Monday, September 15, 2003
The Committee on Conscience hosts a screening of Greeting from Grozy, which originally aired on public television in the summer of 2002, and a panel discussion to talk about the film and the situation in Chechnya. The panel included Paul Mitchell, Patrice Pagé, and the Right Honorable Lord Frank Judd of Portsea.
JERRY FOWLER: Good evening and welcome to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. My name is Jerry Fowler and I’m the staff director of the museum’s Committee on Conscience.
I apologize, we are crowded in here. We actually had more people show up than RSVP’d, number one, and secondly, we have a larger auditorium but it’s water-logged now. It’s below river level. So, because of the once-in-a-decade rains that we have had for the last three or four months, it’s really not in a condition to accommodate us. I’m glad that we have such a good turnout. For those of you who are standing, I apologize.
As I said, I’m the staff director of the museum’s Committee on Conscience. The Committee on Conscience, which was created in 1995, was part of the original vision of Eli Wiesel and the museum’s founders. They believed that a memorial unresponsive to the future would violate the memory of the past. So, they recommended creation of a Committee on Conscience and when it was created it was given the mandate to alert the national conscience and influence policy makers to confront and work to halt acts of genocide and related crimes against humanity.
The committee has concluded that to be effective in fulfilling this alerting function it must monitor situations where it is concerned that there is a potential a potential -- for genocide. For that reason the committee placed Chechnya on its watch list in May 2000. The particular bases for the committee’s concern about Chechnya are first the history of persecution of Chechens as a group, including the deportation of the entire population in 1944 which resulted in tremendous loss of life.
Secondly, the tendency in Russian society to demonize Chechens as a group. Third, the amount of violence directed against civilians in military operations beginning at the end of 1999 and continuing, albeit at a less intense level to the present involving apparent violations of international humanitarian law with no meaningful attempts at accountability.
In addition to continuing disappearances of Chechen civilians, a large portion of the population remains displaced; many in neighboring Ingushetia who are afraid to return to their homes.
Let me emphasize that the Committee on Conscience is not saying that there is genocide in Chechnya, but it is concerned enough about the potential to put Chechnya on its watch list.
In addition to violence against civilians by Russian security forces, there have also been attacks against civilians by Chechen rebel forces, such as the October 2002 hostage taking at a theatre in Moscow and the bombing in December 2002 of the main government building in Grozny killing at least 72 civilians and wounding over 200.
More recently there have been suicide bombings, including, apparently, one today in Ingushetia. Attacks such as these have been cited by the Russian government as evidence that its actions in Chechnya are part of an international war on terrorism.
The situation in Chechnya is extremely complex and understanding it is made even more difficult by obstacles that the Russian government has raised to impede outside scrutiny by journalists and international monitors. But the complexity does not relieve us of the obligation to try to learn more when the ultimate reality is that there is a civilian population at risk.
That is why we are presenting tonight’s screening of Greeting from Grozny, which originally aired on public television’s Wide Angle series in the summer of 2002. I would like to extend a special thanks to Channel 13, WNET in New York, which so-produced the film, for permitting us to show it this evening.
I would also like to acknowledge the support of the Helena Rubinstein Foundation for making this evening’s program possible.
After the film we will have a discussion with a distinguished group of panelists whom I will introduce at the time. I think that the film will raise a lot of questions. To facilitate your asking questions, we have distributed, as you came in, index cards, which you can use to write down questions as they come to you. As we get the discussion going after the film, my colleagues will come down the aisles and collect the cards so that we can incorporate those questions into the discussion with our panelists.
I should also say that attached to the index cards are evaluations. It helps us greatly if you fill those out, both as to the quality of the program and there’s also the opportunity for you to give us your e-mail address if you’d like to be on our e-mail list for future events. I’m sure this will come up in the evaluations, it’s quite warm in here and I’ve asked my colleagues to adjust the thermostats. I hope it will cool down and I appreciate your patience with that as soon as well.
Now, without further adieu we will screen the Paul Mitchell film, Greetings from Grozny.
We are very honored actually this evening to be joined first of all by the director of the Greetings from Grozny, Paul Mitchell, who flew in from London last night. He got in late last night.
Mr. Mitchell is an experienced film maker who has worked a lot on films about post-Soviet Russia, as well as about the former Yugoslavia War Crimes Tribunals and has been the recipient of numerous awards, including an Emmy, the prestigious Peabody Award and several DuPont journalism awards.
We are also joined by Patrice Pagé who is a US Representative for Doctors Without Borders, the Nobel Prize winning organization that has done a lot of work on the ground in Ingushetia. Mr. Page himself has wide experience in a large number of places including Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Kosovo. I’m very pleased that he has come down from New York to join us.
Then joining us on stage in just a minute will be Lord Frank Judd who’s a member of the British House of Lords and until March of this year was the special rapporteur for Chechnya for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. He also served as cochair for the Joint Pace Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Duma working group on Chechnya.
We are very pleased that they’ve joined us this evening to further discuss the issues that were raised in this film.
