A conference that will take place in Oslo on September 22 will be devoted to the problem of Chechnya. Representatives of human rights organisations from Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland will gather in the Norwegian capital for a conference to discuss how human rights are observed in the North Caucasus republic.
The event is being held on the initiative of Ingvald Godal, Chairman of the Norwegian Support Committee for Chechnya. Mr Godal is a former member of the Norwegian parliament, and he will not be addressing the Chechen problem for the first time. His last resounding statement on Chechnya came the day before Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Norway. Armed with a few bills of complaint from Chechen nationals, Mr Godal then demanded that the Norwegian police should bring the Russian leader to justice for human rights violations committed by the Russian troops involved in the military campaign in Chechnya.
However, President Putin's Norwegian visit went smoothly. The visit's agenda was dominated by inter-state issues, while Russia's internal affairs were not raised during the talks.
Human rights champions are gathering in Oslo to discuss the situation in Chechnya "through the prism" of the Kosovo developments, i.e. to try once again to bring this internal problem of Russia under the global community's jurisdiction.
Considering the Oslo conference opens just 2 weeks before presidential elections in Chechnya (scheduled for October 5), this is, by all means, an unfriendly act towards Russia and Chechnya. It is the president of Chechnya, elected by Chechens, who should act in the republic's interests in contacts with other countries. This is all the more true when one considers that over two thirds of Chechen voters are expected to turn out at polling stations on October 5, according to recent opinion surveys.
Scandinavian human rights ombudsmen are calling for international involvement in the settlement in Chechnya and urging the Russian government to launch talks with Aslan Maskhadov, the former president of Chechnya. Maskhadov is a one-time influential political figure in Chechnya. However, his term of office expired long ago and he has no right whatsoever to act as a negotiator.
A new wave of terrorist acts against civilians has swept Chechnya and other Russian areas as foreign human rights organisations are stepping up Chechnya-related activities. This makes these organisations' effort an even more difficult enterprise. Indeed, they insist that Moscow should hold talks with terrorists. However, it goes without saying that the Kremlin will not sit down at the negotiating table with thugs. This is how Moscow views the Chechen separatists, while Oslo sees many of them as fighters for independence.
Norway's human rights organisations monitor the developments in Russia's North Caucasus, the area, which is located rather far from their country. Yet, the Chechen problem affects Europe as well. The Belgian police, for example, arrested four Chechens the other day who were engaged in a protection racket. A group of other Chechens who ran their own "business" in Belgium counterfeiting car number plates had been arrested earlier. And Chechen refugees recently committed a murder in Britain.
The Chechen settlement is therefore desperately needed by everyone. The key to this is legitimate elections in the republic and the normalisation of the state of affairs as soon as possible in this region of Russia.