Nurdi Nukhazhiev is the chairman of the pro-Moscow Chechen government's committee for civil rights. At a meeting of the Chechen state council this week, he admitted that up to 60,000 people had lost a relative or a friend in the disappearances that have tormented the republic since the start of the second Chechen war in 1999.
He went further. The Chechen authorities were aware of the existence of 52 mass graves, which, he said, had to be properly exhumed. And, he said, speaking to the BBC, federal forces had to take responsibility.
"You know, when measures of this kind are undertaken, responsibility must be borne by those who use force. In both conceivable and inconceivable ways, this violates human rights, the Constitution of the Russian Federation and the international obligations of Russia before the Council of Europe. Those responsible refuse to take into account many things. That's why we have such heavy consequences," Nukazhiev said.
Oleg Orlov of the Moscow-based human rights organisation, Memorial, speaking to RFE/RL, welcomed Nukhazhiev's frankness.
"It's very good that the authorities are starting to talk about mass murder and mass violation of human rights, that they are recognising this and are prepared to take part in the exhumation of the bodies. It's very important that, apparently, they're talking about the existence of such burial sites in places where federal forces were located," Orlov said.
He was, however, sceptical that the official admission of the existence of the mass graves would lead to convictions of the murderers.
"Of course, it's necessary to start a criminal investigation into the deaths of these people but I have no hope that an investigation will establish precisely who was responsible. Still, it's important that the Chechen authorities have raised this issue," Orlov said.
Moscow has frequently rejected accusations by human rights organisations and others that its forces in Chechnya have deliberately targeted civilians in the course of the two Chechen wars.
Nukhazhiev, however, makes it clear that the Chechen administration believes many of the accusations are true. He said he couldn't put a figure on the number of people buried in the mass graves but the bitter truth, he said, was that many of them were civilians -- victims both of indiscriminate bombardment and the notorious "cleansing" operations of Russian federal forces.
Ironically, the pro-Moscow Chechen administration is itself often accused by human rights organisations of responsibility for the crimes highlighted by Nukhazhiev. It's an accusation he was quick to deny. Oleg Orlov of Memorial suggests the truth is rather more complicated.
"The Chechen administration is not united. There are many different structures within it that are independent of each other. It's clear that the so-called Kadyrovtsy units [a militia led by Ramzan Kadyrov, vice premier of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration], which today are formally subordinate to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, are not strictly speaking part of the Chechen administration. Of course, things aren't really like that. The federal authorities do no not have much control over the Kadyrovtsy and these people are actively engaged in abductions. So, from one point of view you can say the Chechen administration is not involved in abductions but, from another, pro-Moscow Chechen forces are involved," Orlov said.
The key now, said Nukhazhiev, was to establish an independent postconflict commission. A start, he claimed, had already been made. The Chechen administration was creating a database with information on all those who had suffered or died.