from 495 in 2003 to 396 in 2004. But this doesn’t necessarily mean there was improvement, she said because "the decrease may well be representative of people just giving up hope and not reporting to the prosecutor’s office" since prosecutors increasingly "reject statements" from victims' families. Moussaeva said that people also don't apply "because they're afraid….They're afraid to even talk to human rights monitors." Moussaeva and Rhodes said their collected statistics show that the violence against civilians has also spread to Ingushetia and North Ossetia where Memorial has documented abducted people being tortured.

Oksana Chelysheva said "the pressure [on human rights organizations] is gradually increasing in Russia to impede our work," and the security services since January [2005], "have made efforts through pseudological pretexts to close down public associations" like Memorial and the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society. "They view us as opponents, said Chelysheva, and their aim is to "find a way to silence those speaking about Chechnya." Although there are various agencies pressuring the human rights groups, she believes "the source is in Moscow." Chelysheva said the Russian government has tried to "freeze this conflict away from the world's attention," by claiming there is "stability in Chechnya," but along with the undiminished violence against civilians, there have been "clashes between Russian-backed units both in Chechnya and Ingushetia." She strongly believes that the "level of impunity" which now characterizes both the Russian forces and the Russian-backed Chechen forces in the war zone is spreading to the rest of the Russian Federation. Chelysheva said, "Chechnya-like mop-up operations" have recently taken place against young people in "small towns in Russia."