Speech of Akhmad Zakayev at Parlament building of United Kingdom
In the House of Commons of United Kingdom Parlament on Tuesday June 2nd, 2009, The Chechnya Peace Forum and the Henry Jackson Society held a discussion of Russia A Year On: Testing Medvedev’s Democratic credentials. Speakers included: Akhmad Zakayev (ex-Foreign Minister of Chechen Republic Ichkeria), Vladimir Bukovsky (Soviet and Russian dissident and human rights activist), Robin Shepherd (Director of International Affairs, Henry Jackson Society), Gisela Stuart (MP, Member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee).
The high profile event attracted a large audience, exploring the impact of foreign and domestic policy making in Russia in realtion to the Caucasus. It also focused on current relations with the West and the lack of democratic reform in Russia.
Here is the speech of Akhmad Zakayev on this event:
“Ladies and gentlemen!
I would like to begin my speech by thanking the organizers of this event. It is indeed a great honor for me to speak before you today.
The events of the past decade in the Chechen Republic have served as a test for all human rights activists, human rights organizations and politicians.
You will be familiar with the brutal and bloody wars which have cost more than 200,000 innocent lives, but the violations of human rights treaties and declarations also show the stark reality of how the international community continues to allow the Chechen’s struggle to continue without international intervention.
Last month, Dmitry Medvedev instructed the FSB to end the security regime in Chechnya. This formally ends the second Russian war on Chechnya which began short of ten years ago, costing an estimated one hundred thousand lives and destroying Chechen towns to gravel. The Chechens have lost 200,000 lives during the two wars and another 130,000 have fled for political refuge in Western Europe. The Russian population in Chechnya which before the wars stood at around 380,000, is now decimated to a few thousand. An estimated 40,000 Russian civilians have also been killed by the Russian warfare, the rest fled to Russia. Despite the recent announcement by Medvedev, the war continues. Peace cannot simply be achieved by claiming it to be so. Chechnya remains in the iron fist of the Kremlin, and the Chechen people remain subjected to a daily climate of fear and oppression without any avenues to seek justice, or express their fundamental right to express the freedom of speech. The republic is run by a Moscow imposed puppet president, Ramzan Kadyrov, who was never elected by the Chechen people.
Peace and freedom do not become real under occupation and force. What Chechnya needs now is a free and fair election, properly monitored by international observers. Only when the Chechens can freely elect their own governance, can real and lasting peace be achieved.
The West has a responsibility not to turn a blind eye and think the war is over. And the foundations for this are the fundamentals of human rights enshrined in the notion of civil society.
Article 2 of UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 states that all peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development as well as have a legal right to their own sovereign state.
In 2005, the United Nations adopted the resolution “The Responsibility to Protect.” This document explicitly gives the international community the responsibility and obligation to intervene when minority populations are oppressed or terrorized by majorities or governments within the same state borders. Inter-state conflicts can no longer be dismissed from intervention because they are “internal matters.” The United Nations and Council of Europe’s human rights conventions have commitments to the same effect.
Unfortunately, when it comes to Chechnya, some Russian human rights activists and many Western politicians considered the carpet bombing of towns and villages, ethnic cleansing, extrajudicial executions, abductions and persecution on ethnic and religious grounds ‘an internal affair of the Russian state.’ But how can mass murders and tortures be ‘an internal affair’ of the executioners? Is it really possible to view these human rights violations against the Chechen people as ‘Russia’s internal affair’? I consider this totally unacceptable.
You probably know about the deportation of the Chechen people to Siberia and Kazakhstan in 1944, which before the return in 1957 had cost the lives of over a half of the Chechen nation. In 2004 the European Parliament condemned the deportation and recognised it as an act of genocide. But that was not the only tragic chapter in the history of the Chechen people. Against the background of the persecution of the Chechens in Chechnya and in Russia during the past 15 years it is simply not possible to talk about these horrors and crimes in the past tense. Even today over 20,000 Chechen citizens are held in appalling conditions in Russian concentration camps, and according to numerous accounts by Russian human rights activists they are subjected to dreadful tortures and humiliation on ethnic grounds.
