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February 08, 2002
It's Only Genocide in Chechnya

By Yousef Al-Yousef


The reports streaming out of Chechnya are disturbing. Western regimes, after exercising self-censorship to win the Russian government's support for the war on terrorism, are running out of patience with Moscow's ruthless military campaign in Chechnya.

On January 25, 2002, Amnesty International released a report on Chechnya titled "Russian Federation: Women and girls -- daily victims in the cycle of violence and impunity," describing the role of the Russian military in committing war crimes. The details are gruesome.

The Amnesty report paints a bleak picture of rapes and trafficking in Chechen women, who are forced into servitude. A 2001 U.S. State Department report on Trafficking in Persons described Russia as "a source country for women trafficked for prostitution." Many of those women are kidnapped from the impoverished and worn- torn region of Chechnya.

Of the various war crimes uncovered by the reports, Amnesty details the case of Irina "a 14-year-old girl, originally from Urus-Martan, [who] died in detention at the Chernokozovo detention facility...as a result of being ill- treated and tortured, including being repeatedly raped, by guards."

Another tragic story is that of a young girl "Kheda (Elza) Visaevna Kungaeva, aged 18, from the village of Tangi-Chu [who] was kidnapped from her family home by Colonel Yury D. Budanov, the commander of a tank regiment, and his soldiers. Colonel Budanov took Kheda Kungaeva to his tent, reportedly to interrogate her, but instead he strangled her. A Russian army medical expert later concluded that, before she died, Kheda Kungaeva had been raped by several men."

Then there are reports of Russian soldiers using Chechen civilians as human shields to storm hideouts of Chechen militias.

These dreadful war crimes speak volume to the moral bankruptcy of the Russian military establishment, and continue to fuel the Chechen yearning for independence.

After September 11, President Putin may have convinced the West to look the other way, but only temporarily.

At the meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg, on January 23, a special session was included to address the crisis in Chechnya, much to the chagrin of the Russian delegation. Present at the session was Ahmed Zakaev, the Chechen representative, who was mocked by the Russian delegates as Osama Bin Laden's representative.

During the same period, a meeting took place between Chechen diplomat Ilyas Ahmadov and representatives of the U.S. State Department.

These high-profile meetings between delegates of the Chechen resistance leadership and Western leaders seem to signal the end of short-lived Western silence.

Even the Washington Post, in a recent editorial, could not hold back and described the mounting killings in Chechnya as genocide, a term not used lightly by an establishment newspaper.

The Russian government's diplomatic failure to win legitimacy for its war in Chechnya, and to equate it with the war in Afghanistan, was also matched by a series of military blunders committed by its forces on the ground.

Recently, the Russian military announced the conclusion of a sweeping crackdown on "terrorists," and claimed to have killed over 90 Chechen rebels.

Shortly after the announcement, The Independent, a London- based paper, made waves with its headlines accusing the Russian government of fabricating the news of the military crackdown to cover up the deaths of 15 Russian soldiers killed by friendly fire.

Soon after, 14 senior Russian officials, including a deputy interior minister, were killed when their military helicopter crashed during a flight over Chechnya. The death toll included General Mikhail Rudhenko, who is in charge of security in southern Russia.

One thing is certain: the bloodletting in Chechnya is not over yet.

It may seem the plight of the Chechen people has no end in sight. But their determination to be free is unmistakable. Russia's atrocities in Chechnya go back to the 19th century when the diminutive, but oil-rich, region was annexed to the Czarist Empire after a bloody campaign of colonization.

Since then, the Chechens have endured mass deportations, massacres, and have stared genocide in the face. According to the Washington Post, of the 1.1 million Chechens, over 10% may have perished in the Russian campaign to subdue the tiny population.

It's time for Russia to let go of Chechnya, peacefully.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Yousef Al-Yousef is the Chairman of the American Muslims for Global Peace and Justice - a Washington DC-based American Muslim human rights advocacy group. (www.global-peace.org)