Chechnya Still Vulnerable as Kadyrov Consolidates Power
Freedom House welcomes Russia's decision to end its decade-long "counter-terrorism operation" against separatist rebels in Chechnya, but is concerned that human rights abuses and repression will worsen as Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov further consolidates his power in the southern republic.
"Chechens are understandably eager to forget the systematic human rights abuses and harsh security restrictions that came with the Russian military crackdown," said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. "However, it is hard to believe that Chechens will be better off if they are entirely subject to the brutal whims of Ramzan Kadyrov."
The Kremlin credits Kadyrov, who became president in 2007, with helping subdue Chechnya's insurgency and bringing order to the republic. In return, the former rebel leader has been given more independence than the leaders of other Russian republics. With the end of the Russian military operation and the possible withdrawal of troops, Freedom House fears that there will be fewer checks on Kadyrov's rule, allowing his private militia to act with greater impunity to suppress any remaining opposition to Kadyrov’s rule or criticism of his policies.
Kadyrov's militia reportedly has been involved in abductions, disappearances, extortion and the maintenance of unsanctioned prisons and torture chambers. Several prominent opponents of Kadyrov have been killed in recent months, including former rebel leaders Ruslan and Sulim Yamadayev. Sulim was gunned down in Dubai in March, while Ruslan was shot in September in rush hour traffic in Moscow. Kadyrov's former bodyguard, Umar Israilov, was killed in Vienna in January after filing a lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights in which he accused Kadyrov of personally torturing inmates. None of the killings have been solved.
In addition, Kadyrov has introduced a series of new rules, justifying the need to restore traditional Islamic values in Chechnya. In September 2007, Kadyrov ordered female civil servants to wear head scarves and university students are increasingly facing the same pressure. Kadyrov has also called for polygamy in the republic, ignoring Russian laws in a sign of his increasing independence from Moscow.
"Chechnya is already among one of the world's most repressive societies, with the state controlling almost every aspect of daily life," said Windsor. "With the Kremlin largely out of the picture, the culture of impunity we have seen develop under Kadyrov is likely to worsen, leaving the population more vulnerable to abuse."
Chechnya is ranked Not Free in the 2009 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in the 2008 version of Freedom of the Press.
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Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Chechnya since 1998.
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