NGOs flee Chechnya

Pledges by Chechen president Kadyrov to track down the killers of relief workers Zarema Sadulaeva and Umar Dzhabrailov are not earning him any plaudits from the human rights community. Investigative-journalism newspaper Novaya Gazeta and human-rights watchdog Memorial have both suspended operations in the republic due to the “lack of security.”

Memorial specifically cited death threats its workers received and incidents of unknown people following three workers throughout the month of July. One of those workers was Natalya Estemirova.

The two groups are not alone. Given Estemirova’s death in July 15 and this double murder less than six weeks later, rights groups in general feel certain that the Chechen government either cannot, or will not, protect them.

The day of the latter double murder, the staff of the Helsinki Group issued a statement lamenting the mortal danger confronting Chechnya’s human-rights workers: “These murders became the latest proof of the authorities’ inability to provide elementary security for its citizens… federal and regional authorities exhibit a criminal inaction.”

The NGOs’ decision to evacuate follows new revelations is not surprising. It follows new revelations that Sulayeva was beaten and tortured before her death. Moreover, the Chechen government’s behavior since the slayings doesn’t give NGOs any reason to lend it their trust. Kadyrov sued Memorial head Oleg Orlov for $10 million last week for telling an audience that Kadyrov was was responsible for Estemirova’s death.

And a recently aired video shows Adam Delimkhanov, a Kadyrov ally and Chechnya’s representative to the Russian State Duma, asserting that “rights activists in Chechnya are helping the criminal bandits” and that they will meet untimely ends: “Each of these [rights activists], be he a Chechen or an Ingush or someone else, must know that they will have to answer for their words.” When did Delimkhanov utter these words? Just 11 days before Estemirova’s death.

Kadyrov’s government has given NGO workers ample reasons to think that it will allow violent acts to befall them, if not commit the violent acts itself. Since they cannot advance human rights if they are dead, the only course of action for them to take is to leave Chechnya. That may well be what Kadyrov and company wanted all along; more free reign to imprison and execute out of sight of watchful eyes. The NGOs will leave and the status quo of uninhibited police state will be upheld.

But what good has this status quo done Chechnya to date? Uninhibited police state has been Chechnya’s political reality for the last eight decades, first administered by Russia and then by Russia’s Chechen proxies. It achieved Chechnya reaching the sad state it is in right now. Like anywhere else where they have been tried, oppressive governments who are heavily backed by foreigners tend to breed violent domestic opposition. And when the governments get more oppressive, the opposition will get more violent.

The Chechen authorities’ obvious contempt for human rights groups is ample proof that they plan to go the way of more oppression. This may be a politically expedient strategy. But it’s also a guarantee that the mayhem that is Chechnya’s present-day situation will continue into the foreseeable future. Brutal government tactics will inspire more people to take up arms against the government. Which will fuel still more oppresive government tactics. And so on ad infinitum, government and opposition fueling each other’s growth and raise each other’s body count in a neverending, headline-generating cycle.

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