Opposition, rights activists urge Russian president to release activist

Opposition politicians from the Yabloko party, human rights activists and public figures from two federal districts passed an address to Russian President Vladimir Putin urging the release of Ruslan Kutayev, head of the Assembly of the Caucasus Peoples, arrested on "fabricated" charges of possessing drugs. The participants also decided to set up a centre for monitoring and protecting human rights in the south of Russia. They gathered in the southern Russian town of Pyatigorsk to discuss problems with the authorities and human rights violations. Yabloko leader Sergey Mitrokhin said the main problem is how the federal authorities treat the Caucasus and its peoples. Nikolay Kartsayev, deputy chair of the Stavropol territory regional branch of Yabloko, said that a "vast chasm" exists between the government and society in the Caucasus. According to Valeriy Khatazhukov, head of the public human rights centre in the Kabarda-Balkar Republic, the North Caucasus has turned into a polygon for the Russian government to test how to maintain and transfer power. "We live and work in the conditions of an unannounced state of emergency," he told the gathering. Other speakers noted continued abductions, torture of detainees and impunity of state officials, as well as widespread corruption, unemployment and low living standards. The following is the text of report by Russian Kavkazskiy Uzel website, specializing in news from the Caucasus, on 30 May; subheadings as published:

Participants of the interregional meeting held in Pyatigorsk "Human rights and interethnic relations in the North Caucasus" passed a resolution on establishing a centre for monitoring and protecting human rights in the south of Russia. They signed an address to the Russian Federation president in support of [arrested] Ruslan Kutayev, head of the Assembly of the Caucasus Peoples, Kavkazskiy Uzel reports.

The Yabloko party organized this meeting on 24 May. Some 70 members of the party, leaders of the party’s regional branches, human rights activists, members of NGOs, university professors, lawyers and journalists from Rostov Region, Stavropol Territory, Krasnodar Territory, the Kalmykia Republic, North Ossetia Republic, Dagestan Republic, Kabarda-Balkar Republic, Ingushetia Republic and the Chechen Republic attended, including Sergey Mitrokhin, chairman of the Yabloko party; Valeriy Borshchov, a member of Moscow’s Helsinki Group; Valeriy Goryachev, lawyer and head of the Yabloko party’s administration.

More than 20 speakers delivered reports on interethnic and human rights topics, conflict studies, sociology and its impact on interethnic conflicts. Issues of rehabilitating repressed peoples and execution of laws were looked into and reports were made on the condition of the penitentiary system, use of torture and illegal methods of conducting investigation by members of law-enforcement bodies; mechanisms were suggested for maintaining peace in the North Caucasus.

Sidakov: human rights activists will create in southern Russia "committee of civil oversight"

The participants discussed the possibility of setting up a centre for monitoring violations of human rights. People from all regions of the North Caucasus Federal District and the Southern Federal District present at the conference said they wish to be part of the new organization.

The leader of the North Ossetian regional branch of Yabloko and editor-in-chief of the newspaper Mir Kavkazu, Anatoliy Sidakov, believes that the centre must work as a "committee of civil oversight".

"The goal of this re-created human rights body will be to monitor the situation with human rights violations in the south of Russia and to work out measures of public response," Sidakov said.

Kartsayev: the lack of effective government becomes a catalyst for development of public organizations

Nikolay Kartsayev, deputy chair of the Stavropol territory regional branch of Yabloko, was appointed during the session the coordinator for the new human rights body. In his comments with Kavkazskiy Uzel he said that a "vast chasm" exists between the government and society in the Caucasus and this makes it necessary to set up such centres to monitor and protect human rights.

"The initiative to create such a committee, which to all likelihood will function in the format of the public council for human rights, stems from the absolutely incapable representative government. In all republics, with hardly any exceptions, the situation is the same. The public life in Stavropol Territory, for example, is today completely demoralized. The government and society are on their own, there is a vast chasm between them. We have questions concerning the format, abbreviation and the structure, however, it is obvious that human rights activists and political opponents are under increasing pressure in the Caucasus," Kartsayev said.

"As long as we do not have an effective government, we will set up public organizations that will surpass formal government bodies in terms of efficiency. I can cite an example: everything that we do within the framework of public chambers of the regions is an attempt to go beyond the limits of narrow partisan interests. It is clear that Yabloko will initiate the creation of this public council for human rights. However, it already includes 15 people from all regions of southern Russia, regardless of their party affiliation, and the effectiveness of this organization will undoubtedly be high," he said. Kartsayev added that the idea is currently at the stage of coordination "for form and content".

Mitrokhin: to work in the North Caucasus, one has to love it

The North Caucasus is a sensitive region that has been squeezed into a "bunch of nerves" and where many problems "are naked and transparent for understanding", Mitrokhin said.

According to him, the image of the North Caucasus in the mass media has been distorted and the main issues are not properly covered. "The impression is created that the North Caucasus is an endless source of terrorism and only FSS reports are heard with abductions and human rights violations and abuse by federal officials. There are also problems with corruption, with ethnic relations. However, if we build a hierarchy of problems, then the main one is how the federal authorities and the Russian political elite treat the North Caucasus and its people," the Yabloko leader said during the conference. He described this treatment as "utter rudeness and disregard".