As I mentioned before, we have distributed the index cards which you should feel free to write questions down on. My colleagues will be going up and down the aisles to collect those so that we can incorporate the questions into this discussion.
But I wanted to start out actually by asking Paul Mitchell about how you were able to get the access that you got to make this film. One of the concerns about Chechnya is that it is very difficult for people to get into it.
There is a fundamental lack of information about what’s happening. So how did you overcome that?
PAUL MITCHELL: There’s an awful lot of people here. It’s a bit scary. How did I do it? I would say first and foremost, I mean it is a very difficult place to work, there’s no doubt.
But at least 75 percent of the problem is actually finding somebody who wants to broadcast a film like this.
We had made a film with a Chechen film-maker who may be here tonight, I don’t know. Is Raisa here? No? For the BBC in 1999 when the war began, which was called Inside Chechnya, which was essentially ten days in the life of a Chechen film maker and wanted to follow up with something more substantial.
Then spent three years trying to find a broadcaster who would be willing to fund another project. It was really only when Channel 13/PBS was willing to invest the money and trust us to go ahead and make this film or try to make this film that we even began.
I mean essentially that’s the biggest problem, finding somebody to do it. Nobody in Britain wanted to do it. Nobody in Europe wanted to do it; only PBS. So, hats off to them. It’s very, very difficult.
The big challenge is A, to provide something approaching security for the people who are working on the film. I didn’t do it alone, far from it. There were quite a few people who worked on it. Sometimes that’s in taking judged risks, also.
I was working with people who I’ve worked with a lot and we trusted them enough to say, okay, just go off and film with the Russian Special Forces. We won’t have any idea what you are going to get.
Some of it I did by myself and other bits of it I really can’t talk about, I’m afraid. We tried to do as much as we could openly, but some bits you couldn’t. That’s about really, that’s the easiest way I can answer that question. But if anybody needs specific questions, I can try. But honestly, there is a huge problem in that it’s a long way away; it’s a complicated issue, funny names that people have difficulty understanding and pronouncing.
If you work in television, which is what I work in, it’s very difficult to get broadcasters interested enough to say okay, we’ll devote 45 minutes or an hour of our valuable air time to this subject.
JERRY FOWLER: Were you on the ground yourself in Chechnya?
PAUL MITCHELL: Yes.
JERRY FOWLER: How long did it take to film the stuff that was done on the ground there?
PAUL MITCHELL: It took about three weeks. It’s three weeks with a group of four -- there were four camera crews. They were essentially operating simultaneously.
JERRY FOWLER: Do you have any idea what happened to the person who was taken away in that first cleansing operation? What was his name?
PAUL MITCHELL: Vakhit Jabrailov. No, we don’t actually know. I mean his name we got after the fact when we backtracked because we knew exactly where that cleansing operation was filmed.
We went through because all of the human rights organizations are very good in the various websites. Every time there has been a cleansing operation they tend to post it up and say such and such an operation has happened. If they know the name, they post the name.
From what I could understand, piecing it together much, much later, he had come back to that village to get married and it looks like he was kidnapped by actually the pro-Moscow security forces that are -- the Kadyrov forces, that is the forces of the Chechen prime minister who run a parallel security operation as well.
JERRY FOWLER: Do you mean that operation that was on film was --
PAUL MITCHELL: Yeah, that was a mixture of Chechens and Russians, but from what we could work out afterwards, he was probably kidnapped for money. That’s quite common in cleansing operations. They’ll tell the relatives, okay, you can have him back for a certain amount of money. It seems to happen quite frequently from what I could work out. I’m sure there are people in this room who know more about that than I do. But that seems to be a fairly common occurrence.
JERRY FOWLER: Patrice, MSF, of course, has operations on the ground at least in Ingushetia. I don’t know how much you go into Chechnya. That film was done about, what, 14 months ago, May of 2002.
Can you just briefly update us on the situation on the ground as MSF understands it?
PATRICE PAGÉ: Well, the most frustrating thing for a humanitarian aid worker is that the space of work in the northern Caucasus, is almost nonexistent now, let’s be honest.
MSF’s last visit to Chechnya was in July 2002. In Ingushetia we work only two or three days a month with international volunteers and we change locations every night because the insecurity has clearly extended to Ingushetia now.
In Dagestan we stopped all our activities for the displaced people living there, roughly 8,000, since our colleague Arjan Erkel was abducted one year ago on August 12, 2002. So, it’s very difficult for us because we are not able to be there directly with the people, first to assist them in Chechnya, and then to restore a space of humanity.
This is what we are doing in war zones everywhere in the world, except this context. It’s important for us when everything is going wrong around that we are restoring a space of dignity. We are directly witnessing abuses committed against the civilian population and we speak out publicly about it.
Now it’s very difficult in Chechnya. Just as an example, on September 10, the Russian Minister of Interior released a warning of kidnapping in Ingushetia, which means that until after the election in Chechnya on October 5, we, all humanitarian organizations, will most probably not be able to be in Ingushetia.
