Friday, 25 June 2010

Caucasian Consensus, by Tom Balmforth

Russia Profile, June 24, 2010

There May Be More Consensus Between Russia and the PACE, But Moscow's Delegates Still Want More Recognition of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov's "Positive Role"

A report and resolution condemning Russian policy in the North Caucasus got unanimous backing at the Parliamentary Assembly for the Council of Europe (PACE) on Tuesday and was even approved by top Russian officials. This is the first time such a resolution has been approved without any objections in the 14 years of Russia’s membership on the Council of Europe. No one doubts this is a signal from the Kremlin, but deciphering it is another matter. Is it all just a PR smoke screen, or are there fresh political winds blowing in the Kremlin?

The June 22 PACE resolution on the North Caucasus was approved almost unanimously by various delegations including top Russian officials, even though it condemns “systemic human rights violations and the climate of complete impunity.” This is the first time consensus across the board has been reached at a PACE session on rights issues in Russia’s troubled Caucasus region. Activists and politicians alike are hailing the breakthrough as “unprecedented.”

Two members of the Russian delegation, including State Duma Deputies Sergei Markov and Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the International Affairs Committee, abstained from the vote along with four other non-Russians. Other Russian delegates such as Ivan Melnikov, another State Duma deputy, voted in favor, and others such as Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov gave it full backing.

“What is unprecedented is that the resolution was approved by everyone: the Parliamentary Assembly, human rights activists, Akhmed Zakayev, and the Russian delegation,” said Oleg Orlov, the head of human rights at Memorial, who was at the conference.

Akhmed Zakayev, a Chechen emissary wanted in Russia but supposed to be living in exile in London, caused a big stir when he burst into the Strasbourg conference uninvited, having apparently duped his way in with a fake pass. PACE’s plenary session had already been strained as the Estonian delegation in particular vilified Russia’s policy on the volatile region in Russia’s south, but even Zakayev gatecrashing did not prevent overall consensus on the resolution and report. Ingush president Yevkurov called the findings of the PACE report “unbiased” and “objective.” Orlov said both the report and the resolution were “excellent.”

The resolution starts positively by praising Russia’s “impressive efforts…to rebuild towns often reduced to heaps of rubble, and to restore and improve the country’s infrastructures,” after the two bloody Chechen wars. But the report goes on to castigate developments in Chechnya with increasingly emotive language. “The climate of impunity…and the passiveness of the authorities…seriously undermine the population’s trust in the security forces and the state institutions generally, and thus feed the nefarious spiral of violence,” reads the resolution.

In a press statement after the plenary session, Zakayev was even more barbed in his appraisal of Russian policy: “I would state that no window dressing about the so-called ‘rejuvenated’ Chechen Republic can serve as compensation for 250,000 lives of our countrymen, sacrificed on the altar of freedom and independence of our motherland – or for the ongoing violence.”

The republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan both came out relatively well from the report. Ingushetia’s president was commended for fomenting “constructive dialogue” with civil society, despite the increase in violent insurgency. Meanwhile the Dagestan security forces were mildly criticized after they “were not always lawful and productive” in their response to the recent increase in violence.

So have the Russians changed tack? Orlov said the unprecedentedly positive reaction of the Russian delegation had to indicate a clear change of policy. “It’s clearly a signal, and must have come from the Kremlin. It’s a good signal of course. But what it means is another matter. Is it the case that the Russian authorities have finally recognized that they need to fight human rights abuses in the North Caucasus, and that these abuses are impeding the situation stabilizing? This we can only hope,” said Orlov. “We will have to wait and see if this is just a Potemkin village.”

Sergei Markov told Russia Profile there had been no change in the position of the Russian authorities. “This new report simply moved closer to the Russian position,” said Markov. “It’s not a change in Kremlin policy – the results reflect a change of policy from the Parliamentary Assembly for the Council of Europe.”

Russia has never simply “ignored” that the human rights situation in the North Caucasus is “far from ideal,” as previous PACE resolutions have stated, said Markov. “This report actually paid tribute to the attempt of the Russian authorities to make improvements, but with one exception: this report does not recognize the positive role of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov,” said Markov.

The resolution says that “the current [Chechen] authorities continue to nurture a climate of pervading fear, despite the undeniable successes in the sphere of reconstruction and the appreciable improvement of infrastructure in this region, torn by two cruel and devastating wars.”

