Chechnya doctor accuses West of ignoring brutality

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The Independent Online

Vladimir Putin talks of the need to "unite humanity against the common enemy". But Khassan Baiev, a doctor who has experienced the Kremlin's version of humanity at first hand, is unimpressed by the Russian leader's words.

Mr Baiev, a 38-year-old surgeon, has earned the hatred both of the Russian forces (because he treated the wounds of Chechen rebels) and of Chechen warlords (he was threatened with beheading because he treated Russian soldiers). He is one of four "global human rights defenders" who will be honoured at a special Human Rights Watch evening in London tonight for their work, often done at risk of death.

Mr Baiev operated dozens of times a day in his hospital in Alkhan-Kala, near the Chechen capital, Grozny; the hospital had no electricity or running water. "Wounded Russian soldiers came to me – and of course Chechen rebels. But most of my patients were civilians." Some of his women patients had been raped; others were forced to witness the rape of their daughters.

Men (defined as males aged from 10 to 70) are rounded up for the notorious "filtration camps", where torture is common and where prisoners are kept in pits for weeks at a time. With luck, a prisoner's freedom can be bought for a few thousand dollars, the equivalent of several years' earnings.

"A friend of mine ended in the filtration camps because his family couldn't pay," Mr Baiev says. "They tear out fingernails, they use electric shocks. They pulled him up and down on a rope, using a lamp to burn the soles of his feet. He hadn't been a rebel. He had just sat at home."

Human Rights Watch noted in a recently published report that Russia had made "no significant progress towards accountability", despite its alleged willingness to investigate. Mass detentions are common, accompanied by beatings, torture and executions.

Mr Baiev is shocked by the willingness of Western politicians to look the other way. The German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, has called for a "differentiated evaluation" of the Chechen war. Tony Blair seems equally keen to peddle a softly-softly line.

In Mr Baiev's words: "Everyone hoped for condemnation. But they have said nothing." He argues that the brutality has backfired, even from the Russians' point of view, by encouraging young men to join the rebels.

The Kremlin portrays the war in Chechnya as a war on terrorism. The reality is different. The rebels are an often unsavoury bunch; they suffer less than the civilians, however. Mr Baiev argues: "With all that is happening in the world, the Russian military can justify the disgraceful things that have happened in Chechnya. But it is madness. If this policy continues, the war in Chechnya will be a war without end."

* The other three to be honoured are Abdul Tejan-Cole, a human rights lawyer from Sierra Leone; Maha Abu Ayyash, a Jordanian opponent of "crimes of honour" – the killing of women, officially condoned; and Martin Macwan, fighter for the rights of 160 million Dalits, or "untouchables", in India.

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