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November 27th 2002 · Prague Watchdog / Nikolai Topuria · PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT · E-MAIL THIS · ALSO AVAILABLE IN: RUSSIAN 

Chechen question in Russian-Georgian relations after hostage-taking in Moscow

On November 26, the European Court of Human Rights decided to lift its interim measures of October 10 in which it recommended Georgia to suspend the extradition of several Chechens to Russia until more detailed information about the circumstances surrounding the extradition is provided to the Court.

The following article, which was written by our Georgian correspondent in the middle of November, provides background information on the latest developments in Georgian-Russian relations, including the much-discussed extradition. PW editors.



Nikolai Topuria, Tbilisi - The Chechen issue remains the main stumbling block in Russian-Georgian relations. After the terrorist act in Moscow, Russia has been extremely impatient and aggressive with those who do not share its anti-Chechen mood. And Georgia is at the forefront of this list.

In Russia’s eyes, Georgia’s involvement in the Chechen issue has three major aspects: the presence of Chechen fighters in the Pankisi Gorge, delaying the extradition of the eight Chechens captured at the borders in early August, and the existence of the representation of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in Georgia.

For Georgia the most painful issue is the question of the extradition of the eight of the thirteen Chechen fighters arrested in the beginning of August at the Georgian-Russian border. On the one hand, President Shevardnadze would like to cast them off so as not to inflame the already strained relations with Russia. On the other hand, the reputation of a civilized pro-Western politician does not allow him to ignore the objections of the European Court of Human Rights.

Extradition of Chechens and the sanctions of the European Court

“I promised Mr. Putin that there will be no impediments to the extradition,” Shevardnadze apologized in his recent regular radio interview. “The intervention of the European Court, however, is a new element, and both we and Russia should invest more effort to expedite the process.”

The European Court’s intervention indeed might have been the reason that forced the Office of the Georgian Prosecutor General to urgently grant citizenship to two of the eight detainees. Georgian Prosecutor General Negzar Gabrichidze had to officially confirm the information disseminated by the captives’ lawyers and relatives since their arrest: two of the eight are ethnic Kistins (Chechen Georgians) and citizens of Georgia.

According to the Prosecutor, Robinson Beysrov and Khamzat Tepsayev were born in the Duisi village in the Pankisi Gorge, as Gela Kushtanashvili and Robinson Margoshvili, respectively. “The investigation has brought evidence about the place of birth of these persons, their military papers and Soviet-era passports. Pursuant to the Constitution, they are not subject to extradition,” announced Gabrichidze.

In early November, the Georgian court prolonged the preliminary detention term of the eight detainees by three more months. Meanwhile, the European Court in Strasbourg should by November 24 receive from the involved parties additional information enabling it to examine whether the requirement for the extradition of the arrested Chechens to Russia is legitimate.

“The European Court cannot prohibit Georgia from extraditing the Chechens. However, in the case of failure to adhere to its recommendations, the Court can impose sanctions on a member state of the Council of Europe,” says Paat Mskhiladze, director of the international law department of the Office of the Georgian Prosecutor General. “If we choose not to comply with the recommendations of the European Court, Georgia will be exposed to strong political pressure on the part of European entities. Moreover, we could be penalized with a financial sanction the amount of which might be huge.”

Mskhiladze also noted that although the deportation of five Chechens to Russia on October 4 was carried out in harmony with all legal norms, the European Court could still raise objections since Georgia’s legislation does not provide a clear definition of an extradited person’s right for filing charges against this process.

Accordingly, the question of extradition will be open at least until late November.

“We closed a non-existing representation office!”

Georgian authorities, however, have recently succeeded in solving a different, yet equally troublesome matter for Russia. The Secretary of the Georgian Security Council, Tedo Dzhaparidze, cheerfully reported during his latest visit to Moscow: “The representation office of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria has been shut down in Georgia.”

This announcement of a high state official caused bewilderment in Georgia, as well as in Russia. Since 1996, Georgian leadership often had to vindicate itself in front of Russia for the existence of the so-called representation of Ichkeria. Throughout all these years, both Georgia’s President and representatives of the Prosecutor General's office dismissed Russia’s accusations arguing that Ichkeria has no official representative office in Georgia.

This information is affirmed even by the head of the representation, Khizri Aldamov: “We have worked in Georgia since 1996 but the Ministry of Justice has never registered us as a representation of Ichkeria since Ichkeria has not yet been officially recognized as an independent state by anybody. We have always functioned rather as a civil organization headed by a citizen of Georgia, that is myself.” Aldamov says he has been mandated by Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov to organize and coordinate civil and humanitarian activities in Georgia, referring to his mandate as that of a “national diplomat”.

“We have closed our office upon our own decision so as not to create problems for the country which I am a citizen of. But this doesn’t mean that anyone else discontinued our organization, for nobody officially opened it either.” In this context, Georgian presidential spokesman Kakha Imnadze reiterates Aldamov’s statement almost word for word by saying that “you can’t close what has never been opened.”

One way or another, the Russian administration accepted Dzhaparidze’s formulation and immediately started to spread information about liaisons between Chechen fighters and today’s ex-representative of Ichkeria, Khizri Aldamov. Even Georgia’s Prosecutor General Gabrichidze was forced to react and told journalists that he was “ready to become acquainted with the material of the Office of the Russian Prosecutor General against Aldamov if there is any.”

Closure under Russia’s pressure is discrimination

Khizri Aldamov himself said that in recent years Russian special services have tried several times to put serious pressure on him, often attempting to intimidate him, but he had never had problems with Georgian authorities. “I never violated any laws of my country and there is no criminal aspect to the activities of our organization. Local authorities have no reason to pick on me.”

Aldamov is convinced that Georgian legislation allows having and expressing a personal opinion on any matter. “Irrespective of where I am, whether in a building of an institution led by the father of the chairman of the Georgian Parliament, or at home, the laws of Georgia won’t stop me from telling the truth.”

Chairman of the International Committee on Human Rights of Chechnya Aslanbek Abdurzakov, who lives in Pankisi, believes that Chechen organizations officially registered in Georgia cannot be shut down if their activities are not illegal and observe the international law.

“We can talk about discrimination when their activities are discontinued under the pressure of Russia,” says Abdurzakov. “Georgia’s leadership will not resort to such steps in relation to Chechens involved in peaceful activities and working outside politics.”

(P/T)

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