Beginning in late 2002, Russian policy shifted from "pacification" to an attempt to normalize the situation: a period during which a census (2002), a referendum on Chechnya's status (2003), and elections (2003) were held. Each of these major developments was marred by allegations of corruption and governmental manipulation. The end result was "Chechenization": a new Chechen-led administration was put into place and a significant number of the Russian armed forces returned to their bases or left the republic. Throughout this period, sporadic rebel attacks and Russian reprisals occurred, marked by human rights abuses. Some abuses, such as disappearances, increased during this time period. In March 2005, Russian forces killed Aslan Maskahdov, who had been democratically elected as president of Chechnya in 1997 and who led the Chechen armed movement.
Human rights workers and journalists under threat
Chechens, including many who worked with Memorial, a Russian human rights organization, were critical in getting out information about violence against civilians. Despite facing threats, these Chechens bravely documented and publicized abuses. Journalists had limited capacity to cover the situation, with strict Russian government control over their movements. Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist well-known for her opposition to the Chechen wars, was assassinated in her apartment building in Moscow on October 7, 2006. Despite being arrested and subjected to a mock execution by Russian military forces, Politkovskaya had continued to report on the conflict, earning international attention and prizes for her work. Little progress has since been made to solve the murder.
An internal Russian matter?
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) was the most active international player responding to the Chechen crisis. Established in April 1995, the OSCE Assistance Group to Chechnya worked to negotiate ceasefire agreements and deliver humanitarian aid. The responses of key outside nations fluctuated over the years, depending on the overall context of relations with Russia. For the most part, the U.S. treated the conflict and subsequent abuses as an internal Russian matter. Some European nations were more critical of abuses. In major Muslim countries of the world, popular reaction was much stronger than official policy responses.
Displaced aided, but inside Chechnya very little help
Insecurity inside Chechnya, which often included kidnapping foreign workers for ransom, made delivery of humanitarian and development aid inside Chechnya extremely perilous for many years. The overwhelming amount of international humanitarian aid was distributed to displaced people in the neighboring Russian republic of Ingushetia or through the work of Chechen aid workers who would oversee distribution in Chechnya.
In 31 separate rulings to date, the European Court has found Russia responsible for serious human rights violations in Chechnya, including torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial executions. It also confirmed the systematic nature of abuses and determined that Russia had failed to provide Chechen victims a chance at justice in the Russian legal system. Several Chechens who had cases pending before the European Court were killed.