Chechnya: Osce Report
The OSCE Chairman-in-Office,
Foreign Minister of the Netherlands
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
Russia’s human rights organizations are deeply concerned with the current processes in the Russian society. We consider Vladimir Putin’s policy as the one of consistent disruption of democratic institutions in the Russian Federation.
In the period between January 1, 2000 and October 25, 2003 (the date of arrest of a well-known Russian entrepreneur Mikhail Khodorkovsky) Vladimir Putin’s regime evolved from the so-called “managed democracy” that used the democratic institutions established in the Russian Federation over the past ten years into an authoritarian regime many of whose traits remind of the repressive policy of traditional Russian autocracy of 90 years ago. Within the past almost four years the main principles of constitutional democracy have been dismantled or emasculated using measures from legal to quasi-legal or even illegitimate or outright violent.
1. War in Chechnya and antiterrorist campaign
1.1. Events in Chechnya
The main event of the past years was a non-international conflict in Chechnya that was accompanied by sweeping and gross human rights violations committed predominantly by the federal troops. The chief human rights violations in Chechnya have been massive and unjustified use of force against peaceful populace: mopping-up operations in the form of man-hunts and warrantless arrests (the man-hunts were accompanied by looting, and the arrests – by torture; the bodies of many of the detained persons showed signs of torture); “death squadrons” actions in the form of kidnapping and killings committed by Russian special forces or militia subordinate to Kadyrov, the ruler of Chechnya loyal to the Kremlin. The extent of humanitarian law violations by far exceeded that of the first conflict of 1994-96, when the public awareness about the war was much broader and most political forces spoke out against the continuation of the military operations.
The violation of human rights during the Chechen conflict that comes next in scale is the pressure on forced migrants (internally displaced persons) who sought refuge in tens of thousands in the neighboring Ingushetia. The IDP camps are being destroyed by authorities, the construction and settlement of new houses is slowed down under various pretexts, the refugees are being denied food, heating and electricity. The war in Chechnya has served as a justification for re-introduction of censorship, enhancement of the role of secret services in the social and political life and targeted propaganda on the part of the government. Massive ethnic discrimination and xenophobia have become some of the war consequences.
The principle of free _expression of will has been grossly violated when the constitutional referendum (March 2003) and the ‘elections of the first president of the Chechen Republic’ (October 2003) were held in accordance with unconstitutional decrees of President Putin. The observers have noted a vast gap between the number of people who had an opportunity to vote and the published official data. The ‘presidential elections’ in Chechnya were marked by conspicuous absence of all serious competitors of Kadyrov. All these facts of violation of rights and basic freedoms along with the calls for the resumption of the OSCE mission were many times quoted and repeated in the documents of human rights organizations, including the Moscow Helsinki Group, Memorial Human Rights Center, Movement for Human Rights and the like.
1.2. Terrorism Cases Adjudged in Camera
The terrorist attacks that according to the Russian authorities were committed by the Chechen radicals and terrorists helped to justify harsh measures undertaken in Chechnya. The first among such attacks were the explosions of houses in Moscow and Volgodonsk in September 1999. There were also mysterious events in Ryazan where secret service officers were detained placing dummy explosive devices in the cellar of a residential building (it was later explained as “training”). The Federal Security Service (“FSB”) violated the law by refusing to disclose the plan of such “training”. The persons accused of organizing these terrorist acts are now on trial in the Moscow City Court. In contravention of the law the trial is held in camera and not even the victims of the crime have been invited. After the victims’ attorney Mikhail Trepashkin accused FSB of having falsified the evidence, he was arrested, and the new counsel was not allowed by the court to study the case materials.
At the end of October 2002 happened those tragic events in a theater at Dubrovka in Moscow. Despite the declared success in negotiations with the Chechen hostage-takers, the building was suddenly stormed by special forces. The poison gas used during the storm was based, as recently acknowledged by the FSB, on a strong narcotic drug “phentanil”. As a result, 125 hostages died and the health of hundreds of them was seriously harmed. During the assault the special forces killed about 40 sleeping Chechen women who participated in the hostage-taking. The medical examiners twisted the prosecution results by failing to point to the impact of a narcotic drug as the reason for death.
In spite of the demands of the human rights activists, the procuracy and the court flatly refused to bring charges against the officials for the crimes committed during the assault.
The following important reforms undertaken by President Putin serve as an example of measures, which are technically legal, but contravening the spirit of democracy and federalism of the current Russian Constitution.
