Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin
Commissioner - Helsinki Commission


Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing today on the subject of Chechnya, the current situation and prospects for the future. As the chief sponsor of two OSCE Parliamentary Assembly resolutions on the North Caucasus, I have followed this issue closely. We have heard at previous Helsinki Commission hearings compelling testimony about the carnage that has taken place and is continuing to take place in Chechnya today.

We are all deeply disappointed that the conflict in Chechnya itself--and Chechnya-related violence in Russia--continue to take their toll on innocent Chechens and Russians alike. I know we were all horrified by the terrorist attack carried out by Chechen partisans on the Moscow theater last October. The hostage crisis was broadcast all over the world. Because of the Kremlin's tight censorship in Chechnya, we rarely see the day-to-day hardships endured by the population there after more than eight years of war.

Many of our Russian colleagues in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly with whom I have spoken maintain that the conflict is purely a counter-terrorism operation. Others take a more nuanced approach. In any event, most realize that Chechnya poses a serious problem for the Russian Federation. Because of the brutal manner in which Russian forces have conducted themselves in Chechnya, Moscow's authority--even among Chechens who oppose secession and are heartily sick of the war--has been gravely eroded. In the words of Anne Nivat, Moscow correspondent for Liberacion who went "under cover" into Chechnya to avoid the censorship, "the Chechens now consider the Russians invaders who are incapable of following the rules of war by making efforts to spare civilians."

Russian Government authority is further damaged by its putative ally in Chechnya, a pro-Moscow administration distinguished by corruption and the brutal tactics of its police forces. This does not portend well for an accelerated, quick end to the conflict, despite Moscow's optimistic prognostications.

I share the concern of many here today for the internally displaced persons who are being pressured by the authorities to leave the relative safety of the refugee camps in Ingushetia and return to a war-torn Chechnya. I consider it a favorable step that the United Nations Representative of the Secretary General on Internally Displaced Persons, Dr. Francis Deng, visited Ingushetia and Chechnya last week. Another welcome and overdue step would be for Moscow to invite the U.N. Special Rapporteurs on Torture and Extrajudicial Executions, as well as the U.N. Working Group on Disappearances. Last month, Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina Jolie, visited the camps and called upon the Russian Government not to force the IDPs to return. I would hope that President Bush will express similar sentiments to President Putin when they meet at Camp David later this month--and Chairman Smith and I have expressed these views recently in a letter to President Bush--and I look forward to hearing what efforts the Administration has made in this area to date.

Mr. Chairman, I would close with two thoughts. First, these remarks should not be taken as hostility toward Russia. We support Russia's territorial integrity. We look forward to working with Russia in any number of endeavors for the advancement of common interests. I have introduced legislation to grant Russia normal trade relations. But we would be unfaithful to the principles of international law and the Helsinki Final Act if we averted our eyes from Chechnya. Secondly, and I realize this may sound idealistic, I would urge all sides to step back and look at the tragedy that has befallen the land and the people they claim to be defending, and demonstrate a willingness to compromise and seek a just, negotiated agreement. Otherwise, I fear the senseless cycle of violence will go on for years to come.

I look forward to the testimony of our witnesses and thank the Chairman again for calling this important hearing.