1. Mr Dendias’ report paints a well-balanced picture
of the situation of IDPs, returned IDPs and refugees in the North
Caucasus region, in particular as regards their difficult social
and economic situation. It is the purpose of the present opinion
and of the three amendments on behalf of the Committee on Legal
Affairs and Human Rights to complete this picture by adding legal
and human rights considerations.
2. It is obvious that IDPs and returned IDPs are exposed to the
general human rights problems in the region. Arguably, they are
even more exposed to human rights abuses as returnees arouse suspicion
more easily than persons who never felt compelled to leave the region
in the first place.
The last report of the Parliamentary Assembly analysing the
human rights situation in the North Caucasus region was that of
our former colleague Mr Dick Marty.
It is remarkable that his report,
which provides a comprehensive and realistic picture of the climate
of impunity prevailing in the region, and in particular in the Chechen
Republic, had the support not only of the vast majority of the Assembly,
but also of the Russian delegation itself. After almost two years,
we may legitimately ask the question whether the strong message
sent through this report was actually received and acted upon.
The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas
Hammarberg, undertook a fact-finding visit to the region one year
after Mr Marty, in May 2011.
asked his interlocutors from the law enforcement bodies what progress
the special investigative structures had made, especially those
which had been set up in order to investigate – as a matter of priority
– cases in which the European Court of Human Rights had found “procedural”
violations of Articles 2 or 3 of the European Convention on Human
Rights (ETS No. 5) (right to life, prohibition of torture).
When Mr Marty enquired,
with the competent authorities, as to how many of these cases the
special investigative unit had succeeded in elucidating, he was
reminded that the structures in question had only just been created.
One year later, Mr Hammarberg still felt obliged to conclude that
“persistent patterns of impunity for serious human rights violations
are among the most intractable problems of the North Caucasus and
remain a source of major concern for the Commissioner”.
More specifically, the Ministers’ Deputies, in a decision
of 8 June 2011,
deep concern at the lack of any conclusive results in the investigations,
in particular in those cases in which members of the security forces
may have been involved”. Similarly, the Assembly, in its Resolution 1787 (2011)
the implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights,
noted that “[r]egrettably, the alleged recent structural improvements
of domestic investigation procedures have not as yet led to any
tangible results; it is understood that the President of the Russian
Federation has recently submitted to the Federal Assembly draft
legislation on an integrated reform of the Ministry of the Interior”.
For my part, I intend to ask the competent authorities of
the Russian Federation, yet again, to provide me with (tangible)
results of progress achieved with respect to cases in which the
Court has found a failure to investigate.
but subscribe to the Assembly’s statement that “[t]he actual elucidation
of at least a significant part of these cases is indispensable in
order to end the climate of impunity in this region”.
7. The situation of human rights defenders is of special relevance
to returned refugees and IDPs, as the latter have a particularly
strong need for the assistance and protection offered. The situation
of human rights defenders in general, and of those who look after
refugees and IDPs in particular, is still very difficult throughout the
North Caucasus region, and in particular in the Chechen Republic.
Our colleague Ms Mailis Reps organised a very interesting hearing
on the situation of human rights defenders at the meeting of the
Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights on 26 January 2012.
The up-to-date information provided by Tatyana Lokshina, Deputy
Head of Human Rights Watch (Moscow), speaks for itself.
to her testimony, “harassment of human rights defenders continued and
the working climate for civil society organisations and activists
remained hostile”. Most worryingly, she informed the committee that
“most staff members of the Committee against Torture’s Grozny office
had to resign from their jobs by the end of 2011 as a result of
pressure from the local authorities, typically carried out through
approaching and threatening their family members. Several clients
of the committee against Torture in Chechnya were also approached
by law enforcement officials who threatened them with serious repercussions for
their families if they dared continue their co-operation with the
Committee and their quest for justice”.
9. Such behaviour vis-à-vis human rights defenders and persons
seeking their assistance is totally unacceptable in a member State
of the Council of Europe – and even more so when it is directed
against a group which was awarded the Assembly’s Human Rights Prize
in the same year! Also, the murders of Natalya Estemirova, a leading
Chechen human rights defender, who was killed in 2009, and of two
local activists, Zarema Saidulaeva and Alik Dzhabrailov, who were
abducted a few weeks after Ms Estemirova (by persons identified
by witnesses as law enforcement officials) and found dead hours
later, are still unsolved. Last but not least, the case of Zarema
Gaysanova, a staff member of the Danish Refugee Council abducted
in Grozny on 31 October 2009, still remains unsolved.
Commissioner Hammarberg reports that “a series of requests
made by investigators to law enforcement (internal affairs) officials
for undertaking various investigative acts were disregarded in that
case. Moreover, repeated instructions by investigators for summoning
witnesses from a particular law enforcement unit were reportedly
authorities assured Mr Hammarberg that the investigation was still
open and was being pursued by a special unit of the investigative
committee of the Chechen Republic. These emblematic cases were already
raised by Mr Marty in his 2010 report for the Assembly, and Mr Hammarberg
deserves praise for raising them in his turn. We owe it to these
activists whose work was to a large extent dedicated to refugees
and IDPs that we continue to use every opportunity to inquire about
and demand tangible evidence of progress in these investigations.
11. The still unresolved human rights and security situation in
the region is one of the reasons why exiled Chechens in particular,
hundreds of thousands of whom still live in other regions of Russia
and outside the Russian Federation, are still hesitating to return
home, despite the difficulties – including sometimes blunt racist prejudice
– they face in their new places of residence and their feelings
According to testimony I have received from exiled Chechens,
the authorities in Grozny send out discomforting and confusing signals.
On the one hand, persons living in exile are warmly invited to return
home, and even offered the provision of housing, sometimes even
a car, in the event of their return. On the other hand, they are
threatened in case of refusal by “envoys” who employ increasing
pressure – for example by repeatedly intercepting them in the street,
blocking their way, or expressing threats against family members
who have remained in the country. The fatal outcome of another case
of an exiled opponent who ignored urgent calls to return – Umar
Israilov – is well known.
was gunned down in the street in Vienna. His murderers – Chechens
– were arrested by the Austrian police and convicted by a Viennese
court. But this trial failed to shed light on the background of
this murder, despite the courageous intervention, as an expert witness,
of our former colleague Mr Dick Marty.
A report submitted by Pax Christi
in December 2011 documents
a number of specific cases of threats and pressure against exiled
Chechens in Poland and describes the somewhat surprising ease of
co-operation between members of, respectively, Polish and Russian
Chechen services based on long-standing personal ties. The perceived
ease of movement of “kadyrovtsy” in Poland and elsewhere generates
a feeling of deep insecurity and distrust vis-à-vis the authorities
among exiled Chechens.