Dr. Ikhvan Gerikhanov has served the Chechen Republic since 1991. Doctor in law and specialist in comparative studies in international law, with the statute od judge of the highest category, Gerikhanov was Member of the Executive Committee of the National Congress of the Chechen People, Deputy of Parliament on first convocation, and President of the Constitutional Court from 1993 to 1998. He was one of the main authors of the Constitution of 1992, which still today represents the Basic Law of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.
Today Gerikhanov is the head of the national war crimes tribunal in the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. About this activity, he said: “The objective of our trinbunal is the collection and evaluation of evidence for the assessment of the presence of signs of genocide and ethnocide of the chechen people, starting from the the time of the Tsar’s autocracy, the communist regime and the modern russian invasion on our territory”.
He currently resides in France. The French government refused him and his family a few weeks ago, political refugee status.
We had a long conversation with him about the Constitution, the legitimacy of ChRI governments, as well as some of the most controversial laws, not forgetting his work as President of the Constitutional Court.
Dr. Gerikhanov, when talk about a constitution started?
The first debates regarding the writing of the Constitution began at the moment of the creation of the Provisional Supreme Soviet, on September 7, 1991. This body was attended by former deputies of the Chechen-Ingush Supreme Soviet and popular representatives, and was headed by the future Speaker of the Parliament of the Chechen Republic, Hussein Akhmadov. Joint commissions were created, including a juridical commission for the elaboration of legislative projects concerning the election of the President and the Parliament of the Republic. As a member of the National Congress of the Chechen People (OKChN) and as the only legal scholar (at that time I was a district court judge of the Leninsky district of Grozny, and had recently defended a dissertation on international law at the University of Kiev) I was included in this legal commission, chaired by the former Second Secretary of the regional party committee, Lechi Magomadov. A wonderful person. Many people from all professional backgrounds participated in the discussion of these projects. The discussion was publicized in the media, including through television. Every citizen of the Republic was able to participate.
In 1994, when the war broke out, Magomadov would have been among the main exponents of the unionist government. Don’t you think that the work he did in the legal commission contradicts the choice to take the side of Russia during the First World War?
Magomadov was first of all a worthy and loyal person. Secondly, he fully supported the decisions of the Chechen People’s Congress. At that time he supported the reasons of the people, and did not participate in any opposition. From his work the Chechen nation only benefited. He died in Mecca during the pilgrimage.
If we had to judge people by the episodes, keep in mind that between 2010 and 2012 I directed the Arbitration Tribunal of the Chechen Republic, which is not part of the power system, but helps all those who turn to it in the resolution of civil cases . Due to conflicts with the local authorities, as well as the fact that I refused to pay the “tribute”, they tried to initiate a criminal case against me. And for this reason I was forced to leave my fatherland and my father’s house once again.
Therefore, one cannot judge people by episodes, as life makes its own adjustments, and sometimes a person is forced to live side by side with the enemy. Some supporters of independence still work in various structures today, while in the republic the protégés of the Kremlin rule. This does not mean that they have betrayed the idea of \u200b\u200bfreedom!
In the elections of 27 October 1991 you were elected deputy. Do you remember how Parliament developed the work on the Constitution?
I was elected in the Nadterechny constituency. Once formed, the Parliament adopted as a basis the draft already developed by the legal commission of the Provisional Supreme Soviet and, after a general discussion which also took place through the media, in the presence of journalists, jurists and simple interested parties, the Parliament adopted the Constitution of the Republic Chechen on March 12, 1991, a year and a half before Russia adopted its own. Personally, I was one of the main co-authors of the Constitution. The deputies did not have much time to adopt the Basic Law, since Russia had already declared the election of the President and Parliament illegal, and it was urgent to consolidate sovereignty by law, as promised to the Chechen National People’s Congress. Within the walls of the parliament of the Chechen Republic, in the body of lawyers’ deputies, there were very few lawyers, only four people out of 41 deputies, and it was not easy to adopt the Constitution when the body of deputies consisted of former farm workers and builders. But we all faced this task, and the Constitution of the Chechen Republic was adopted by the Parliament of the Chechen Republic, and we all rejoiced this holiday, regardless of profession and religion!
