Graz, Austria, May 2008
Under the Shadow of Calmness lies Hidden the Lion: the Difficult Post-Conflict Reconstruction in Chechnya
A conflict analysis based on the field experience of a volunteer.
In 1991, Chechnya declared its independence. The government refused this and made an attempt to re-impose control over the region. The first conflict began in 1994 when armed Russian troops re-entered in Chechnya. In 1999 the second war resumed following actions blamed to the Chechen groups.
Nowadays, although a fragile peace is in place, the region is overwhelmed by instability fuelled by ethnic tensions and violence between armed groups and authorities. Additionally to this, there are still serious human rights abuses including unlawful arrest, robbery, rape, torture and murder. According to the latest reports from Memorial, a Russian human rights NGO, a total of 1,799 Chechen civilians have been kidnapped between 2002 and 2006, with about 1,000 of them yet to be found. 316 people were abducted in Chechen territory in 2005; 166 of them were released, 23 were found killed, and 127 are still missing (1).
For the Chechens, the assimilation of Chechen refugee children into Russian society has meant the loss of their language, culture and heritage. The population of the capital city alone has halved since the start of the conflict to 2006 – from 600,000 to 300,000. Chechens outside Chechnya feel discrimination and social exclusion on a daily basis, mainly because of the way media depicts them. Men report that they fear to grow their beards in case they are taken for Wahhabi extremists and thus arrested. Practicing religion is widespread but feared. There is widespread trauma and stress within the population. Children are observed to be nervous, agitated and aggressive.
On the other hand, the Russian society is becoming more extremist and xenophobic towards Chechens, because of an on-going perceived terrorist or criminal threat from the Chechens and possibly other ‘Islamic’ elements.
Regional interests hindering reconstruction
There are several interests around the region that can hinder the social, political and economical reconstruction in Chechnya. However, there are some tools that could bring the population closer and engage politicians and government in the process. Some examples are non-official peace education and conflict prevention programs targeting civilians. According to FAST risk analysis there is“ripeness” for peace in Chechnya and the people would be open to dialogue on security, development, and reconciliation, and there are signs of a greater willingness of the authorities to engage with independent civil society organizations.
A good example of such programs is the International Alert’s work with civil society groups in the Southern Caucasus nations. They work with local civil society groups in the following ways: “building confidence at the grassroots level with constituencies who suffered most directly from the conflict, i.e. displaced people, returnees, women and other vulnerable groups, ex-combatants, civil society from rural regions in the cease-fire line ; working at the mainstream civil society level to strategize jointly and help them to implement their peace building projects; helping partners to develop joint advocacy platforms to engage with their respective authorities across the conflict divide; helping partners to engage with larger regional and international peace and conflict issues through sharing their experiences and learning from peace building initiatives in other parts of the world” (2).
Peace attempt Council of Europe
The closest official attempt for peace in Chechnya has been through the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which has organised ‘round tables’ on Chechnya. More specifically, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights and their special envoy ‘rapporteur’, keeps an eye on human rights abuses and keep open a dialogue with the Russian authorities, mainly with the Russian Prosecutor General and Human Rights Commission. By joining the Council of Europe in 1996, Russia signed up to compliance with certain principles. However, enforcement of these principles is not strong and countries are very rarely expelled for non-compliance.
In terms of specific actions the committee has been involved in, they have facilitated negotiations between Chechen and Russian actors, (march 2002) though the more extreme ‘terrorist’ Chechen reps (e.g. the elected President Maskhadov before his assassination in 2005) had been excluded even from these talks, partly their own choice, refusing to sit at the same table as other Chechens in power, who the rebels claim to be non-elected. The most recent call was done by the President of PACE on March 28th, 2006 when he urged Russia to ratify Protocol No 6 on the abolition of the death penalty and to continue co-operation with the Council of Europe on the situation in Chechnya, freedom of media and functioning of NGOs.
Other bodies with similar mandates would be the OSCE and the UN Commission on Human Rights. However, the Russian government seem equally impervious to their approaches and recommendations as they are to PACE. They do make an attempt to answer questions, but it is inadequate and shallow.
Additionally to the official attempts in the region, the Peace Mission to the North Caucasus (PMNC), the Institute for Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IEA/RAS) as part of the Forum on Early Warning and Early Response (FEWER), organized a series of roundtables which started in 2000 to help develop and implement an effective Chechnya Peace Reconstruction Initiative. This Peace Reconstruction Plan has been prepared as a guide for donors and implementing agencies working on Chechnya. The Plan cover long-term peace objectives; overall response directions; specific response options for economic reconstruction and security; gaps in current strategies and possible solutions; and strategic requirements for peace reconstruction in Chechnya (3).
At a glance one can say that the political and social situation in the country has been normalizing the last years, nevertheless, there is still nonconformity within the population towards the security policies taken by the former President Ramzan Kadyrov, whom for many has more interest in reinforcing policies through violence than achieving a sustainable peace.
But, in spite of it, in both Russian and Chechen eyes, Kadyrov is the guarantor of peace, no matter how fragile. The man himself insists that Chechens have turned their back on war once and for all, and that the future is bright. Perhaps « the situation seems calm on the surface but it’s not. It could blow up at any minute," says Timurlan Ibailov, one of a huddle of unemployed men all seeking work at the marketplace in the Chechen town of Argun. Mr. Ibalov continues saying “We’ll only know that things are normal when people stop carrying guns. But look around. At the moment, almost everyone has a gun. » (4)
Through the scope of a gun it is clear that a sustainable social and political situation can be achieved in Chechnya, keeping the country as a hostage of violence. Hence, local indicatives and combined work with the NGOs present in the region needs promoted in order to achieve reconciliation in the society.
Although according to the Russian government the situation in Chechnya is normalizing in 2006 there are many signs that the economical and social situation in the region is critical. A positive sign is that the two Chechen wars and terrorist attacks linked to the conflict have transferred to some extent control from the side of the government to the media and the civil society.
The author of the file is Biviana Buitrago. The content of this Fiche is based on the Assignments written by Juliet Schofield in March of 2006. Juliet Schofield holds a bachelor in Russian and Soviet Studies and an MSc in Development Studies. And recently she worked with VSO (voluntary Service Overseas).
(1) : The IRC in the Northern Caucasus. Available online at: www.theirc.org/where/the_irc_in_chechnya_and_ingushetia.html
(2) : Taken from International Alert web-site: www.international-alert.org/our_work/regional/caucasus_asia/georgian_abkhaz.php
(3) : « Chechnya Peace Reconstruction Plan ». Available Online at : www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/OCHA-64D8BN?OpenDocument
(4) : The Independent. « Raman Kadyrov: The Warrior King of Chechnya ». In: The Independent, January 2007. Available online at: www.independent.co.uk/news/people/ramzan-kadyrov-the-warrior-king-of-chechnya-430738.html