Monday, October 09, 2006

Putin’s crimes against humanity

The silence of Russian president Vladimir Putin following the murder of campaigning journalist Anna Politkovskaya speaks volumes about his government’s attitude to human rights. Politkovskaya was undoubtedly gunned down because of her trenchant criticism and exposure of Putin’s ruthless policy of torture, kidnappings and murder in Chechnya. She was due to publish another investigation on Chechnya today.

The Kremlin is almost certainly linked to the killing of Politkovskaya in one way or another. "You just have to look at the subjects of her latest work and there's your list of chief suspects," said radio and television commentator Viktor Shenderovich. He added: "The culprits will never be found, because the people who will be investigating this murder walk down the same corridors as those who ordered it." The abuses in Chechnya, which began under Boris Yeltsin, have continued unabated under Putin. In March 2005, Human Rights Watch concluded that enforced disappearances by Russian forces and their proxies in Chechnya are so widespread and systematic that they constitute crimes against humanity. Local groups estimate that 2,000-5,000 people have "disappeared" since 1999. The perpetrators, in the majority of cases, are clearly identifiable as Russian troops or as belonging to pro-Moscow Chechen commandos.

Pro-Moscow Chechen forces under the command of Ramzan Kadyrov run their own prisons — entirely outside any official structure — where they detain and torture people. These troops are also responsible for taking hostages among relatives of rebel leaders. Putin has given Kadryov the Hero of Russia award. While the European Court of Human Rights earlier this year held Russia responsible for the disappearance and subsequent killing of a Chechen man, there is official silence from Britain, Europe and the United States. Bush, Blair and the rest don’t want to offend Putin, who is an ally in the so-called "war on terror" and, of course, controls a huge chunk of the world’s oil and gas reserves.

Nor do Washington and London have anything to say about the rest of Putin’s dictatorial regime. Most of the media is in his hands and last year the government abolished direct elections for governors, ended single constituency voting in parliamentary elections, created onerous new membership requirements for political parties and raised the threshold for entry into the State Duma from 5 to 7 percent. In April 2006, a new law governing the work of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) came into force, which dramatically increase government control over their work. Politkovskaya was the 13th journalist to be murdered in contract-style killings since Putin came to power in 2000. Putin is waging a dirty war on two fronts – against Chechens demanding their right to self-determination and against his own people’s democratic and human rights. No wonder Bush and Blair see him as a man after their own hearts.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

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