"People who only yesterday said that the North Caucasus must be separated and sealed off with a barbed wire are today in a patriotic frenzy concerning the joining of Crimea," Mitrokhin said. He said he was perplexed with the contrasts and the indulgence the highest-ranking officials displayed towards such orators.

Mitrokhin said that in order to work in the Caucasus "one does not need to be a gung-ho patriot, but needs to love it".

Borshchov: human rights activists face opposition and pressure

The principle of treaty [as given] must be upheld in the North Caucasus and human rights activists must become the moving force of the entire region, according to Valeriy Borshchov, head of the Yabloko party’s human rights faction. He described the region as "extremely important for the entire country" given that human rights activists and public figures face opposition and pressure from the authorities.

He mentioned the case of [arrested Kuban State University] professor Mikhail Savva.

"The North Caucasus is the place where there are attempts to implement dangerous experiments. Therefore, the most important is the work of human rights activists, who are on the front lines of the struggle," he said during the conference.

Khatazhukov: the North Caucasus turned into a polygon for resolving issues of maintaining and transferring power

Civil and political rights are violated in the North Caucasus, according to Valeriy Khatazhukov, head of the public human rights centre [in the Kabarda-Balkar Republic].

"There is no separation of powers in the North Caucasus republic. While on balance across Russia the judiciary is not completely independent, it is simply non-existent in the North Caucasus. We live and work in the conditions of an unannounced state of emergency. The North Caucasus has turned into a polygon where issues of maintaining and transferring power are resolved," Khatazhukov said at the conference. He described the government’s control as the main problem in the region.

Among challenges to the region the human rights activist named the cancelling of national and cultural programmes. "The state is abandoning the education in native languages and takes away from curricula the ethnic component," he said. Khatazhukov described this as the reason for radicalisation and emergence of nationalistic movements.

The expert also described attempts at merger of territories and destruction of statehood of the peoples of the North Caucasus as a powerful factor for destabilisation.

Khatazhukov said that the Circassian issue persist and activists are persecuted. "We encounter a plethora of facts of illegal persecution of activists who raise these issues. A large diaspora of North Caucasians live in Syria. They are our compatriots as much as Russians in Crimea and Ukraine. This is absolute discrimination when people wish to return to their home, but the adopted law on supporting compatriots requires knowledge of Russian language. This concerns all peoples of the Russian Federation and all diasporas in the world," he said.

Mutsolgov: social issues must be resolved instead of waging victorious wars

The leader of the Mashr human rights organization and author of a blog on Kavkazskiy Uzel, Magomed Mutsolgov, at the forum spoke of major restrictions on the freedoms in the North Caucasus. He pointed out that dozens of human rights activists were killed in the region in recent years as they sought to "force the party of war to respect the law".

"Major restrictions on the freedoms of speech and election; civil activists are persecuted. There are also political prisoners in the North Caucasus: the public figures that face criminal proceedings," Mutsolgov said and cited as an example Ingush public activist Iles Tatiyev, Dagestani human rights activist Zarema Bagavutdinova, and Ruslan Kutayev, head of the Association of the Peoples of the Caucasus.

"The North Caucasus turned into a polygon for testing methods, laws and regulations. Its residents are treated as second rate people. Five or 20 people believe that they are better suited to determine the fate of their peoples than they themselves can. In addition to total pressure, there are often cases of discrimination against our counterparts, human rights activists, as well as attempts to sow divisions among us," Mutsolgov said.

He said that the state requires "systemic changes, real opposition and public oversight over the activity of officials".

"Many officials who are initiators of corruption scheme have turned into the mouthpieces for patriotic ideas. We are the only country where state officials are banned from criticizing the government because they are part of this hierarchy. The people in the North Caucasus have to determine their fate themselves. We have to stop on the federal level the anti-Caucasian hysterics and stop pitting peoples against each other and start addressing social problems. Then we will not have to invade other countries and wage victorious wars," he concluded.

Lyashenko: the authorities no longer hear public organizations

The director of Budennovsk branch of the institute of Friendship of the Peoples of the Caucasus and chair of the East association of Stavropol Territory, Nikolay Lyashenko, criticized at the conference the reform of the local government bodies.

"The public has no opportunity to oversee the government because they do not respond even to (written) queries of public organizations. We need to pass a federal law on public organizations, so that no decisions are made at any level of government without them," Lyashenko said. He also advocated direct elections at all levels.

He also pointed out the problem of agriculture in the region. "Everything has been destroyed, support and creation of jobs is necessary," the activist said.

Boromangnayev: the law on the rehabilitation of the repressed peoples is not enforced

Baatr Boromangnayev, chair of the Kalmyk regional branch of the Yabloko party, raised at the forum the issue of rehabilitation of repressed peoples.

"Not a single proposition declared by the federal government on the rehabilitation of the repressed peoples has been enacted or fulfilled. The past ten years… led to further discrimination of the rights of the repressed peoples," the politician said.

