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Russia: Rights Activist Discusses Difficulties Of Working In Chechnya

Svetlana Gannushkina at RFE/RL's broadcast center in Prague (RFE/RL) PRAGUE, March 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Svetlana Gannushkina is the chairwoman of the Civic Assistance committee for refugees and heads of the migration and law network of the Memorial human rights center. RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Irina Lagunina spoke with her in Prague.

RFE/RL: Some charitable organizations outside of Russia have had success collecting funds from individual contributors. Each may donate a very small amount of money, but it adds up to a lot. Can't this kind of approach work in Russia?

Svetlana Gannushkina: People in Russia don't believe that a real social organization can exist and not steal. That tradition is there, and it's very hard to convince people otherwise. It can even be funny at times. A Chechen minister approached one of our staff members -- a Chechen woman -- and asked her secretly to keep tabs on us. Later he came to me and asked how we choose our employees. Because she told him that no one here steals at all, and this really surprised him.

"Chechnya there are enormous violations of human rights. The laws mean nothing; the corruption is colossal."

The campaign against nongovernmental organizations is being waged very actively. One highly placed official or another, or even the highest figure in our country, is constantly coming out and saying horrible things about us. After that, to go to people and ask them to part with 300 rubles a month as friends of Civic Assistance -- of course, it's impossible.

But there are friends of Civic Assistance. When there was a fire in our offices -- under fairly strange circumstances -- people brought us money. These were the same people who had come to us earlier for help. Of course, they could only bring very small amounts of money, and it's impossible to for a charity organization to operate on that kind of money. That's why we need to appeal to those funds that can realistically give you money.

RFE/RL: Since you're here in Prague, you're not able to attend the March 1 human rights conference in Grozny that's been organized by Moscow. The conference has generated some controversy, and a number of activists have refused to attend. Is Chechnya ready for a conference on human rights? What kind of questions would you want pro-Moscow Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov to answer to at such an event?

Gannushkina: I'm ready to participate in a human rights conference in Chechnya, if it takes place during a stable period -- and not in a time of political crisis, such as we have now -- and if there's going to be a calm dialogue about human rights without any politicization. I've been called a politician, but I am in no sense a politician, and wouldn't want to be.

Of course, there are a lot of questions I'd like to put to Mr. Kadyrov, and they apply not only to him but to our federal powers as well. In Chechnya there are enormous violations of human rights. The laws mean nothing; the corruption is colossal. There's the same torture as before and the same illegal methods of putting pressure on people during investigations.

We still have the same ORB-2 [Second Operational Investigative Bureau] that we had before. It's been known for a long time that this is an illegal place to hold people under investigation, because these people are being held in solitary confinement. They take people there in order to beat them. An investigative bureau should have no solitary interrogation cells at all. By the way, on this point, Kadyrov is in agreement with us. We'd like that they used these bureaus to conduct legitimate investigations.

Crisis In Chechnya

Crisis In Chechnya

RFE/RL's complete coverage of Russia's war-torn Republic of Chechnya.


An annotated timeline of the Chechnya conflict.

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