2. Dismantlement of the federalist system.
The reform of the Council of the Federation replaced the elected heads of the regional executive and legislative power in the upper house of parliament with appointed representatives (bureaucrats and businessmen). At the same time, the President divided the country into 7 administrative districts, each headed by President-appointed bureaucrats, mainly former FSB officers. The changes in the tax legislation caused serious reduction in collection of taxes in the regions and made most of the regions fully dependent on the central authorities. After these reforms, which were supported by the lower house of parliament, Russia returned to a unified centralized state it used to be 10 years ago.
3. Elimination of freedom of the press, restriction of civil and political freedoms
The other formally legitimate steps were the amendments passed to the laws on political parties, elections and mass media. As a result, the political and journalist activities have become to a large extent controlled by the state, severely regulated and almost completely dependent on the arbitrariness of bureaucracy. The perusal of Internet was practically legalized, the law enforcement agencies started to take into consideration anonymous denouncements, any person under investigation or any suspect can now be subjected to a test with a lie detector.
Where such measures seemed insufficient, the authorities used quasi-legal methods, i.e. regulations and acts that seemed to be lawful, but in fact were in conflict with law.
The most notorious quasi-legal actions were the replacement of management at NTV, the largest independent TV channel, the cutting-off of the opposition channel TV-6, which was later on deemed unlawful by court, and the cutting-off of the TVS channel. The suppression of the mass media, which was in opposition to the Kremlin, created a general atmosphere of pressure against independent press, especially in the provinces. As a result, the institution of independent mass media has become almost extinct today, and all the federal sources of information demonstrate a clear trend of propaganda in favor of the current regime and criticism of the opponent parties. The combination of the monopolistic position of the authorities in the mass media and the artificial creation of political organizations based on the “administrative resource” creates conditions for discrimination against the organizations that realistically reflect the positions of the civil society both in the left (CPRF) and the right (Soyuz Pravykh Sil and Yabloko) parts of the political spectrum. The _expression of any opposite point of view is suppressed by de facto return of censorship, abuse on the part of the administrative and judicial powers and the security forces. There are cases of beating and even murders of unwanted journalists and editors.
Another area of active use of quasi-legal procedures is the elections. The most scandalous elections were held in the former autonomies – the Republic of Yakutia, the Republic of Ingushetia and the Chechen Republic. Among the methods used at these elections were the removal of opponent candidates by court decisions, framing-up, including searches and arrests of the opponents of the candidates favored by the central authorities. The electoral frauds began back in March of 2000. Many authoritative political scientists and sociologists questioned Putin’s victory in the first round of the elections.
The current parliamentary election campaign shows gross violations of the law: opponent candidates are banned from elections and the mass media monopolized by the state directly supports the “party in power” against opposing parties.
The investigation into the so-called “espionage cases” was resumed after Putin came to power. Even before, in June 1999, when Putin was the chief of the FSB and had not yet been named Yeltsin’s successor, he labeled a number of victims of the “espionage cases” as traitors. As a result, ecologist and journalist Pas’ko was convicted to a one-year term in jail. Diplomat Moiseyev was also convicted on the basis of blatantly fabricated charges. Expert Sutyagin has been serving his third year in jail. Professor Danilov is under espionage investigation.
Ethnic discrimination has become widespread, especially in the Krasnodar Krai, where discriminatory regional legislation deprived thousands of representatives of ethnic minorities of their civil rights. They are persecuted by the authorities that consider them illegal residents and call for their deportation. Despite all the protests, the federal authorities ignore this lawlessness.
But of the greatest concern is the virtual attack on civil society, when abusive justice helps to deal with those who dare to challenge the central or local authorities or law enforcement bodies with their position of principle. The persecution of attorneys has become especially widespread. We would like to bring your attention to several episodes that illustrate these trends.
4.Proceedings Against Civil Society’s Representatives
The process of regular human rights violations in respect of representatives of civil society appears to have got underway in Russia. Interrogations, searches, framed-up criminal cases in respect of lawyers, ever more frequent instances of the framing up of politically motivated criminal cases, persecutions of human rights advocates, politically motivated persecutions of businessmen are but indications of the fact that the repressive apparatus has been on the offensive in an attempt to reach public figures of Russian society. This process is occurring amid the largely ineffective and biased prosecutor supervision of lawfulness and the ever increasing political dependence and engagement of the judicial system. In the summer of 2003, the so-called YUKOS affair was unveiled in a series of criminal proceedings against the shareholders and employees of a major Russian oil company that had launched an array of charity projects in education.