It continues: the Assembly “was deeply saddened by the violent death or the disappearance of personalities such as Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova, Stanislav Markelov, Magomed Yevloyev, Maksharip Aushev, Zarema Gaisanova, Zarema Sadulayeva, Rashid Ozdoyev and many others, and expresses its perplexity and anguish at the fact that to date none of these cases has been elucidated by the investigating system.”

Five out of eight of these cases are linked specifically to Chechnya. The report also found that there are “strong indications” that the Chechen authorities, or “at least circles close to them,” were responsible for the murder of Kadyrov’s bodyguard-turned-critic Umar Israilov in Vienna in January 2009.

A case was opened yesterday against the two Chechens charged with gunning down Ruslan Yamadaev, an old rival of Kadyrov, in 2008. Since then Yamadaev’s brother was assassinated in Dubai, and a third brother narrowly escaped being murdered by his bodyguard. The bodyguard publically claims that Kadyrov offered $1 million for the third brother’s murder.

A press release posted on Ramzan Kadyrov’s Web site the day of the conference reads: “Everything must follow the letter of the law in the Chechen Republic.”

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Circassians Demand Division Of Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic

RFE/RL, June 7 -- Meeting in Cherkessk on June 5, representatives of the Circassian minority demanded the division of the Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic (KChR) to recreate the separate Cherkess Autonomous Oblast that existed from 1928-1957. They have addressed a request to that effect to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and North Caucasus Federal District head Aleksandr Khloponin. It is the third such demand for Circassian autonomy in the past 17 years.

The so-called congress of the Cherkess people that formulated the demand for an autonomous oblast within the Russian Federation with the status of a separate republic was attended by the same 500-plus delegates who participated in a similar gathering in November 2008. On that occasion too, some delegates had advocated calling for a separate Cherkess republic comprising parts of the KChR, the neighboring Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, and the Republic of Adygeya. But delegates from Kabardino-Balkaria, where the Kabardians (ethnic cousins to the Cherkess) constitute a majority, declined to support that proposal. It was finally decided not to issue any such demand, but to give the Russian leadership time to address the KChR Circassians' grievances.

Foremost among the Circassian minority's complaints was the failure of KChR President Boris Ebzeyev to abide by a long-standing unwritten agreement on the division of leading posts among the republic's various ethnic groups. In line with that agreement, if the KChR president is a Karachai (as are Ebzeyev and his predecessor Mustafa Batdyev), the prime minister is a Circassian and the parliament speaker a Russian. According to the All-Russian census of 2002, 38.5 percent of the republic's population of 430,000 are Karachais, and 33.6 percent are Russians. The Circassians are the third largest ethnic group, accounting for 11.3 percent of the total.

Following his nomination as president in September 2008, Ebzeyev antagonized the Circassians by naming a Greek, Vladimir Kayshev, as prime minister and two Russians consecutively as parliament speaker. Tensions rose to the point that in March this year, the Russian, Cherkess, Abazin, and Nogai minorities addressed a collective appeal to the Russian leadership to replace Ebzeyev, whose leadership style has been described as "somnolent feudalism," as president with a Russian.

In an attempt to defuse those tensions, North Caucasus Federal District head Khloponin traveled to Cherkessk in late April and gave Ebzeyev until May 1 to name a Circassian as prime minister. But Ebzeyev failed to meet that deadline, and the man tentatively identified as his preferred choice for that position, his aide Fral Shbzukhov, was murdered in mid-May.

Ebzeyev then proposed as premier Circassian Muradin Kemov, who had served as acting prime minister since Kayshev's dismissal, rather than either of two alternative candidates whom the Circassian community preferred. Kemov attended the June 5 gathering "not in his capacity as prime minister but as a Circassian," according to Mukhammed Cherkesov, who heads the KChR-based Circassian public organization Adyghe Khase.

A second collective Cherkess grievance, according to Cherkesov, is perceived economic and cultural discrimination of the Cherkess by the Karachai majority.

The June 5 congress was also attended by representatives of the KChR's other ethnic minorities, including Nikolay Khokhlachev, a Russian who heads the Coordinating Council of National Public Organizations.

Mussa Takushinov, representing the KChR's Abazin minority, told Caucasian Knot that until now he has always opposed the idea of splitting the KChR, but now he sees it as the only solution to the mutual lack of respect between the various ethnic groups.