There were many opposition supporters in Nadterechny District. They declared that the elections were a farce and that they did not take place in their controlled areas. How do you respond to these accusations?
During the election period, there were opposition supporters in Nadterechny District, but only in one place, not everywhere. The population still did not realize what was happening, and was rather neutral. I have personally met with voters in two large settlements, where they know me well, and the electoral commission received the ballots and prepared the elections. Two representatives were elected in this constituency. Unfortunately my colleague died heroically in the First War!
After the promulgation of the constitution, the institutions foreseen by the Basic Law began to be established. One of these was the Constitutional Court, of which you were elected president in March 1993. How did this constitution process take place?
In early 1992, the Parliament of the Chechen Republic adopted the law “On the activities of the Constitutional Court of the Chechen Republic” and, according to it, the number of judges was determined at seven people. Well-known lawyers from the Republic, from the Ministry of Justice, from the Public Prosecutor’s Office and from the Supreme Court of the Republic took part in the election of the President of the Constitutional Court. Usman Imaev was nominated by the President of the Chechen Republic, while my fellow deputies convinced me to participate in these elections. I can say that all the judges of the Constitutional Court of the Chechen Republic were highly qualified specialists and experienced lawyers. I can be proud of all my colleagues who have had the opportunity to work with them, especially Judge Seda Khalidova, who went through a very difficult path with us and did not become a defector from another government, as some judges have done.
Why did Dudayev want Imaev in that role?
Usman Imaev was a very knowledgeable lawyer and an excellent executor of all orders of Dzhokhar Dudayev. I would have been happy and satisfied if he had been elected head of the Constitutional Court, but the Parliament saw me, probably, not as an executor of someone else’s orders, but as a learned lawyer, and a person of principle. For example, once elected I was the first of the chechen leaders to meet V. Zorkin, President of the Russian Constitutional Court. On that occasion we prepared a joint agreement ready to be signed, but this was not possible due to the current crisis of power in the Republic.
What activities did the Constitutional Court perform?
The Constitutional Court of the Chechen Republic fulfilled its direct duties of protection of the constitutional order and in strict compliance with the provisions of the Constitution, regardless of the origin of the legislative acts, be it the President or the Parliament.
We have repeatedly made decisions on the inconsistency of our Constitution with the Decrees of the President and the Parliament of the Chechen Republic, which at first were taken for granted.
Then, when the confrontation between the legislative and executive bodies became an open conflict, the intervention of our court, and that of its president were not fully received correctly and each side wanted to see the Constitutional Court of the Chechen Republic as “partisan ”, which was impossible, because the court was established to protect the constitutional order and not the branches of power.
The Constitution establishes that Parliament holds the legislative power, and this has the right to approve presidential appointments and to control the work of civil servants. President Dudayev’s reluctance to follow these instructions has led to serious tensions between the president and parliament. What was the origin of these tensions?
The main reason for the confrontation between the legislature and the executive was the misunderstanding or non-acceptance of the fact that the Republic was parliamentary. Many members of the government, including the President, could not bear it. At the very beginning of the confrontation between these branches of power, the Constitutional Court and its chairman issued dozens of official statements on the need to follow the requirements of the Constitution of the Chechen Republic and on the fact that such an escalation of tension could lead to consequences unpredictable.
I don’t know the reason behind this non-acceptance of the parliamentary nature of the Republic, but I can say that around Dudayev there were many sycophants who could influence his decision. I myself was dumbfounded by his behavior, when he sent a late night messenger asking me or advice on key legal matters. After agreeing on these matters, Dzhokhar publicly stated the opposite, and when I asked him why he did this, he referred to unknown people who convinced him against our agreement!
Many members of the entourage of the President of the Chechen Republic literally influenced Dzhokhar Dudayev about the negative influence of the parliament of the Chechen Republic in state building, having their own personal and mercantile interests. Issues of a legislative nature were resolved at the household level, ignoring the requirements of the Constitution and other regulatory acts. First of all, it was a confrontation between the forces of order: the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Each of them resolved the issue from the point of view of his participation in the process of declaring sovereignty, and not from the legal point of view of fulfilling his direct duties.