The country’s leadership has come to be dominated by former officials of the power structures. Most of the central and local government bosses are in one way or another linked with the Army, the Ministry of the Interior, the Federal Security Service, or other power departments. Having come to power, they seek to overcome their adversaries, political opponents and dissidents, relying on power-based rather than lawful methods, persecuting entrepreneurs, and resolving economic disputes by means of force.
4.1. Persecution of Lawyers and Human Rights Advocates
In breach of their international obligations to guarantee the professional security of lawyers defending citizens in criminal proceedings, the authorities of the Russian Federation have unveiled a campaign of persecution against attorneys known for their firm position. The power structures, the Federal Security Service above all, are framing up criminal cases against the attorneys themselves. The newly-adopted Law “On the Bar” has made members of the Bar in many respects dependent on the law enforcement agencies and courts.
4.1.1. Attorney Sergei Brovchenko’s Case
For more than six and a half years now, Sergei Brovchenko, an attorney and human rights champion, has been behind bars without a valid and effective court judgment after the security services planted 4.5 kilograms of cocaine [in his apartment]. A police tag used for the sealing of tangible evidence was found in the drug-containing bag. Already three protests have been filed with the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation regarding the Brovchenko case. Each time the verdict was recalled due to the lack of evidence of the lawyer’s guilt and numerous violations of applicable laws. And each time the case was sent back to a district court for re-examination only to have the guilty verdict pronounced again. The authorities are exerting pressure to bear on the court to prevent a judgment of acquittal. The Brovchenko case contains extensive evidence of the corruptness of secret service officials who committed criminal offences. The Brovchenko case also contains some documents evidencing that he was persecuted by the Federal Security Service for the only reason of discharging his professional duties and responsibilities to defend citizens, as well as documents indicating that the secret services have been involved in the illegal business of drug trading. The secret services have used the criminal case instituted against Brovchenko as a means to intimidate other dissident lawyers.
4.1.2. Attorney Mikhail Trepashkin’s Case
Mikhail Trepashkin, an attorney and expert of the Public Commission to Investigate Apartment Block Explosions in the Cities of Volgodonsk and Moscow (chaired by MP Sergei Kovalev), was accused of illegal possession of arms he had never had and thrown into prison to preclude his participation in judicial proceedings. Having got some evidence of the secret services’ involvement in the affair regarding the aforesaid explosions, Trepashkin stood firmly against the conviction of innocent people, campaigning for the establishment of truth in the case. He had also been accused of disclosure of state secrets after an interview to reporters in connection with the hostage taking in the theater in Dubrovka Street in Moscow (the Nord-Ost case).
4.1.3.The Cases of Attorneys Anton Drel, Vycheslav Patskov and Olga Artyukhova
The prosecutor’s office has more than once attempted to question Anton Drel, counsel for the defense of YUKOS top executives Lebedev and Khodorkovsky, in connection with the facts that have become known to him as a defense attorney, and his office was illegally searched in his absence.
On 30 October 2003, attorney Vyacheslav Patskov was summoned by the investigating officer to attend the questioning of his client kept in an investigatory isolation ward of the Federal Security Service. Upon arrival, he was told that it was he who would be questioned. Patskov refused to give evidence, saying he had received all the information that the investigation required while discharging his duties and responsibilities of a defense attorney. The investigators of the prosecutor’s office threatened to arrest him and institute criminal proceedings against him. He was only allowed to leave the General Prosecutor’s Office after interference by some of his colleagues. Attorney Patskov was unlawfully kept in the Prosecutor’s Office from 9 a.m. till 4 p.m.
On 11 November 2003, Olga Artyukhova, counsel for the defense of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was detained by the officers of Matrosskaya Tishina investigatory isolation ward and subject to an unlawful search.
We are convinced that the criminal persecution of attorneys Sergei Brovchenko, Mikhail Trepashkin, Anton Drel, and Vyacheslav Patskov is directly linked with their work as defense attorneys as well as their involvement in human right campaigning. The ongoing repressions and intimidations of lawyers threaten the effectiveness of the Bar as an institution of civil society and an integral part of independent justice. The independence of the Russian judicial power would be impossible without independent attorneys.
The All-Russia Conference of Civil Organizations held in late October 2003 adopted a resolution calling on Amnesty International to recognize attorney and human rights champion Sergei Brovchenko as a prisoner of conscience and attorney Mikhail Trepashkin as a political convict.
A defense attorney, while discharging his professional duties and being an equal party involved in the proceedings, may not be an object of enforcement, so the use of procedural enforcement measures against an attorney may only be in breach of Russian law as well as the rights of the attorney’s client and the attorney himself.
