Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Hon. Christopher H. Smith
Chairman - Helsinki Commission


Ladies and gentlemen, fellow Commissioners, welcome to this hearing entitled "Chechnya: Current Situation and Prospects for the Future."

The situation in Chechnya is the most egregious challenge to international humanitarian law in the OSCE region. In clear violation of the OSCE Code of Conduct and articles of the Geneva Conventions, elements of the Russian military and security organs have employed brutal methods to suppress Chechen separatism--methods virtually guaranteed to drive a despairing civilian population into the arms of a radicalized resistance. Even the Moscow-supported authorities in Chechnya have confirmed that there are 49 mass graves in Chechnya containing about 3000 bodies. According to reliable sources, including those same authorities, hundreds of persons have "disappeared" after being detained by Russian forces. Some were returned to their families after a ransom was paid to their captors. Most have not.

Let me emphasize that there should be no illusions about certain elements of the Chechen resistance. They have murdered hostages, kidnapped civilians for ransom and used them as shields during combat operations, and embarked on a campaign of inexcusable assassination and suicide bombings against civilian targets. Three organizations involved in the Chechen resistance have been formally linked by the U.S. Government to international terrorism. One prominent Chechen rebel leader, Shamil Basaev, has been designated by the Secretary of State as "a threat to U.S. security and citizens."

But, to what extent is Russia reaping a harvest of terror that it has sown through its own brutal policies? I would only quote a very salient commentary written by the distinguished commentator Fareed Zakaria in the August 28th edition of Newsweek.

"Over the past ten years, Russia's military has had a scorched-earth policy toward Chechnya. The targets are not simply Chechen rebels but, through indiscriminate warfare, ordinary Chechens...And over time, the Chechen rebellion has become desperate, more extreme and more Islamist."

Meanwhile, the Russian Government declares that the situation in Chechnya is "normalizing," and that the "counterterrorism operation is over," but it appears to be a tenuous calm, if that. Besides the ever-present possibility of clashes between Chechen guerrillas and Russian security forces, violence has broken out between rival Chechen groups, and the Chechen militia of the pro-Moscow administration has shown a capacity for abuse of fellow Chechens, including in the lead up to elections scheduled for early October.

Despite this atmosphere of insecurity and violence, and clearly in anticipation of the upcoming presidential vote in Chechnya, Moscow is attempting to coercively repatriate thousands of internally displaced persons who have fled from the war zone to neighboring Ingushetia. In fact, reports indicate that the Bella Camp in Ingushetia was closed last week, leaving its roughly 1,000 inhabitants with few options, other than to return to war torn Grozny.

Many of us on the Helsinki Commission and other concerned individuals and human rights organizations have protested, and will continue to protest, against these unconscionable moves. Co-Chairman Campbell, Ranking Member Cardin, Commissioner Feingold and I have written the President and asked him to raise these concerns with President Putin when they meet later this month.

While I understand and approve of our cooperation with Russia in the war against international terrorism, the situation in Iraq, human trafficking, and other areas of vital interest to our citizens, I believe that the Administration needs to be more active in persuading Moscow to cease its counter-productive policies in Chechnya and consider seriously how best to secure a just and humane peace in Chechnya. One step Moscow could take is to allow the OSCE Assistance Mission to resume operations. At the same time, the Administration should use every appropriate opportunity to impress on the Chechen resistance the necessity to disavow not only terrorist groups but any tactics that violate international humanitarian law.

Against this background, our witnesses are uniquely qualified to look at the situation in Chechnya today and provide us with some insights on the prospects for its future. I do want to express my regret that Dr. Ruslan Khasbulatov--one of the leading Chechen political figures in Russia, who had been invited to testify today--was unfortunately unable to join us for this hearing.

Introduction of Witnesses

Ambassador Steven Pifer is a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. From January 1998 to October 2000, he was U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. His assignments to the State Department include the Office of European Political and Security Affairs and the Office of the Coordinator for the New Independent States. He has also served at the National Security Council as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia.

The Right Honorable Lord Judd of Portsea is a member of the British House of Lords and previously represented Portsmouth in the House of Commons. Lord Judd served as the Rapporteur for Chechnya to the Political Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and also co-chaired the Joint PACE-Duma Working Group on Chechnya. He resigned as Rapporteur in January of 2003.

Ms. Anna Politkovskaya is a journalist and author from Moscow. She received the 2000 Golden Pen Award from the Russian Union of Journalists as well as awards from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and Amnesty International for her coverage of the Russo-Chechen War. A compilation of her dispatches from Chechnya--dating from 1999 and 2000--has appeared in English under the title, A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya, published by Harvill Press.

Dr. Robert Ware is currently an associate professor of philosophical sciences at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. Since 1996, he has conducted field research in the North Caucasus, and has published numerous articles on the politics and religion of the Caucasus in both scholarly journals as well as major U.S. and overseas media outlets.

I look forward to hearing our witnesses' presentations today, and I look forward to following up with questions, as do my colleagues on the Commission, I am sure.