A Deadly Silence
Date: February 27, 2002
Russian troops and security services have intensified the so called "mopping up" operations in Chechnya, meaning massive looting, illegal detainment, torture, murders and rape. Several major Chechen towns and villages, Argun, Chechen-Aul, Gekhi, Gicalo, Novye Atagy, Prigorodnoe, Starye Atagy, Shali, and Tzotzan-Urt, have been, some repeatedly, subjected to these brutal punitive actions during the last several weeks, reportedly under the personal command of the Gen V. Moltenskoy, a commander of the Russian military contingent in Chechnya. How many civilians have been abused and murdered in these latest waves of terror may never be known, thanks to the disgraceful inaction of the offices of the Council of Europe and the OSCE in Chechnya. It is clear, however, that Russian terror continues to reign in Chechnya with impunity, impunity that has been brought about by a deadly silence of the international community.
On 3 February, Memorial, a leading Russian human rights watchdog, received a note from the inhabitants of Starye Atagy, one of the Chechen towns that were being "mopped up". The note was a desperate cry for help: "We are in a hell. What we all had been afraid has happened - abuse of women and girls. ... It is a horror. Help! We, women, children and old men wait for you! ... We are in a hell! "(1). This note, smuggled out from the "hell" by a local women risking her life, has, however, failed those that in desperation bet their lives on it.
On 11 February, Ilyas Akhmadov, the Chechen Foreign Minister, wrote to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson urging her to send observers to Starye Atagy and the other Chechen towns (2). The answer has been a deadly silence. On 15th, Ahmed Zakaev, vice-premier of the Chechen government, quoting the note, called to the Council of Europe to intervene, arguing that "the catastrophic situation ... in the Chechen Republic, demands immediate intervention of the international community"(3). Zakaev's call has shared the fate of Akhmadov's appeal to Mary Robinson. A day latter, Ilyas Akhmadov wrote to Ambassador Inki, the newly-appointed head of the OSCE Assistance group to Chechnya, with a similar request to send the group's observers to the "mopped-up" Chechen towns and villages (4). Though all Akhmadov was asking the OSCE was to monitor the situation - the very purpose of the OSCE's presence in Chechnya, nothing but a deadly silence has answered again.
The silence is deadly because this silence enables Russia to go on with the massive, systematic and deliberate terror that she has imposed on the entire Chechen people since September 1999. Nothing seems to be able to move the international community to face the reality of a Russian state-run terror in Chechnya, no matter how brutal and open it is. The behavior of the international community is nothing less than a disgrace. No real-politic factors, however sound they are, can justify the fact that the OSCE and the Council of Europe, whose offices are situated less than 50 kilometers from those helpless civilians that wrote the note, refused to visit the "mopped-up" towns. The international community seems to have forgotten that a silence is a tacit consent, and that a consent, even a tacit one, is still an approval.