He also said that operations on the deportation of the repressed peoples "were not only a genocide, but war crimes" and require an appropriate legal assessment.

Shamilov: practice of extrajudicial executions provokes emergence of terror

Magomed Shamilov, head of the independent trade union of Dagestani police officers and prosecutors, said that there are no separatist sentiments among the people of the North Caucasus republics, but rather resentment and criticism of the authorities in connection with their closed nature and lack of mechanisms for influencing it.

He also touched on the practice of carrying out military operations in the region. "The nation is destroyed, houses are demolished," he said.

As a member of the public oversight commission, the human rights activist noted the closed nature for oversight of bodies of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the detention centres affiliated with the ministry. "There are no problems for the commission with access to the remand centres of the Russian Federal Bailiff Service’s directorate for Dagestan. However, public activists are not allowed in the Interior Ministry’s temporary detention centres. State officials themselves do not comply with laws and they are not punished for these violations. State officials imprison and kill people and even should they be judged guilty in the aftermath, it will be the state and not them paying the damages," Shamilov said.

He also believes that the practice of unlawful rulings by courts in Dagestan, "extrajudicial executions and illegal special operations facilitate the emergence of terror against one’s own authorities and against one’s own people".

Shamilov said that "a purge of law-enforcement bodies is necessary in Dagestan". "The head of Dagestan finds it hard to breathe due to these agencies. He calls on Moscow that 20 helicopters are necessary to fight corruption. The officials make money on the blood of the Caucasian peoples," he said.

Saratova: the practice of abductions in the Caucasus still persists

The director of the Obyektiv news agency, Kheda Saratova, cited among the main problems of the North Caucasus the location of missing and abducted persons, as well as unemployment, low living standards, shortage of medical experts and shortcomings of social infrastructure.

She noted the ongoing practice of abductions in Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia. "We need to talk about this with members of various power-wielding bodies, who through such actions cast a shadow on decent people in this occupation," she said.

Playeva: punishment for officials for using torture must be stricter

Elona Playeva, human rights activist from North Ossetia and member of the council of the Yabloko party’s regional branch, raised the matter of widespread use of torture in the operational and investigative practice in the North Caucasus.

"None of the employees is duly punished for such deeds… Members of law-enforcement bodies resort to illegal methods of conducting investigation to improve the statistics for solved crimes and often simply forging criminal cases through the use of violence," Playeva said.

In its official report for 2013 the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture cited numerous evidence of inhumane treatment of detainees, use of torture with electricity and beatings, Playeva said.

She believes that it is necessary to resolve on the political level the matter of harsher penalties for torture against suspects, defendants or other persons in detention. For the purpose of prophylactics she cited experience of other countries where the grounds for detention at the initial investigation stage are minimized.

"The use of torture must come under the criminal code’s article on duress and be qualified as "torture", rather than "abuse of power" with fines and conditional sentences," she said.

Sadakhanov: territorial disputes remain the chief problem in the North Caucasus

Social and economic problems and violations of human rights underpin ethnic conflicts, according to Zaurbek Sadakhanov, lawyer of the Mezhterritorialnaya bar of Moscow and member of the expert council under the Russian Federation’s ombudsman for human rights.

"The courts ceased to be the places where justice prevails and discredited themselves as independent arbiters. They effectively turned into a department of state prosecution. The executive authorities are so convinced of their unlimited powers and impunity, that they allow themselves to violate fundamental human rights," Sadakhanov said at the conference.

He also pointed out that the taxpayer-funded legislative power passes legislation against the people. "Effectively, the national legislation comprises only opportunities for the authorities and leave for citizens only the right for duties to the authorities," Sadakhanov said.

Yet, the lawyer believes that non-constructive criticism of the power-wielding bodies only increases the mistrust of society to the entire law-enforcement system. "We should also not forget that among members of the law-enforcement bodies there is a large number of those killed and wounded while doing their duty," Sadakhanov said.

The expert named as one of the most acute problems in the North Caucasus territorial disputes between ethnic groups. "We should tread very carefully when we tackle this problem, considering its conflict potential. Deportations and re-settlement of peoples turned the state into a hostage of its own blunders and their further lack of settlement only worsens the conflict. Settlement faces major obstacles in the shape of the need to allot land and build houses for the people who took the houses of those deported earlier," Sadakhanov said.

In his speech member of the Assembly of the Caucasus Peoples, Abdulla Khizriyev, raised the matter of the arrest of public figure and president of the assembly, Ruslan Kutayev.

He said that Kutayev led public activities that became the factor of irritation and resentment of the local authorities and as a result a criminal case was forged against him.

Khizriyev urged "support on behalf of the conference for an address to the authorities on release of Ruslan Kutayev". The participants and delegates to the event endorsed the address after Khizriyev read it out.

In particular, the address to Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin reads that "the criminal case against the public figure was fabricated and the reason for the persecution of Kutayev is his public activity". The signatories ask Vladimir Putin to personally monitor the case of the president of the Assembly of the Caucasus Peoples.

Source: Kavkaz-uzel.ru website, Moscow, in Russian 30 May 14

 

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