While at the same time, the authorities are threatening to close all tented camps in Ingushetia by the end of September. So, we’re not able to be there to see what happening and to assist the people.
JERRY FOWLER: What about inside Chechnya? I mean are you receiving reports out? Do you have MSF people who occasionally go into Chechnya or are all the operations in Ingushetia?
PATRICE PAGÉ: Well, currently since the abduction of Arjan Erkel, we work only through very courageous national staff providing medical assistance to 30 health facilities or so in Chechnya.
In Ingushetia we work in all tented camps and in squats (“kompaknikis”) where displaced people are living, providing basic non-food items, mobile clinics and also water and sanitation facilities.
What we know is that, of course, the war is still going on in Chechnya, as everybody knows. For the first half of the year 2003 the Chechen administration actually officially stated that 267 civilian people went missing. Just to give you an example, for the first two weeks of July the United Nations released a report stating that 92 civilians were killed in Chechnya, 60 were wounded, and 7 were abducted.
Again, I just want to mention here, and it’s not to say that we are a brave and courageous people, but the violence towards civilian Chechens is, in this region, clearly extending to humanitarian aid workers. It’s very specific to this region. Since 1994, 15 humanitarian aid workers have been abducted in this region. Four MSF volunteers have been abducted. Like I said, Arjan Erkel is still missing as of today.
It’s not only because of insecurity that we don’t have proper access to the region. But it’s also because the authorities, Russian, Ingushetian authorities, are clearly willing to avoid international aid workers to be directly with the population. They want us to channel assistance to the local authorities. They are also sending out administrative instructions blocking assistance in the camps in Ingushetia, for example the provision of new shelters for the displaced people, the extension of the current camps, which are overcrowded; but also asking us to use military escorts to travel in Chechnya.
For Doctors Without Borders, we will not do that. It’s a huge breech to our impartiality and our independence to travel and work with Russian military escorts to Chechnya.
Because of these administrative instructions and the widespread insecurity and the lack of accountability for human rights abuses, civilians are abducted or killed and the international community remains silent. It’s like in this war the fate of the Chechen people have become a kind of taboo. Nobody is talking about that any more.
Russia is a key ally in the war against terrorism, a key economic ally of the United States government, for example. The international community has been very reluctant to talk about several things, to talk first about the human rights abuses in Chechnya; secondly, the open violation of basic international law by Russian and Ingushetian authorities.
What I’m saying is that currently there is a process of force repatriation of the displaced Chechen living in Ingushetia to Chechnya.
The basic rights of civilians affected by war is to seek for a safe refuge, being assisted and protected properly in the area of refuge. Now people are forced to go back to Chechnya. So, its an open violation of international humanitarian law by a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and nobody is talking about this.
Again, just to finish on that, it’s exactly the same as --
JERRY FOWLER: “Just to finish” gets you two more minutes.
PATRICE PAGÉ: Yes, sorry. Just to finish, it’s exactly the same for our colleague, Arjan Erkel. A humanitarian aid worker was abducted a year ago in the northern caucuses. We know that two agents from the FSB, the Russian security services, were present at the scene of the kidnapping and did not intervene to stop it.
The investigation is moving so slowly that there are no results after a year. We even know that the Russian authorities closed the investigation from November 2002 up to May 2003. So, where is the accountability here? It’s not a priority of the Russian authorities to resolve this case.
It is clearly affecting the ability of humanitarian worker to be there in the region to assist the people and to speak about them. Yet, the international community is not raising this issue directly to President Putin.
JERRY FOWLER: Well that, I think, is a good lead in to our third guest, Lord Judd. I took the liberty of introducing while you were out of the room. But you in some ways are representative of at least part of the amorphous “international community” and served as special rapporteur of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe for, I believe, three or four years until you resigned in March.
I wanted to ask you some questions about that, but first, could you just very briefly, for a US audience, explain what the Council of Europe is and what its mission is?
LORD FRANK JUDD: The Council of Europe was part of the determination of European leaders after the Second World War to see decent values entrenched into the political life of Europe. It’s not just an organization of member states. It’s not. It isn’t based on the principle of universality of membership. It’s member states who commit themselves and demonstrate that they are committed to certain values. The underlying values are human rights, justice and accountable democratic government. These are the principles.
It now involves almost all the member states of greater Europe, including now Russia. In that sense it has a broader geographical spread, of course, than the European Union.
I would only make one observation, which is not, as it were, the standard handout by the Council of Europe. It’s the observation of a participant in the Council of Europe. I don’t think there’s a single member country of the Council of Europe that’s got an absolutely clean record in these matters; no skeletons in the cupboard. I’m sure we have skeletons in the cupboard in Britain. I’m sure every other member country has some skeletons in the cupboard. But I think in the early membership there was a demonstration of substantial commitment in the way affairs were conducted in member states to the principles on which the Council of Europe was founded.