All this led to chaos and mutual misunderstanding, while those who could not be authorized to manage state bodies also very actively intervened: various parties, organizations of the elderly, athletes and cultural figures, who were assigned positions in based on their popularity in their business field.
On April 10 and 17, 1993, President Dudayev issued a series of decrees establishing direct presidential rule and dissolving parliament, decrees which were declared illegal by the Constitutional Court. Do you remember exactly what these decrees contained and why he declared them illegal?
The Constitutional Court has recognized the President’s Decrees regarding the dissolution of the supreme legislative body as illegitimate, as they grossly contradict the provisions of the Constitution. The content of the decree of the President of the Chechen Republic on the dissolution of the supreme legislative body of the country stated that, in order to preserve the sovereignty and political system, and due to the loss of confidence in it, in accordance with Art. 73 of the Constitution of the Chechen Republic the Parliament of the Chechen Republic should have been dissolved. In truth, the art. 73 of the Constitution of the CRI does not guarantee the President these powers, not even in times of war. He could suspend the activities of all authorities by imposing martial law, but this was not done at the time, since there was no reason to do so. The action exercised by Dudayev, in legal language is called “seizure of power”. which is prohibited by art. 2 of the Constitution.
As mentioned above, the Constitutional Court has applied all means to resolve this conflict and, as the head of the highest legislative body, I have personally asked and spoken to the President of the Parliament and almost all the deputies, as well as the President of the Republic, so that this confrontation would not result in a violation of the Constitution of the Chechen Republic and in an armed conflict. However, each side considered itself on the right side, and we are all witnesses and eyewitnesses of what happened next. The Constitutional Court of the Chechen Republic, on the basis of the obligation to control and safeguard the state system, has correctly pronounced the illegitimacy of the acts of dissolution of the supreme legislative body, not being able otherwise by the judicial body, called to respond to violations of the Constitution of the Chechen Republic.
In the same period, the parliament called a referendum on trust in President Dudayev and in Parliament itself, which the Constitutional Court deemed acceptable. Was this referendum legitimate?
When the confrontation between legislative and executive authority reached a critical point, the Parliament made use of its constitutional right, provided for by paragraph 24 of art. 64 of the Constitution of the Chechen Republic on the popular vote, to hold a referendum on the issue of trust in the authorities and regarding the form of government of the state. This decision is the prerogative of the Parliament of the Chechen Republic and only it can take such a decision, if it deems it necessary, without the consent of any branch of power. These days the crisis of power, with the exception of the judiciary, was in full swing and turned into an open confrontation, with the subsequent armed intervention of the police forces during the dissolution of the Parliament of the Chechen Republic.
On June 3, 1993, Dudayev rejected the opinion of the Constitutional Court regarding the legitimacy of the referendum, declaring it a “perversion of the law”. Why, in your opinion, was Dudayev so against the referendum?
We have tried to solve this process with all diplomatic methods, up to involving respected people and elders. A conciliation group was created headed by the president of the Academy of Sciences, doctor of physical and mathematical sciences Khamzat Ibragimov, in which I was also included. I spoke to Dzhokhar repeatedly on this matter, but after every conversation he did not operate as required by the Constitution. He believed, like everyone in his entourage, that the parliament of the Chechen Republic acts in favor of the opposition, and that the parliamentarians themselves are on several “barricades” of this crisis.
After the coup d’état of 4 June 1993, the Constitutional Court remained the only institution recognized by the Constitution on a permanent basis. On 18 June it issued a statement on the illegality of the government’s actions. Do you remember the contents of this court statement? What reactions has it elicited?
The Constitutional Court of the Chechen Republic suspended work on the administration of justice on my initiative, because after the court decision on the illegality of dissolving the Parliament of the Chechen Republic, our judges and staff began to fear retribution from the radicals , who saw in this decision only an opposition to the President of the Chechen Republic and nothing else. In this regard, this opinion still remains rooted in some supporters of sovereignty today, although there was and could not be any conflict between the Constitutional Court and the President, neither at an institutional level, nor at a personal level. The highest judicial body, within its powers, performed the duties assigned to it to protect the Constitution and the constitutional order, revealing violations that ignored the requirements of the Basic Law of the land, regardless of grades and degrees, and the position held in power and in this society.
