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Friday, February 15, 2008

Goble on Russian Barbarism in Chechnya

Paul Goble reports:

President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that the Russian Federation had stabilized during his time in office, almost eight years to the day that the forces he sent into a Chechen village committed what one human rights activist says was “the most terrible event “ of the second post-Soviet Chechen war. And in an article about that crime which appeared on the Caucasus Times site even as Putin was delivering his speech, Aleksandr Cherkasov of Memorial reminded the world about the terrible price Chechens had paid for the stability for which the Russian President was then taking credit.

What happened in the Chechen village of Novye Aldy on February 5, 2000, has been extremely well-documented by Western human rights organizations despite the fact that Moscow attempted to throw a blanket of silence over it at the time and has refused to bring any of the perpetrators to trial. Human Rights Watch issued an extensive report shortly after the events took place entitled “February 5: A Day of Slaughter in Novye Aldy,” and lawyers for the families of the victims have provided additional information as they have sought compensation for what was done. But in the Russian media in the first months of Putin’s time in office, Cherkasov points out, “people spoke about [Moscow’s] victories” in Chechnya and did not offer much in the way of honest reporting about how those victories were achieved, a pattern that Putin continued in his speech last week.

On that February day, Russian military units passed through Novye Aldy in the course of their advance on the Chechen capital. As they left that village, they warned the people there that “terrible people are coming behind us,” a reference to the Russian interior ministry’s OMON units. When the latter arrived, Cherkasov writes, “they moved through the village, going into each household, killing, stealing, extorting money (in certain cases it was possible to buy one’s life), [and even] pulling out gold fillings from the teeth of those who were not in a position to pay off” the OMON soldiers. This group killed 55 of the villagers, and that number would doubtless have been far higher had it not been for the quick thinking of a local nurse who urged people to gather in the streets in the hopes that even the OMON would not be willing to shoot down people in front of a crowd of witnesses. Over the next several years, the families of the victims tried with little success to get Russian prosecutors to investigate what happened and to bring charges against those who had violated the Russian constitution, common decency, and international agreements Moscow has committed itself to fulfill. But Russian prosecutors and other officials cut short the few investigations they did launch and have never charged any of the OMON soldiers or officers with a crime, despite the fact that officials know exactly what unit was in Novye Aldy on that date and have been given extensive forensic evidence on the victims.

As a result, the Novye Aldy families took the only other step left to them: they appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. And in a unanimous decision last July, that court ordered Moscow to pay them almost $200,000. More important than the money both to the families and to history was the Court’s stinging indictment of Russian prosecutors and by implication the Russian government as a whole. “The astonishing ineffectiveness of the prosecuting authorities in this case,” the Court said, “can only be qualified as acquiescence in the events.”

“The killings” in Novye Aldy, the Court continued in far harsher language than it has used in most of the cases from Russia that have come before it, “had been committed in broad daylight, and a large number of witnesses, including some of the applicants, had seen the perpetrators face to face.” But “despite all that and notwithstanding the domestic and international public outcry caused by the cold-blooded execution of more than 50 civilians … no meaningful result whatsoever had been achieved [before the case came to Strasbourg] in the task of identifying and prosecuting the individuals who had committed the crimes.”

Echoing the European Court’s ruling, Memorial’s Cherkasov argues that “all Russia ought to be interested in finding and punishing the criminals.” But for the last eight years, “we have heard [only] about the victories [of Russian arms in Chechnya] and the glorious operations of ‘the hunt for wolves.’” One can only hope along with Cherkasov that both Russians and the international community will both find out about and condemn other crimes that Moscow has visited upon the Chechens and their neighbors in the North Caucasus as President Putin, often to the applause of Western leaders, has pursued “stability” there.


Anonymous said...

Where were the Strasbourg Court, Memorial and all the other "human rights activists" when non-Chechens (Russians, Armenians, Jews, Lezghins, Ingushes, etc.) who lived in Chechnya were being slaughtered and driven out of the Republic in the early 1990s?

La Russophobe said...

You seem to be quite deeply confused.

(a) The ECHR is a forum directed at GOVERNMENT actors. The Chechens who killed were REBELS.

(b) The only reason the Chechens were killing is because Russians were oppressing them and refusing to give them their freedom.

(c) Last time we checked, Chechnya wasn't asking to be a member of the G-8 or WTO. Are you seriously suggesting that the standards for Chechen rebels are the same as for the government of Russia? Can you possibly be that intellectually dishonest? Do you really think that Russia is allowed to engage in human rights atrocities so long as others also do? Are you willing to apply that logic to the United States as well?

Instead of trying to make Russia more civilized, you make excuses to justify it being more barbaric. And then you are surprised when you find that Russia lags far behind the rest of the world in development and when its word is disregarded at the international table of diplomacy.

So sad. So pathetic. So Russian.

Anonymous said...

How happy the victims of the massacre probably were to know that it were the "rebels" (why not "freedom fighters"?) who killed them and not the state! By the way, those "rebels" proclaimed themselves to be agents of the state - the Checnen Republic of Ichkeria.

As to "applying that logic (a state violating human rights cannot be a member of the G-8 and the UN Security council) to the United States as well" - thank you for reminding me of Guantanamo and Abu Graib! :D

Anonymous said...

Regarding the detainees at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib: If the Russians had caught anyone in Chechnya in circumstances similar to those in which the Americans caught these detainees, every one of them would have been "disappeared" - and being killed would probably be the nicest thing that happened to them from the day they were first led away. EVERY Russian knows this, and most nurture a not-so-secret pride at the brutality of their "special services". So for a Russian to have one damn thing to say about the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo is the utter height of chutzpah.

Put another way: How many Chechens have "disappeared" in Chechnya after being arrested by the Russian "special services"? Answer: tens of thousands. How many have "disappeared" after being arrested by U.S. forces in Iraq or Afghanistan? I would challenge you to find so much as a SINGLE CREDIBLE CASE.

An appropriate response for Russians when the topic of Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib comes up would be embarassed silence, or possibly politely excusing themselves from the room for lack of anything meaningful to say. But instead they bring it up themselves. A very Russian tochka zreniya indeed.