With the fall of totalitarian communism, there has been a great drive to bring in new member states from the former communist world. I can understand that. I wasn’t actually a member of the parliamentary assembly at the time, but I can understand it. There was a feeling that by bringing in member states which could convince the existing members that they had a commitment to the values on which the Council of Europe was founded and that this could be a helpful and dynamic process.
I’ve reached a conclusion that the balance in the Council has historically changed from demonstrable commitment to rhetorical aspiration. Because it is quite clear that there are a number of member states which gave very firm commitments at the time of their admission but which by no stretch of the imagination are yet delivering on a number of those commitments. But we have a monitoring process for new members. Every year there are reports on member states and how they are progressing.
This, I hope, gives you some flavor of what the Council of Europe is about.
JERRY FOWLER: It is some flavor and it leads into the relationship of the Council vis-à-vis Russia and Chechnya and Patrice has observed that the international community has been relatively silent with regard to Chechnya. What has the Council of Europe done? What was your role as rapporteur and what would you say has been the effect of those efforts, if anything?
LORD FRANK JUDD: I don’t think there is a demonstrable effect. I couldn’t claim that yet. There is always the question, and history will have to answer that of how much worse things might have been had the Council of Europe not been there.
What happened originally was that when the war came alive again at the end of 1999 there was a great distress amongst the majority of member states and it was decided that we really must watch the situation very closely and get involved.
I was, at that time, chairman of the Refugee Subcommittee of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography. I was saying that we must get involved and the Political Affairs Committee, which is sort of the lead committee in the Council of Europe, of which I’m also a member, then asked me whether I would take on the rapporteurship. Well, what that has done is involve eight visits to Chechnya and altogether, I think, about nine visits, if not more, to Moscow for meetings with a cross-section of senior people in Moscow about the situation.
In April following the outbreak of war, what happened was that the Council of Europe was so outraged by indeed what I and others were reporting that they said we must do something. We will suspend the voting right of the Russian delegation until things improve.
There was a big argument about that and that was only narrowly carried. The argument was because the Council of Europe has a committee of ministers which is the representative of governments and it has the parliamentary assembly and it also have the legal institutions, the Court of Human Rights and the rest.
Those who were against suspending voting rights, including myself, took the following position: We said this is the government we are dealing with. This is the Russian government that we are complaining about. It’s our governments that are failing to effectively pressurize the Russian government. How is it going to help by taking away the voting rights of the parliamentarians? What we’ve got to do is subject the parliamentarians from Russia to debate, analysis and criticism. Let them participate fully. Let them, when necessary, be defeated. But don’t let the argument be used that we’ve deprived them of their rights as parliamentarians within the assembly. Let them come and hear what we’re saying and let them face up to the criticism and try to deal with it. After some months that argument actually prevailed and what was then decided was that we should have a joint committee of the Council of Europe and the Duma to monitor the situation and report back regularly.
Now, why did I stay in this job of rapporteur for three and a half years? It is a question I often ask myself, incidentally. I was very concerned as to whether I wasn’t in fact being used by the Russians. I think I was. I thought at the time on reflection, not infrequently, that I was. But my conclusion was that this was something worth doing if there was any chance at all of trying to get an evolution in Russian thinking, a growth in Russian responsibility towards the situation.
Clearly, we weren’t going to go to war with Russia. We weren’t going to invade Russia on the issue. Therefore, we had to use persuasion. We had to use argument. We had to use logic. We had to try and find the people with whom we could cooperate and make changes.
I stayed in there. I came in for a good deal of sting. But having said that, when it came to the referendum earlier this year --
JERRY FOWLER: That’s the referendum on a new constitution.
LORD FRANK JUDD: The referendum on a new constitution earlier this year, I simply said that I could not stay in, because to me it was clear that my analysis and the analysis of the Russians was so different that it would be nonsense for me to go on pretending that I could do a constructive job in that situation.
My position was that the only way that one could approach peace in Chechnya was through a political process. After so much bitterness, so much bloodshed, so much confrontation, so much suffering, it wasn’t possible just to have an administrative measure of introducing a new constitution by referendum, a technique used incidentally by dictators repeatedly in the last century.
It was necessary to have a realistic political process in which as wide a cross-section of people from Chechen society participated, took a part in their ownership, and that it must involve negotiations and talks with those fighters who were prepared to commit themselves to a political process.
The Russians were absolutely intransigent. They opposed that course. They wanted to rush through their referendum, which they did, and of course, need I say more, 90 percent of those who registered -- and the registry is open to a great deal of analysis on how it was compiled and who was on it and who wasn’t -- 90 percent of those on the register voted. Ninety-six percent of those who voted voted for the constitution. Need I say any more?
JERRY FOWLER: You are suggesting that 96 percent is not a credible --
LORD FRANK JUDD: Well, I said to some of my Russian friends, I’m terribly disappointed. What happened to the other four percent?
