Russia accused of killing Chechen youths
Over 80 bodies of young Chechen men were found each month. Russian
human rights groups estimate the civilian death toll in the two wars in Chechnya at between 80,000 and 150,000
By Robin Shepherd
An international human rights group has issued a damning report on President Putin’s war in Chechnya, accusing Russian soldiers of targeting “men of productive age” for
execution in an attempt to “thin out” the male population.
The International Helsinki Federation, which was set up 20 years ago to monitor abuses in the Soviet bloc, reported violence on a huge scale, particularly in proportion to Chechnya’s population, which numbers about 500,000. It said that up to 80 bodies of young Chechen men were found each month and that this was a conservative figure.
The report accuses Western governments of standing idly by as a sop to Mr Putin’s support for the War on Terror. Russian human rights groups estimate the civilian death toll in the two wars in Chechnya at between 80,000 and 150,000. “This violence is on a huge scale in the world context. It is difficult to find an analogy to this,” Aaron Rhodes, the Helsinki group’s executive director, said.
The Russian authorities issued a swift and angry response. Stanislav Ilyasov, head of the pro-Russian Government in Chechnya, blamed most civilian deaths on “criminals” and said that the Helsinki group’s findings were “immoral and irresponsible”. He said: “Human rights activists cannot be allowed to analyse social processes.”
Russia has been largely successful in keeping the bloody war in Chechnya off the international news agenda. Censorship at home has been matched by a strategy to portray the war as a campaign to root out terrorists along the lines of the US operation in Afghanistan or even Britain’s struggle with the IRA in Northern Ireland.
Most historians say that the roots of the Chechen conflict go back to the 19th century, when rebel groups tried to shake off Tsarist Russian control and embarked on a violent campaign for independence.
In 1944 Stalin deported the entire nation to Central Asia and Siberia, accusing Chechens of collaborating with the Nazis. More than 100,000 people
died and the survivors were not allowed to return until the 1950s.
The struggle for liberation was not to be defeated swiftly, as President Yeltsin found when he waged war in the breakaway southern republic in 1994. That resulted in a humiliating defeat for Russia and de facto independence for Chechnya two years later.
After a series of bomb explosions in Moscow in 1999, blamed on Chechen extremists, Mr Putin launched a second war to bring the republic back under Russian control.
Recently he appointed an ethnic Chechen, AbdulKhakim Sultygov, as his new human rights envoy to Chechnya. In comments which stand at variance with the Kremlin’s official line that atrocities against civilians are not taking place, Mr Sultygov promised to end military abuses. —LT