Feb 22, 2010

Chechnya: Britain Angers Kremlin over Chechnya Visit

Active ImageA British parliamentary fact-finding mission to Chechnya has likened the pattern of killings and torture there to 1980s Central America in a damning series of comments certain to infuriate the Kremlin.
Below is an article published by the Telegraph:

Lord Judd and Jo Swinson, an MP, made their blunt assessment after a two-day visit to the volatile Russian republic last week during which they met and interviewed a large number of officials and human rights activists.

Both said they were deeply concerned by what they had heard and disclosed that they had tried in vain to learn more about ongoing investigations into the 2006 murder of crusading journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the 2009 killing of human rights defender Natalia Estemirova.

"I am constantly making comparisons to Guatemala, El Salvador and Central America in the late 1980s," said Lord Judd, a long-standing expert on Chechnya. "It is this business of the calculated creation of a climate of fear and targeted assassinations.

"It is more organised and systematic and sinister than when I was here seven years ago." Witnesses who saw atrocities in Chechnya were routinely intimidated, he added, and homes belonging to relatives of rebel fighters regularly burned to the ground. It was a policy that was bound to stoke Islamist extremism, he warned.

His comments are likely to anger the Kremlin and local authorities in Chechnya who have rejected foreign criticism in the past as meddlesome interference in Russia's internal affairs. They also come at a time when Britain's relations with Russia remain mired in the bitter fallout from the 2006 murder in London of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko.

The delegation, part of Britain's All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group, ignored Foreign Office advice not to travel to Chechnya and asked for and was refused a meeting with Ramzan Kadyrov, the republic's Kremlin-backed president.

Rights activists have repeatedly accused Mr Kadyrov of complicity in torture, kidnapping and murder, allegations that Mr Kadyrov has strongly rejected.

Ms Swinson said she had been left "shocked and disgusted" by a meeting with Chechnya's own human rights ombudsman who she said had openly accused a leading human rights group of profiting from the murder of one of its activists.

"It is very clear that there is a climate of fear here and that nobody dares to criticise Ramzan Kadyrov," she said.

Lord Judd said the UK and other countries should place the issue of Chechnya at the heart of their relations with Russia in order to lobby for change.

He conceded that Grozny, the Chechen capital, had been impressively rebuilt under Mr Kadyrov's leadership after two wars but said such material changes needed to be accompanied by genuine moves to improve human rights.

"Stalin built a lot of impressive buildings too," he said.