JERRY FOWLER: We’ve collected some questions from the audience and actually a question that comes up several times and is one that I think is just brought up but obviously not resolved in the film is the relationship between Chechen Muslims and Chechen Nationalists. The way this question is phrased, and it gets at some of the issues, is: Are they the same group or are they different? If they’re different, how has the relationship evolved during the first and second wars? Then a similar question is: Is the only alternative to possible genocide the withdrawal of Russian forces? If so, then is the likely presence of another militantly Islamic regime in Central Asia an acceptable alternative?
I think I’ll start with you, Lord Judd. In your experience what’s your assessment of the connection between what happening in Chechnya and Islamism and these questions that the audience raises?
LORD FRANK JUDD: I’m very glad you asked that question. This is the thing which I feel very strongly about. Can I first of all say that I’ve spent half my life working in humanitarian agencies? I was director of Oxfam which is Western Europe’s largest voluntary humanitarian agency.
I care desperately. I don’t want to have a bleeding heart, but it’s absolutely true. I care desperately about the suffering we’ve seen, about the human rights, the humanitarian situation, the economic situation. It’s appalling. But what preoccupies me most is that I see a gigantic contradiction in policy in my country and your country. On the one hand we say we are preoccupied with the growth of global terrorism. We say that this is the issue which must be the top of our agenda.
On the other hand, and I just cannot, I never in my political life have been so perplexed, on the other hand, our leaders are saying it’s so important to have Russia with us on issues like the war on terrorism or on the issue of Iraq, it is so important to have the Russians with us that we soft-pedal. We will play very diplomatically and gently our reservations about what is happening in Chechnya.
Why do I say I’m totally perplexed and mesmerized by this problem? Why? Because everything you see there could not be better designed to recruit for extremists. If we really are worried about global terrorism, we have to tell our Russian colleagues that we cannot abide a situation in which they are actually driving people into the arms of extremists.
I have very many moderate Islamic friends. They feel themselves undermined because unless it can be demonstrated that political process for change is possible, which will have a significance way beyond Chechnya to the international situation as a whole -- of course for the young the argument is the only people who really make a stand for us are the uncompromising extremists on our side.
We have to demonstrate that political process is possible. We have to demonstrate that we are sophisticated enough, and it doesn’t take very much sophistication to do it, to see that there are different elements amongst the Chechen fighters. Yes, there may be an Al Qaeda element which has no interest in the political agenda as we understand the political agenda.
But there are others who even if we say you were wrong to take up arms, we can understand their position. They are fighting for the dignity, the self-respect, the protection, as they see it, the cultural identity of their people. That is real politics.
Now somehow we have to rein those people back into the political process. To lump them all together as terrorists and refuse to talk to them is plain forcing them into the hands of the people who set the pace amongst the extremists.
Let me just make one other observation, as I have the floor. I come from the United Kingdom. Of course the situation in Northern Ireland and the situation in Chechnya are very different in many ways. But there are situations in which there are lessons in one for the other.
We only began to make progress towards a settlement towards peace in Northern Ireland when the British government realized that however much we might dislike it, however much we might differ from it, there was a political agenda on the part of many of those who we call terrorists.
In that sense, until we were prepared to talk to the political wing of the IRA, no progress was made. You can’t build peace in that situation by picking the people you will talk to. You have to talk to the people who are representative of the people in the struggle.
JERRY FOWLER: Do they allow clapping in the House of Lords?
LORD FRANK JUDD: No. The Council of Lords listens to you very quietly ...
JERRY FOWLER: Patrice?
PATRICE PAGÉ: Just to add to this, well, it’s always the most vulnerable people in war zones who are paying the price. So, in Chechnya, yes, indiscriminate violence is not only committed by Russian troops, but also by Chechen rebels against the civilian population.
But if we take the example of Ingushetia, I mean Chechnya is a complex situation, which will take a long time to resolve. But the situation in Ingushetia is quite easy to control for the Russian authorities. President Putin has leverage on the situation there. Yet, well there is a broad and very refined policy implemented by Russian, Chechen and Ingush authorities to send back the people to a war zone.
Why this is happening? We know that since a very long time. In July 2002, Russian authorities adopted a plan to close all camps for displaced people in Ingushetia. Very recently in July 2003, Akhmat Kadyrov stated clearly that all tented camps in Ingushetia would be closed by the beginning of October.
Everybody knows that in the past year from August 2002 down to August 2003 the number of displaced people in Ingushetia has drastically diminished, dropped down. So, we passed from a population of 115,000 displaced in Ingushetia in August 2002 down now to 80,000.
In tented camps we pass from 24,000 people last August and now there are 12,000 people living in the camps in Ingushetia. Why is that? Why is that? It’s not because the people want to go back home. They don’t want to go back home. It’s only because there’s a very broad and refined policy, you know, to leave them without any other choice than to go back home.
The authorities are exercising intense pressure on the displaced in Ingushetia to go back home. This is going from first Russian troops based in Ingushetia conducting cleaning operations in the camps, shooting in the air, threatening, intimidating the people.
You have an increased number now in Ingushetia of cases of disappearances, arbitrary arrests in the camps. So, this is the first part, the deterioration of the security situation in Ingushetia and the increase number of security operations in the camps, the increased pressure by the authorities on the displaced population.
