WASHINGTON – A European human rights organization has called on the United States government to make the Chechen conflict a priority in its talks with Russian authorities.
“It is important for the United States to keep Chechnya as the only agenda in its discussion with Russia,” said Aaron Rhodes,executive director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights,at a Radio Free Europe press conference Wednesday.
Several years ago,the Federation for Human Rights,headquartered in Vienna,Austria,and composed of non-profit organizations that protect human rights throughout Europe,North America and Central Asia,decided to identify Chechnya as a priority concern. Moreover,the federation started recognizing Chechnya as the worst human rights region.
“It was hard to come up with a decision that Chechnya has the worst human rights situation in the entire Eurasian region,” Rhodes said,because so many countries were involved in making the decision.
“And when the United States doesn't speak up about that,it undermines the credibility on the war against terrorism and alienates the United States from the progressive,democratic forces that are trying to achieve in their society what we have here,” Rhodes said.
In 2003 the Memorial,a human rights center headquartered in Moscow that concentrates on human rights violations in zones of armed conflicts in the Russian Federation,said it knew of 495 Chechens who had disappeared from their native land. However,in 2004 this number decreased to 396.
According to the Memorial,3,000 to 5,000 civilian Chechens are reported to have disappeared since fighting began in 1999.
“It might be regarded as the number of disappearance has decreased. But,in fact,people have just stopped reporting to the prosecutor's office because of their fright,” said Eliza Maussaeva,the federation's consultant in Chechnya,who was also at the press conference.
The State Department said U.S. policy toward the Chechen conflict has not changed since former secretary Colin Powell made the following comment to the Associated Press: “How this problem of Chechnya will ultimately be solved is something for the Russians to work out,but with respect to terrorist attacks against innocent Russians,we stand united with the Russians that they have to deal with this in the most powerful,direct,forceful way that they can in order to protect their citizens,the same as we are doing to protect our citizens.”
In response to then-State Department spokesman Richard Boucher's comment that presidential elections in Chechnya,held Aug.,29,2004,were seriously flawed and did not meet international standards,Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was quoted in Interfax,a Russian News agency,as saying: “We solve our internal problems ourselves and there’s no need to search for an American route to political normalization in Chechnya.”
A year after the second Chechen war started in 1999,Russian forces rained down 2 million bombs,shells,mines and rockets on Chechnya. About 20,000 houses were demolished and 10,000 civilians killed,the Chechen-Russian Friendship Society,a human rights organization based in the Russian city of Nizhniy Novgorod,reported.
The information center editor of the Russian-Friendship Society,Oksana Chelisheva,said Russian authorities are doing everything to deny the presence of conflict in Chechnya.
“They say that the stability has been reached,but it hasn't,” Chelisheva told reporters.
The Russian-Chechen conflict goes back to the late 18th century,when Russia started colonizing the Caucasus to secure its borders against the Ottoman Empire.
“It is a continuing human rights violation,” Rhodes said.
During Soviet times,Joseph Stalin created the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic in 1936 and in 1944 deported more than 1 million Chechens,Ingush and other North Caucasian peoples to Siberia and Central Asia. The mass deportation took place after Chechen separatists staged an uprising against Russian rule after Nazi forces reached the Chechen capital,Grozny.
In 1994,Russian soldiers devastated Grozny and killed thousand of civilians,saying they were connected to Dzokhar Dudayev,who led the Chechen separatists.
“If the Chechens were the blond,blue-eyed Catholics,this would not be happening. If they were Jews,this will not be happening. They are viewed as not fully people. They are not people,they are Chechens,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes said that the continuing conflict may draw terrorist groups from outside to support the region's Islamic population and spread the conflict beyond Chechnya.
“Chechnya is not an isolated problem; it's a problem that affects the whole of Russia and it's a problem that affects the world,” Rhodes said.