The delegates stressed that during the process of recreating the Cherkess Autonomous Oblast -- a process that they acknowledge will take years -- and selecting its leaders, the rights of all the ethnic groups that will live there must be respected. They further acknowledged that creating a new oblast will require changes to the constitution of the existing KChR. But Cherkasov said he does not believe that a referendum on the issue is necessary. "No one asked our opinion when they lumped us together with the Karachais," he said.

There has been no official reaction yet to the Circassians' bombshell from Ebzeyev's administration. But Karachai parliament deputy Akhmad Ebzeyev (not known to be a close relative to his namesake Boris) downplayed it as motivated primarily by unnamed Circassian interest groups out to embarrass the president.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Circassians move to seek autonomy within Russia

Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Teberda state nature reserve

MOSCOW, June 6 (RIA Novosti) -- A public organization of Circassians, a North Caucasus ethnic group, gathered for an emergency congress on Saturday to ask the Russian authorities to create a Circassian autonomous area, Russian media reported.

The Circassian autonomous area existed within the Soviet Union in 1928-1957. The majority of Russian Circassians currently live in the Russian North Caucasus Republic of Karachai-Circassia, where they make the third largest ethnic group (11.3%), after Karachais and Russians, according to the 2002 census.

"Under the current state of affairs in the Republic of Karachai-Circassia, the Circassian people have no legal perspective for their revival and development," Nezavisimaya Gazeta quoted a statement by the congress' organization committee.

A similar request filed in 2008 was "ignored" by the Russian authorities, the congress said.
The public organization of Circassians has been seeking autonomy for Circassians since 1994, citing "mono-national ethnocracy" and "a violation of constitutional rights of Circassians and other peoples to hold the leading posts in the republic."

Political controversies in republic came into focus in March after a leader of the organization's youth movement was killed. Members of the movement claimed that this was an assassination. The tensions further escalated last month after an aide to the republic's president, an ethnic Circassian, was killed on May 12.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Human rights in the North Caucasus: the most serious situation in the geographical area of the Council of Europe

Strasbourg, 31.05.2010 – The situation in the North Caucasus region, particularly the Chechen Republic, Ingushetia and Dagestan, is currently “the most serious and delicate situation” from the angle of protecting human rights and affirming the rule of law in the whole geographic area covered by the Council of Europe, as stressed by the text adopted this morning by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), on the basis of the report drawn up by Dick Marty (Switzerland, ALDE).

The unanimously adopted draft resolution paints a dark picture, particularly in the Chechen Republic, where the current authorities continue to nurture “a climate of pervading fear”, recurrent disappearances of opponents of the Government and champions of human rights “remain widely unpunished” and the judicial organs “plainly do nothing about the misdeeds of the security forces”. All of this is happening in an atmosphere of personalisation of power which is “disgraceful in a democracy”.

In Ingushetia, the parliamentarians noted “an alarming upsurge of violence since 2009”, while in Dagestan, the outbreak of terrorist acts has prompted “prompted responses of the security forces which are not always lawful and productive".

The text adopted reaffirmed the Assembly’s aversion to any act of terrorism, a phenomenon which can only be fought effectively “while respecting fundamental rights”. It also pays tribute to human rights advocates, lawyers and journalists working in difficult circumstances, and often in peril of their lives, to help victims obtain justice and denounce abuses.

The draft resolution calls on the Russian central and regional executive and judicial authorities to combat terrorism “by availing themselves of the instruments provided by the law-based state”, and to look for the causes of the radicalisation in progress and the growing hold of religious extremism; to prosecute and try “in accordance with the law all culprits of human rights violations”, including members of the security forces, and to co-operate more closely with the human rights defence organisations, while “protecting their staff members effectively against possible reprisals”.

In connection with enforcing the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights finding serious and repeated violations of fundamental rights, the text welcomes the “specific efforts made by the Russian authorities”, while observing that “appreciable results in the matter are still awaited”. The climate of overall impunity illustrated by the Court’s judgments “seriously undermine(s) the population’s trust in the security forces and the state institutions generally, and thus feed(s) the nefarious spiral of violence”.

In the parliamentarians’ view, the other Council of Europe member countries should co-operate with the Russian authorities in combating terrorism, “guarantee adequate protection to the Chechen exiles” whom they have received in their territory and “consider with the greatest care and caution extradition requests in respect of exiles
from the North Caucasian republics who would risk being killed, subjected to torture or an unfair trial”.

The Assembly will be debating the draft resolution in Strasbourg during its forthcoming summer plenary session (21-25 June 2010).