In my opinion there are a lot of parallels between the crimes against the Chechen people committed by Soviet Russia under Stalin and the crimes against the Chechen people which were committed and are still being committed by the so-called ‘democratic Russia’ under Yeltsin, Putin and Medvedev. At the same time I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the Russian leadership, politicians and the military, overcome by imperial arrogance do not even try to hide their brutal and barbaric attitude towards the Chechen nation. Thus when introducing Putin as his Prime Minister in 1999 Yeltsin talked about the ‘final solution of the Chechen issue’, quite deliberately drawing comparisons between Russia’s policies towards the Chechens and Nazi Germany’s policies towards the Jews. In spring 2000 the former Prime Minister of Russia Victor Chernomyrdin said, when speaking about the Chechen issue, that Putin had undertaken to complete what Stalin himself had failed to accomplish. If, according to Chernomyrdin’s words, the massive deportation of the Chechens and the physical annihilation of half of the population did not mean the ultimate solution of the Chechen issue, one can only imagine what the Russian government’s game plan really entails. The extent of the brutal policy deployed is clearly illustrated by three Russian generals – Kazantsev, Troshev and Shamanov – who headed the military operations in Chechnya. Having openly declared that the ‘ruthless destruction of terrorists’ was the purpose of their intervention in Chechnya, they made the following public statements in front of TV cameras: «They should be hanged in public in order to teach the rest a lesson» (General Kazantsev); «All Chechen males, from age 10, are terrorists» (General Troshev); «Wives, sisters and mothers of Chechen terrorists are themselves terrorists » (General Shamanov). So what was the reaction of Russian so-called “democrats” to these statements of the criminal generals who drowned Chechnya in blood? Against the background of Grozny lying in ruins in February 2000, one of the most prominent public figures, Anatoliy Chubais, urged Russian human rights defenders to stop criticizing the Russian military for their genocide in Chechnya, because, as he put it – “The pride of the Russian army was reborn in Chechnya.” Hardly anyone elsewhere heeded these statements by the Russian politicians and generals, but later we have all witnessed the Russian “reborn army” unleashing its aggression against Georgia and occupying part of its territory in August of 2008.
As a Chechen I can give you first hand testimony that any terror campaign against a small nation has huge ramifications, destroying the fundamentals of civil society – democratic freedoms, human rights and the rule of law.
After 15 years of attempts to settle by force the Russo-Chechen conflict, which started as a purely political conflict, Russia has only succeeded in making that conflict worse. The 1992 Federation Treaty, has been the first occasion EVER in the history of the Russian empire when dozens of ethnic republics willingly signed up to be part of the Russian state, has been completely and unilaterally denounced by Russia itself. Firstly, there is the attempt to make the status of occupied Chechnya which never signed the Federation Treaty – the same as the status of those republics, which had signed it. Secondly, over the last few years the Russian leadership refused those ethnic republics the right to enjoy their civil and religious rights, in the best traditions of colonial conquest. Today the ethnic republics do not have the right to elect their leaders, they do not have the right to their own religion, and they do not even have the right to their own alphabets.
The expectations, which the West publicly voiced of the Russian President Medvedev, have been proved to be without foundation, and this is now generally admitted. A campaign of terror against a small nation cannot lead to positive results. The predictable consequences of a criminal war unleashed against Chechnya, which is now in its tenth year, have been a restriction of democratic freedoms in Russia, including the abolition of free speech, of freedom for private business activity, and of freedom for minority religions. Politically motivated criminal prosecutions, harassment of civil rights organizations, violation of citizens’ electoral rights, ever strengthening fascism, and gross interference in the internal affairs of neighbouring states, instead, have all been very much in evidence. It is my profoundly held conviction that the violence in Chechnya and in the North Caucasus can be stopped only by a new political settlement. You may have seen news coverage that propagates that all is back to how it was, – but that is far from the truth. Visits, or more accurately: specially choreographed “peace safaris” are arranged for western journalists and dignitaries to show off the new modern airport and the glossy facades of a so-called extensive rebuilding programme in Grozny. The Kremlin claims there is now peace and stability in Chechnya, but the reality for Chechens is that the intensive bombing has been replaced with a regime of fear and oppression.
As for Chechnya specifically, my own view is that peace and human rights can only be achieved if the Chechen’s right to self-determination is recognised through free and fair elections, which last took place over 12 years ago. All of us in this room must lead the charge for the international community to broker a genuine political settlement that will finally put an end to an entire people’s suffering. There is absolutely no excuse for sacrificing a European people because of the lack of political will. Real peace in Chechnya will correct the human rights situation there – stabilize the geo-political situation in Northern Caucasus, – and further democracy in Russia. Chechens, Russians and the International Community – We all need it!
I thank you for your attention.”
June 2nd, 2009/London