The anxiety over the situation obtained is shared by the attorneys’ community, the fact evidenced by the resolution of 22 November 2003 adopted by the Conference of the Attorneys’ Chamber of Moscow. The resolution focused on persecutions of attorneys and called for appeals to international organizations.
5.Persecutions of Human Rights Champions
The active and firm position of human rights advocates trying to defend the citizens’ environmental rights and other rights of Russian citizens has spurred a wave of repressions by the executive and law enforcement authorities. Human rights champions have been subject to the framing up of criminal cases against them as well as repressive psychiatry methods applied to them, and regional human rights organizations have been exposed to pressure and repressions of all kinds.
5.1. Human Rights Advocate Mikhail Kostantinidi
Mikhail Konstantinidi, head of the New-Russia Human Rights Organization, was sentenced to five years in prison by the October District Court of Novorossiisk, Krasnodar Territory. The public widely viewed the court verdict as a revenge for the position of principle in respect of environmental human rights issues. Konstantinidi publicly opposed the Krasnodar Territory’s government, leading a popular movement against the proposed construction of a new sea oil terminal without any guarantees of the project’s environmental safety and in disregard of the environmental due diligence reports drafted by independent experts. The law enforcement agencies falsified evidence proving that Konstantinidi was guilty of fraud.
5.2. Human Rights Advocate Rafael Usmanov
Rafael Usmanov is a human rights champion with a 15-year record. Since 1977 he has been repeatedly arrested for slander and contempt of the court and on five occasions sent for psychiatric examination by the judicial authorities of the town of Magadan.
In 2000 Usmanov declared he wanted to be nominated candidate for the office of Governor of the Magadan Region. During the election campaign he publicly disclosed many unseemly facts from the biography of the then reelection-seeking Governor V. Tsvetkov.
Knowing it would be a lost case in judicial proceedings, the authorities declared Usmanov insane and sent him to an intensive-care ward at the St. Petersburg psychiatric hospital where he was subject to the impact of strong drugs. Since May 2003, Usmanov’s defense attorney has been denied a chance to see his client. Nor is anything known about his health.
6.Politically Motivated and Selective Criminal Persecutions
6.1. Anti-YUKOS Campaign
Persecutions by the authorities of the top executives of YUKOS, a major Russian oil company, offered a glaring example of violations of law and selective application of justice. The campaign was started by the emergence of an analytical report alleging that there was an “oligarch plot” whereby the “oligarchs” plotted to establish a parliamentary republic in Russia. This was followed by a wave of arrests and criminal proceedings against the top executives of YUKOS. In the wake of such events, the RF General Prosecutor’s Office has made some statements grossly violating the principle of the presumption of innocence in respect of the YUKOS managers and making them accountable for Russia’s disastrous economic situation. Leonid Nevzlin, Rector of the Russian State Humanitarian University, has resigned under the pressure of the authorities. As the YUKOS Affair has been extensively covered by the mass media, we will only provide the highlights below.
6.1.1. Anatoly Pichugin’s Case
Anatoly Pichugin, the head of YUKOS internal economic security department, was arrested in late June 2003. The reason for the arrest was criminal evidence against him provided by a hard-core offender kept in jail. Pichugin was interrogated when he was nearly losing his consciousness as a result of the application of psychotropic drugs.
6.1.2. Platon Lebedev’s Case
In early July 2003, Platon Lebedev, Management Board Chairman of MENATEP (a YUKOS subsidiary) on remand for evasion of taxes, was brought to prison directly from hospital. The court ruled that he should be kept in custody in gross violation of the European Convention.
6.1.3. Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Case
On 25 October 2003, Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested by a special unit of the Federal Security Service that captured the plane on which he returned from a meeting with [the representatives] of non-governmental organizations and businessmen in the city of Novgorod. The court had sanctioned his arrest in gross violation of the European Convention. In response to public protests, President Putin demanded that the “hysterical behavior” be stopped, making it clear that the prosecutor’s office had acted with Putin’s knowledge while arresting Khodorkovsky.