The second part of the policy is that, well, the authorities are going in the camp and they put the displaced in front of a fait accompli. They are telling them the camps will close, so you have to go back home. You don’t have a choice. There is no place for you here.
The third part of the policy is that --
JERRY FOWLER: How many parts are there?
PATRICE PAGÉ: Four parts, two last parts.
JERRY FOWLER: The bullet point is on the left, too.
PATRICE PAGÉ: The third part is that since April 2002, the authorities in Ingushetia are not anymore registering officially the displaced in Ingushetia. So, people don’t have any status. They are illegal immigrants, so they can be arrested, whatever, by the authorities.
JERRY FOWLER: Then the fourth part.
PATRICE PAGÉ: The fourth part is that, well, the authorities in Ingushetia are blocking us from improving the living conditions of the Chechen displaced living in the camps or squatting in empty farms and so on and so forth. We’re not able to extend the current capacity of the camps to improve the sanitation, the water in the camps, but also to build new shelters for the people. So, it’s a vicious circle.
JERRY FOWLER: Paul is dying to get a word in here.
PAUL MITCHELL: I wasn’t quite sure that anybody actually answered the question.
JERRY FOWLER: All the more reason for you to jump in.
PAUL MITCHELL: I can only talk from my own experience. My impression was that as far as the fighters go, the Wahhabi fighters are in a stronger position now than the kind of old fashioned nationalists, if you want to call them that, although it’s very loose and people swap from group to group depending on who has money and who has weapons and what’s going on and personal squabbles and all that kind of stuff.
But my other impression was both in the camps and in Chechnya itself that basically most Chechens would love to see the back of both the Russians and the Beards, as they call them, basically because they both give them a lot of grief.
They’re afraid of the Islamists and they’re afraid of the Russian soldiers. I would guess that given the awful, awful lives that most people have been living for the last five or ten years, they would trade independence for some sort of autonomy where they weren’t being preyed on either by the radicals or by the Russians.
That’s just my impression. You can’t really tell. You can’t poll or anything.
LORD FRANK JUDD: Could I just add on what you were saying? With this forced closure of the camps for the IDPs in Ingushetia the indications are that the pace at which young people are going off to join the fighters is increasing all the time; that the young who are being evicted from these camps are going off to join the fighters in larger numbers.
Two statistics: I know that statistics can be boring, but two statistics, which I think are very significant. Memorial, which is a Russian NGO -- my admiration for Memorial is unlimited, they do incredibly courageous work on the human rights front, right in the middle of the situation. They are an incredibly impressive organization and they do it in a very thorough way.
Memorial has drawn attention to the fact that papers leaked from Mr. Kadyrov’s administration in Grozny -- Mr. Kadyrov is also the principal candidate for the Chechen presidential elections, the principal Putin candidate for the presidential elections coming up next month and he is the current administrator appointed by Putin of Chechnya. Papers leaked by his office indicate that federal security forces are party to on average 109 extra-judicial killings every month.
If that statistic is correct, Memorial points out that per capita, in terms of the population of Chechnya, this is worse than in the worse days of the purges under Stalin.
The second statistic that I quote, because what I liked about your film was that it tried to look objectively at the situation -- it’s very difficult to do that, but you made a brave attempt. No, if I’m allowed to say so, I just think emotionally for the uninitiated the difficulty in that situation and there’s no way you can overcome it. You could show the bodies of the Russians. You couldn’t show the mutilated bodies of the Chechens, obviously, because you weren’t allowed to see them.
But having said that, the other statistic is that the Mothers of Russian Soldiers, which is a Russian NGO of mothers of young soldiers in Chechnya, has calculated that 12,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in this country, and that is more than in the whole Afghanistan campaign by the Soviet Union.
JERRY FOWLER: Well, that actually leads into a question that was asked and I think first I’ll toss it to Paul Mitchell. The question from the audience starts out by saying, the Russian soldiers don’t want to be there, right? Could the panelists provide more context about the situation of the Russian military force in Chechnya? Then they have conscripts selling weapons and uniforms to Chechen rebels, et cetera. I’m wondering, Paul, what your views were from the time that your crews spent with Russian forces.
PAUL MITCHELL: In the last couple of years the troops that have been circulating in and out have tended to be more professional. They were originally quite a lot of short-term -- they call them kontraktniki. I don’t know how to translate that, people who served in the military and then were hired back because they were willing to do combat duty. There are fewer of them now. They don’t like going there. They earn more money. It’s a good gig, if you don’t get killed. It pays well. Some people are doing it simply for the money.
It’s not a happy life for them. They’re pretty miserable. I’ll tell you the one useful tool, if anybody feels like going and filming with the Russian Army in Chechnya, the single best piece of equipment you can bring is a satellite phone. The reason for that is that these kids basically would go six, eight months without being able to talk to their family at all; having absolutely no contact. It is the one thing that got us through every kind of checkpoint or anything like that. You simply say, yes, you let us through and we’ll let you make a call home.
