Parliamentary Assembly session : 31 March – 4 April 2003 

“The Council of Europe will do everything possible to guide the military conflict towards a political process!”

29.01.2003 - Interview with Rudolf Bindig on his report on Chechnya presented during the Parliamentary Session of January 2003.

Question : Will you be suggesting that the Parliamentary Assembly confront Moscow, or will you be backing dialogue instead?

Rudolf Bindig : The Council of Europe always aims to steer any military conflict towards a political process. But some vital steps still need to be taken by the Russian side, and this criticism will also be clearly expressed in our report. We shall make a clear statement that, in cases of human rights violations, the perpetrators have not yet been investigated by the prosecuting authorities, because they are either incapable of doing so or unwilling to do so, and there may also be something which is preventing them from doing so. Our delegation also felt considerable doubt as to whether the constitutional referendum planned by Moscow for Chechnya on 23 March would be able to take place, and whether the Council of Europe should send observers to it. In view of the security situation there, a democratic vote is hardly likely.

Question : Will the Council of Europe step up its activities in Chechnya now that the OSCE mission has been largely rendered powerless?

Rudolf Bindig : The OSCE will not allow itself to be restricted to humanitarian matters, as Moscow wishes. Its mission will therefore actually be closed on 21 March. The presence of Council of Europe representatives in Chechnya will doubtless increase further at that point. Our experts are under instructions to observe the situation, particularly where human rights violations are concerned. There is a very limited extent to which political developments can be influenced.

Question : Will Moscow stick to its rigid course, or is there any sign of an easing of the tension?

Rudolf Bindig : The Russian approach has two aspects. On the one hand, the army is taking an uncompromisingly harsh line. On the other, Moscow is endeavouring to pass more and more tasks to the local government. But where the balance of power is concerned, 80 000 servicemen are stationed in the region, so there is, statistically, one Russian soldier for every 6.5 adult Chechens. That is a huge military presence.

Question : Is Moscow hushing up events in the conflict region?

Rudolf Bindig : That is clearly the case. The media are operating under extreme restrictions. The very few journalists' visits that do take place are guided by the authorities. There is no question of free reporting.

Question : As the Russian army takes a tougher line in Chechnya, are harassment, brutality and human rights violations on the increase?

Rudolf Bindig : The army certainly is taking very tough action, and the special forces' activities are particularly feared. There are checkpoints everywhere, and our delegation crossed Grozny in an armoured vehicle. The brutalities are perpetrated at night by soldiers in disguise. In Moscow, we were told by Chechen students that they were often subjected to harassment in the city. Many refugees who have fled to Ingushetia are not returning to Chechnya for fear of the violence and lawlessness. The refugee camps are filthy seas of mud, although basic supplies do get through.