Saturday, March 8, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Russian Rights Group Plans Tribunal to Try Force Structures for Crimes Against Humanity

Paul Goble

Baku, March 8 – In response to increasingly frequent and flagrant acts of repression by Russia’s force structures and given the failure of that country’s judicial authorities to do anything to hold them accountable, a group of leading human rights activists in Moscow has announced plans to convene a public tribunal there next month.
The Third All-Russian Congress for the Defense of Human Rights last December called for such a tribunal, but recent actions by the Russian authorities, including the crushing of a demonstration in Moscow on Monday has prompted eight leading activists to accelerate plans to convene it (
The group, whose members include Lyudmila Alekseyeva, Lev Ponomaryev, and Mikhail Trepashkin, among others, some of whom were detained but then released during that action, announced on Thursday both why they were taking this action, what the tribunal would focus on first, and how this new public institution would function.
Russian human rights organizations, they pointed out, “having received numerous appeals by citizens about serious crimes committed by representatives of the force structures, have frequently turned [prosecutors and other Russian officials] with demands for the careful investigation of the facts and the punishment of the guilty.”
“However,” the rights organizers said, “not one of these cases was investigated, and the guilty have not been punished.” Consequently, the activists added, they had no choice but to convene a public tribunal in the hopes of attracting national and international attention and forcing the authorities to enforce the law.
Initially, they said, the tribunal will focus on two issues: reports of torture and murders of detainees by security officers which “have not been investigated by the authorities,” and “the numerous cases of the kidnapping of young people in the republics of the North Caucasus by [Russia’s] force structures.”
Appended to this declaration of intent is a 500-word description of the procedures the public tribunal will follow to gather evidence and present its findings both to the broader court of public opinion and to the specific institutions of the Russian government agencies responsible for enforcing the law, all of which will be invited to participate.
Because the number of violations of constitutional and human rights by Russian officials is currently so large, the tribunal will focus primarily on those that rise to the level of crimes against humanity. And consequently, the definition of those crimes the organizers offer is particularly important.
The tribunal will consider as “crimes against humanity” those actions committed by representatives of the government’s force structures and which have a systemic character, including murders, enslavement, exile (deportation), torture, rape, and other kinds of cruelty committed against citizens” both in general and in detention facilities.
Whether this tribunal will succeed in attracting more attention than the recent crackdown against democracy activists in Moscow and other places, have an impact on the Russian government, or even be allowed to convene, of course, are very much open questions.
But it is a measure of how bad the situation now is in the Russian Federation that such seasoned campaigners for the rights of all citizens of the Russian Federation have decided that they have no other choice. Tragically, three other reports over the last 48 hours suggest that Moscow under Putin and Medvedev is moving in the wrong direction.
First, Muslim groups in Russia yesterday reported that Moscow, having banned a large number of Muslim books and journals that few Muslim or academic experts believe are actually extremist, are now moving to block or close down Russian-language Muslim websites (
In particular, these groups say, prosecutors in one district in the city of Samara have secured a court finding that the Internet portal,, is “extremist” and prohibited its further operation, thus creating “a dangerous precedent which could be used by the authorities to close other sites.
Second, the Kremlin continued its policy of downplaying the crimes of the Soviet past. Today is the 64th anniversary of his deportation of the Balkars, but except for reports on the independent website,, that act of genocide so far has passed largely unremarked in Russian media (
There are likely to be some articles in the regional press and especially on other North Caucasus websites later today and tomorrow, but Russian outlets appear unwilling to write about this event, unlike the praise so many of them gave to Stalin, the author of this deportation, only three days ago on the 55th anniversary of his death.
And third, in an interview published in Baku’s “Zerkalo” newspaper today, Isa Gambar, head of the Azerbaijani opposition party Mussavat, called on the international community to focus on a dangerous new reality: Moscow is not only repressing its own people but seeking to form an alliance of repressive countries around itself.
Saying that he was “absolutely certain” that all the violence in the southern Caucasus and “the formation of authoritarian regimes” there “falls on Russia,” a country which recently staged “a parody of an election” and “naturally is interested in the establishment of [similarly] authoritarian regimes on the post-Soviet space.
But in failing to resist this in a determined way, he said, “moral responsibility falls on the West,” whose leaders routinely say they favor democracy and human rights but then defer to Moscow and others who are destroying the possibility of the first and violating so many of the second (

UPDATE on March 12. Some 500 people assembled in the Kabardino-Kalkarian capital of Nalchik to mark the anniversary of Stalin’s deportation of 35,000 Balkars in 1944. Officials, religious leaders and social activists spoke to the crowd, whose members posed questions about “the incomplete realization ofhte law ont he rehabilitation of peoples subject to political repression” and about “the restoration of administrative regions of the republic where earlier Balkars had lived in compact settlements,” according to North Caucasian news agencies. Moscow newspapers ignored this anniversary of an event in which so many people lost their lives (

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