It’s a pretty miserable life for them and they’re scared. Again, they do some pretty miserable things as well.
When we set out to make this film, one thing I didn’t really want to do is I didn’t want to do a lot of what they call in America these bang-bang. I didn’t do a lot of action, action, action, because the center of any war, in a sense, isn’t the battlefield; it’s all the quiet that’s around the battlefield.
So, the bits with the Russian soldiers, we wanted to catch them in their more relaxed space and that’s what – and every single one of those checkpoints, you know, they aren’t like checkpoints like you’d imagine. They are almost like little fortified villages. You know, there will be a minefield around them. They’ll have a lot of automatic weapons. They’ll have electronic placements around them.
We try to give them a human facebecause these are people who do these things to other people and it’s important to try to do that. I don’t know how much we succeeded, but we tried.
JERRY FOWLER: A question that was asked in several different ways by different people, the way one person phrased it is: What is the difference between guerilla war and terrorism? They kind of went on and said please examine parallels between the situation in Chechnya and the US/UN situation in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just to complete this person’s card: Has Russia ever announced any reconstruction plans and what’s the opinion of the Russian people on the war?
But this issue of guerilla war and terrorism, I don’t know that there’s an easy answer to it. How would you address it? I’ll throw this open to the panel.
LORD FRANK JUDD: Well, I’ll foolishly dive in. I don’t know how many hours we’ve got.
JERRY FOWLER: Well, less than one hour, I’ll tell you, more like about five minutes.
LORD FRANK JUDD: It’s a pretty profound philosophical question, too. I mean I know it’s easy to dismiss it as a glib adage. But it is often said that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.
I think one has to distinguish between people and acts. I think there are certain acts which I can’t condone in any circumstances. I can’t condone what was done in the theatre in Moscow to innocent people having a night out in a working class suburb. I can’t condone what happened in Grozny. I can’t condone what happened in Znamenskoye. Those are acts of terrorism against innocent people and they should not be perpetrated by anybody.
It is interesting, incidentally, that Maskhadov, who has been regarded as a moderate leader amongst the fighters, has disassociated himself from Basayev totally and told his people that they are to abide by the Geneva Conventions and not to take action against civilian targets. He said this in response to the suicide bombings. Though it has to be said that Basayev claims that the women who are involved in suicide bombing now are virtually all women who have either been raped by security forces or who have lost close and dear relatives in the context of the conflict at the hand or whose relatives have disappeared. It’s a very difficult situation.
What I worry about is rather like my perplexion on the contradictions on major policy on global terrorism. What I worry about is this tendency to lump everyone together as a terrorist because I think that does, as I said earlier, play into the hands of the extremists who are using unacceptable terrorist techniques.
I quite clearly see that in Chechnya there are different elements and I referred to them earlier in describing it and I won’t go over that ground again. But let me speak personally. When I was a young man -- a younger man -- I was a member in Britain of the national committee of the anti-apartheid movement. We were closely supporting Nelson Mandela and much that the ANC was doing in the struggle in South Africa. Now, was Nelson Mandela and ANC a terrorist movement or a freedom fighter?
I was a member of the British Committee for Freedom in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea when the people of Mozambique, Angola and Guinea were trying to throw off the yoke of Portuguese colonialism. Were they terrorists or were they freedom fighters?
I am afraid that if we use this sort of over-simplified shorthand in a generalized way we play the extremist game. That’s exactly what they want. In the same way, how come that in looking for a solution in Northern Ireland we are prepared to talk to the political way of the IRA?
We must be, the world is complex, the people who said tonight, the film that said tonight that Chechnya is an immensely complicated issue, it is, historically and in so many other ways. One cannot use over-simplified languages. Its very dangerous to use over-simplified language in that situation. Therefore, I think we have to be more discriminating, more subtle and more sophisticated in the language we use.
JERRY FOWLER: Did either of you want to add anything? We would appreciate you keeping that to less than an hour.
PAUL MITCHELL: We were very careful. We never called anybody a terrorist. We only ever called them rebels. There’s no question for me that that young man, Amin, who was filmed with his back to the camera, was as impressive a military commander as I’ve met in three wars. I can’t say that for all his troops. But he was a very, very, very clever, very disciplined, very impressive young man. If he lives out this war, he’ll be the minister of something, I’m sure.
JERRY FOWLER: Patrice? Quickly.
PATRICE PAGÉ: Well, as I mentioned before, we work in several complex areas, Afghanistan, Iraq, today in Liberia, still at war. We don’t have the problems that we have there. For us, I mean parties at war are parties at war, according to international humanitarian law -- according to the Geneva Conventions.
It’s very basic principles, the Geneva Conventions. Parties at war have the obligation to clearly separate combatants and non-combatants. First obligation.
Second obligation, the right of civilians to flee a war zone and have access to a safe refuge, be assisted and protected properly there.
The third obligation of parties at war is to allow full access by impartial, independent actors to assist the people.
The fourth obligation is to ensure the security and safety for these impartial actors, which are trying to serve the people.
