Prague, 23 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The Kremlin this week sacked its human rights envoy to Chechnya, Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, after just 18 months in the post. Now, responsibility for defending the rights of Chechens falls on Akhmed-hadjii Kadyrov, who was elected leader of the war-torn republic in a widely disputed ballot last autumn.
Analysts say the move to abolish the post is a further attempt by Moscow to show that the process of normalization in Chechnya is well under way. Kadyrov himself, responding to the switch, said Chechnya no longer needs a special rights envoy since, "legally elected bodies are functioning" in the republic.
But rights experts say the situation in Chechnya remains far from normal. The four-year war -- Russia's second in the republic in a decade -- continues to rage between federal forces and armed militia fighters, and combat spills over into atrocities committed against the republic's civilians. The Council of Europe said this week the Chechen office of the Kremlin's special rights envoy received nearly 10,000 allegations of rights abuses between 2000 and April 2003.
Few rights observers expect the situation to improve under Kadyrov's watch. He and his security forces have been accused of kidnapping, armed violence, and political intimidation. Aleksei Malashenko, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, says Kadyrov is likely to use the mandate to strengthen his grip on power -- and nothing more.
"I think that for Kadyrov, human rights is kind of an irritating factor. It doesn't matter what he says publicly about the problem, but in fact I don't remember him making any statements on the issue at all. Speaking objectively, in the present situation, human rights simply hinder him from ruling the republic, because what he seeks is absolute power," Malashenko said.
The human-rights post was created in 2000 under pressure from the West. Now, Malashenko says, Putin's decision to abolish the position was meant as a signal to Western critics that the situation is, to his view, satisfactory. And if they disagree, they have no recourse but to take their concerns to Kadyrov -- an official whose legitimacy is widely in doubt in the West.
"[The Kremlin is saying] 'We don't need a special person reporting to the president, because everything is normal. If you, the Europeans, want to deal with this problem, address your concerns directly to Kadyrov himself,'" Malashenko said.
"I think that for Kadyrov, human rights is kind of an irritating factor."
Malashenko says Putin himself is happy with Kadyrov's performance to date, and is unlikely to return the issue of human rights in Chechnya to the federal arena unless the situation changes radically or Kadyrov loses the Kremlin's support.
Even with a federal post, observers agree that little was accomplished under Sultygov. Yuri Chanzhin is an independent Chechnya analyst based in Moscow. He says Sultygov was put in the impossible situation of reporting abuses committed by federal troops acting under the command of Kremlin officials who in fact have little interest in stopping the violence. "Human rights are violated every day in Chechnya. The federal state and its troops are the main culprits. But our federal state is not interested in bringing these facts under the spotlight," Chanzhin said.
Human rights abuses in Chechnya continue to be reported on almost a daily basis. Just yesterday, Chechnya's Security Council chief Rudnik Dudayev criticized the Russian military after soldiers shot and killed a woman and injured at least two local policemen in a traffic incident on a road near the capital Grozny. Dudayev said such shootings are far from rare, and show Russian troops need greater discipline.