In spite of Russian government statements that Chechnya is normalizing, rampant human rights abuses, lack of accountability, and a failure to stabilize or reconstruct Chechnya remain urgent problems for Chechen civilians. As part of a process of Chechenization, placing responsibility for governance and security in Chechen hands, the Russian government conducted a constitutional referendum on March 23, 2003. The results of this election, which was largely decried as fraudulent and unfair, were to affirm Chechnya’s place within the Russian Federation and to set the stage for new presidential elections.
The presidential election occurred in September 2003, with the Russian appointed head of the Chechen government, Akhmad Kadyrov, winning. In the months that followed, the Russian government moved to close tent camps in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia, where Chechen civilians who had been displaced by the war and violence had been sheltering. By June 2004, the camps had all closed and many Chechens were forced back into Chechnya, where there was inadequate housing and a precarious security situation.
President Kadyrov was assassinated in May 2004. The new president Alu Alkahov installed Kadyrov’s son Ramzan as first deputy prime minister. Ramzan Kadyrov is the head of the pro-government militia, called the Kadyrovsky, who have been accused of committing disappearances and other human rights violations throughout the republic. On March 8, 2005, the former president of Chechnya and leader of the so-called Chechen separatist movement, Aslan Maskhadov, was killed by Russian forces.
During the same period, Chechen rebels have continued fighting in Chechnya. Shamil Basayev, a leader of some rebel fighters, has also claimed responsbility for increasingly devastating terrorist attacks on Russian soil. Among the most dramatic and deadly was the storming of the Dubravka Theater in Moscow on October 23, 2002, where 736 people were taken hostage, approximately 120 died. Also, on September 1, 2004, a group, again associated with Basayev, took over 1,000 people — many of them children on their first day of school — hostage in a school in Beslan. At least 317 hostages died, including over 150 children.
Violence appears to be spreading across the Northern Caucasus. Armed groups have undertaken large-scale organized violence in the neighboring republics of Ingushetia, Dagestan, North Ossetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria. It is unclear the extent to which these actions are coordinated with Chechen fighters.
On November 27, 2005, there will be another test of Chechenization, when elections will be held for the Chechen parliament.