These four obligations are for sure not respected at the present moment by the host country, by the Russian Federation. We are able in Liberia today to negotiate directly with the three parties at war and to access the people, even if it’s difficult. Not Chechnya; why is that? Again, impunity. When there is lack of accountability then you are feeding a vicious circle and you are giving a blank check to parties at war to conduct themselves as whatever they want, without limits.
Why the United Nations Security Council is so good to give lessons to the Charles Taylor of the world, to African leaders. Yet the war in Chechnya is not a subject on the agenda of the United Nations Security Council. You never talk about that in the United Nations. It’s a taboo. There is an unwritten rule now within the international diplomacy to remain silent about Chechnya, and Europe, the United States, the United Nations, are not raising the issue of the war in Chechnya and the fate of the Chechen civilians to the Russian authorities.
I will just give you an example. The US Policy towards Chechnya is about the respect of a very few basic principles by Russia. Three things: It’s accountability for human rights abuses in Chechnya, full access of humanitarian workers to the Northern Caucasus, and to avoid forcing back the civilian people to Chechnya in the current security situation.
JERRY FOWLER: That’s the US policy?
PATRICE PAGÉ: This is the US policy, to make sure that these three objectives are fulfilled. Of course, we’re far from that. Really, in the past months, if we look at the G-8 Summit in Evian, if we look at the summit in St. Petersburg, well the declarations are now always giving a blank check to the Russian authorities, saying that, well, there is progress. The referendum in Chechnya is a sign of the progress towards peace, the upcoming presidential elections are also a sign of progress, etc.
The international community is searching for these signs of normalcy, but there is no normalcy in the region. There is a summit at the end of September. President Bush will meet with President Putin.
If policies mean something, if international humanitarian law means something, if resolutions adopted by the United Nations Security Council mean something, President Bush should clearly raise these issues to President Putin:
First you will stop now the forced repatriation process, because as of today, well, on the first of September one of the five main camps in Ingushetia was closed, Bella Camp. The authorities came in the camp. They told the displaced people that the camp was closed. The next day, September 2nd, they cut off the electricity and the provision of gas in the camp.
It’s been 14 months that the food distribution process has been interrupted in this camp by the authorities. They just told the people, well, now it’s finished. Your camp is overcrowded. There are more cleaning operations and controls in Ingushetia currently. So what the people will do? They have no choice. They will go back to Chechnya. By the way, the authorities are telling them, well, if you “decide” to go back now we’ll give you a nine-month food ration to go back the Chechnya.
This is happening now. So first, to stop the forced repatriation process, this is easy. The Russian government has the leverage on that, you know, let the people stay in the neighboring republics of Ingushetia, Dagestan and Georgia, first.
Secondly, well, of course, --
JERRY FOWLER: I think I’m going to have to ask you for bullet points here.
PATRICE PAGÉ: Accountability for human rights abuses.
JERRY FOWLER: Accountability, no forced repatriation and --
PATRICE PAGÉ: Then the third point that we are asking is President Bush should raise to President Putin the case of my colleague, Arjan Erkel who was abducted in Dagestan more than a year ago.
JERRY FOWLER: Ask about Arjan?
PATRICE PAGÉ: Yes, because we know that this is not simply a criminal case. There is political implication in this case of abduction. Why it’s the fourth MSF volunteer abducted in the region since ’94, one of the most vocal organization about the human rights abuses in the context and one of the only ones, before the abduction of Arjan Erkel, to work directly with the people almost everywhere in the region.
Why is that?
JERRY FOWLER: Just very briefly, Lord Judd.
LORD FRANK JUDD: I want to say I very much support that analysis. Could I just make one point? We cannot impose stability and peace in the world. It’s going to be -- I don’t believe that my grandchildren will ever inherit a totally stable, peaceful world. But we can strive to make it as stable and peaceful as possible.
To have any chance of succeeding in that operation, we have to build it. We can’t impose it. We have to enable as many people and as wide a cross-section of people as possible to be stakeholder in the process and to feel this is something that belongs to them.
Now, if we are taking that approach, consistency and credibility is terribly important. If we are going to have any credibility when we condemn terrorist acts, we can’t just condemn them if it’s Chechen fighters who commit them and then fail to condemn them when there’s kidnapping, torture the deliberate destruction of people’s homes and lately the complete destruction of health and social infrastructure by the Russian security forces. Those are terrorist acts as well.
JERRY FOWLER: Well, unfortunately, we are going to have to wrap things up. I wanted to be sure and tell you that there’s a film festival that starts tomorrow evening that’s going to be held at Visions Cinema which, I believe, is at DuPont Circle. It will go for three nights. Greetings from Grozny will actually be shown as part of the festival. So, that’s in the next three evenings, the Chechnya Film Festival. I think you can find detailed information by going to the Visions website, which is Vision.com or going to ChechnyaFilmFestival.org.
I would like to ask you to join me in thanking our panelists for a wonderful discussion. Thanks to all of you for coming. I hope we’ll see all of you again.