6.2.1. Anatoly Makarenko’s Case
Anatoly Makarenko, the former governor of the Smolensk Region, is being persecuted by the current governor Maslov, a Federal Security Service general. As part of the Makarenko case, disclosures were made of numerous pieces of evidence proving that the local Federal Security Service officials were closely linked with criminals. In response to Makarenko’s repeated statements to the effect that officials of the Federal Security Service Department responsible for the Smolensk Region had committed crimes, the prosecutor’s office refused to institute criminal proceedings against them while recognizing unlawful acts committed by the secret service officers. The bringing of selected officials of the Federal Security Service Department to disciplinary account is not a measure of the prosecutor’s office response to allegedly committed offences. Makarenko is still kept in custody on accusations of having committed a number of economic crimes, fearing, not without reason, for his life. One of the main reasons for Makarenko’s persecutions is his intention to run for the office of Governor [of the Smolensk Region].
6.2.2. Businessman Dmitri Zazvonov’s Case
A dispute over ownership rights to factory premises between the governmental authorities of the town of Elektrostal, Moscow Region, and the firm controlled by Dmitri Zazvonov was subject to examination by arbitration courts. Having lost several suits filed against the businessman, the authorities of the town decided to use force against the dissident entrepreneur. The local Mayoral Office filed an application with the Department of the Interior, accusing Zazvonov of delaying court proceedings and of the forcible assertion of his rights. What the Mayoral Office referred to as “the forcible assertion” of rights was in fact compliance by Zazvonov with a ruling of the Arbitration Court of the Moscow Region in his favor. The local police officials instituted criminal proceedings against Zazvonov. Zazvonov had been unaware of this until the moment he was detained at a road traffic police outpost and told that he was under official retrieval. While allegedly on the list of persons being hunted for, Zazvonov traveled abroad on several occasions and neither the border guards, nor the immigration and customs departments seemed to be aware of any such manhunt. Following interference by some human rights advocates, Zazvonov was released from custody, but the investigation is still going on and the work of his company is being seriously impaired as a result thereof. One of the main reasons for the authorities’ discontent with Zazvonov was his participation in the last elections as a rival of the current mayor, as well as his intention to run for mayor in the forthcoming elections. Another contender for the mayor’s office in the forthcoming elections is the current chief prosecutor of the town. Zazvonov’s example offers ample evidence of the fact that the authorities, rather than using criminal prosecution as a lever for enforcing law and order, easily resort to such methods as a means to persecute dissident businessmen while resolving disputes over ownership rights, or eliminate and intimidate potential adversaries in forthcoming election campaigns.
In our view, the democratic institutions, including one of the major gains of Russian democracy, i.e., free and independent elections of the representatives of the legislative and executive branches of government, are under the menace of complete liquidation. This may result in the emergence in Russia of an authoritarian system denying its ideological and political opponents any chance to express their views. The rigging of elections appears to be much easier now, considering that the automatic counting system known as “Elections” is currently under direct control of the Federal Security Service. Meanwhile, the judicial system is being eroded, as it is growing increasingly corrupt and susceptible to manipulation, including when there occurs a conflict of interests between businessmen and big-time operators having extensive links with the powers that be. Generally speaking, the logic of the evolution of the Russian legal system [shows that the latter] is obviously creating a framework whereby any socially active person may be exposed to the threat of being persecuted.
The representatives of Russian NGOs in 2003 reported on the problems associated with breaches of civil liberties in Russia to OSCE conferences and meetings of the UN Human Rights Committee. The Russian human rights organizations delivered an alternative report on observance of the International Pact on Civil and Political Rights in the Russian Federation to the UN Human Rights Committee. The Moscow-based Helsinki group coordinated the drafting of the report. Based on this report, the Human Rights Committee drafted its Recommendations in respect of Russia.
At the OSCE conference for the prevention of tortures (held in Vienna on 6-7 November 2003), a representative of the delegation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the OSCE was advised of the facts evidencing that the inmates of Russian investigatory isolation wards were subjected to tortures.
The Russian delegation suggested that a special OSCE envoy should be sent to Moscow to monitor compliance with law by the Russian law enforcement agencies and courts while investigating and examining criminal cases in connection with the so-called YUKOS Affair, as well as criminal cases instituted against attorneys and human rights champions. We also insist on a new OSCE mission to Chechnya.
We presume that the firm position of the international institutions, above all, of so highly reputed a body as the OSCE, in respect of the negative processes currently occurring in Russia must be made pubic immediately.
We hereby request you to consider the question of the participation of the Russian delegation of non-governmental organizations in the OSCE Ministerial Council’s meeting to be held in Maastricht on 1-2 December 2003. Our delegation will deliver a report on the human rights situation in Russia.
Respectfully submitted by
Lev Ponomarev, All-Russia Public Movement for Human Rights
Andrei Babushkin, Public Charity Committee for Human Rights
25 November 2003
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