How did relations develop between you and Dudayev, and between you and the government in general, after June 1993? Are you under pressure, threats or attempts on your life?
There was no, and there could be no public persecution and threats, since even to my detractors it was clear that I was fulfilling my duties, regardless of the roles and positions of violators of the requirements of the Constitution of the Chechen Republic.
With the outbreak of the First Russo-Chechen War the authorities of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria were placed under martial law. As a lawman, and a senior state official, how did you serve the cause of independence?
Since the beginning of the first war in December 1994, I have been at the forefront of opponents of armed conflict and have organized national and international conferences, as well as roundtables on the cessation of hostilities in my Motherland, condemning Russia’s military and political leadership. Having the moral and institutional responsibility to preserve sovereignty, as well as to stop hostilities on our territory, as president of the Constitutional Court, I have adopted all the methods and means at my disposal to inform the world and the Russian public opinion about the crime of this war and about the existence of the ongoing genocide against my people. To do this, I involved Russian government officials, as well as personally holding press conferences and organizing international conferences, with the participation of world-renowned scientists, conflict specialists and experts from the United Nations.
A number of conferences were held in the building of the international organization “Federation of Peace and Accord”, which has an advisory office at the United Nations. I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the leadership of this organization, especially to the deputy chairman of the Society, MGIMO professor Andrey Melvil, who impartially helped me and provided every opportunity for the world to hear the voice of the Chechen people, who was being exterminated under carpet bombing by the Russian military forces.
One of the events that saw you protagonist in the period 1994 – 1996 were the negotiations following the Budennovsk hostage crisis. Why were you involved in these negotiations, and how did they unfold?
During this time I was in Moscow and was approached by the Minister of Nationalities of Russia V. Mikhailov, who asked me for help in freeing the hostages, as I was one of the highest officials of the republic. Naturally I could not refuse this request, knowing that the hostages were women and children. Considering myself morally responsible and in general, as a lawyer and also as a simple person, not accepting this way of making war, I went to the place. Upon arrival in Budennovsk, I went to the headquarters for the release of hostages, where N. Yegorov, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Government of the Russian Federation, Stepashin, the director of the FSB and other officials of the Russian side were. Then I went to the hospital, and finally participated in the negotiations and drafting of the documents relating to the conditions for the release of the hostages. At the same time, I had to involve the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation V. Chernomyrdin in this process through Mikhailov in order to have guarantees that the conditions set by Shamil Basaev were met.
My participation in the release of the hostages was decisive, because knowing the situation, I assumed responsibility as an official and as a Chechen: without this happening it would have been impossible to complete this negotiation. I was helped in this by two other compatriots of mine, whom I thank for the courage shown in this situation, in which we were all risking our lives. The important thing was that the result was positive: the hostages were released (over 1200 hostages, mostly women and children) and hostilities on the territory of the republic were stopped, which saved tens and hundreds of civilian lives, and started a dialogue between the warring parties which ended with negotiations peacemakers of Khasavyurt.
Besides that, you worked for the establishment of an international tribunal for Chechnya.
In 1995-1996 I was one of the organizers of the Public International Tribunal for crimes against humanity and war crimes in the Chechen Republic. The presiding judge was Galina Starovoitova, who was killed for her civilian activity by war supporters. The books have been published for some time and are directly accessible via the Internet. The court worked in accordance with the current Russian Criminal Procedure Code, and the collection of materials and evidence took place in the court. The members of the court were former and current deputies of the State Duma of the Russian Federation, as well as well-known world-famous lawyers, both Russian and foreign. Among the observers were well-known specialists and distinguished diplomats.
By the way, one of the experts was Olof Palme’s brother Klaus Palme, and among the diplomats – the last USSR Foreign Minister Pankin. We have conducted several phases of the judicial investigation both inside and outside Russia and have examined evidence bordering on the genocide of the Chechen people. These judicial investigation materials are published in three printed books and are available on the Internet.