VILNIUS - One-third of Lithuania's lawmakers have appealed to their European colleagues, asking for support in pressuring Russia to return the body of Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov, killed earlier this month, to his relatives for burial.
Responding to a plea from Maskhadov's family, who have implored Russian authorities to return the former Chechen president's body, 54 of 141 parliamentary members from both the opposition and the ruling majority signed a statement in support.
"Based on the principles of humanitarianism, we request that you urgently express your opinion on this issue to the Russian State Duma and the Federation Council," read the letter, which Lithuanian MPs issued to European parliaments on March 17.
The letter stated that, "photographs of the murdered president's half-naked body have been shown on the Internet and on television, degrading his human dignity. According to some reports, there are plans to display his body publicly in Chechnya, then to bury it secretly."
Lithuanian lawmakers expressed concern that defilement of the body constituted as moral trespassing; the ultimate insult to the deceased and his relatives.
Moscow had long identified Maskhadov as a terrorist responsible for a number of deadly attacks against Russian citizens, and therefore has refused to deliver the body to relatives.
The conflict in Chechnya, now in its sixth year, has brought untold suffering to hundreds of thousands of civilians, who have fallen victim to abuses perpetrated by both Russian forces and Chechen rebels.
In their address, Lithuanian MPs claimed that the logic of Russia's government was unfounded. The Chechen separatist leader, they argued, used to repeatedly reject accusations of organized crime, saying that the terror acts were organized by field commanders outside his control.
"Mr. Maskhadov never claimed that he carried out acts of terrorism. On the contrary, he always spoke against terrorism and proposed to seek compromises by way of negotiations and peace plans. No court ever convicted Mr. Maskhadov or brought charges against him on the grounds of terrorist activities. This represents an open breach of the provisions of international law on inhumane treatment," the parliamentary letter read.
Conservative MP Rytas Kapucinskas, who personally met with Maskhadov several times and observed Chechnya's presidential election in 1997, confirmed that the Chechen leader was a supporter of peaceful negotiations with Russia and found it incomprehensible that Russia was allowed to violate international law and human rights.
"With this initiative we wanted to pinpoint how cruel and cynical Russia is, and that its actions in Chechnya are nothing more than genocide," said Kapucinskas.
So far several NGOs from Canada and France have responded to the letter, Kapucinskas said, and the Spanish Embassy in Lithuanian has also requested more information on the issue.
Yet some MPs in the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament) fear that such initiatives could bring far more disadvantages for Lithuania than helping to solve the Chechen problem.
"Global issues are certainly important to us, but this is a problem we have no influence on, which is very complicated. The initiative could inspire more disadvantages for us than it could produce justice overall in the world. I do not support the initiative on such high political levels," said Justinas Karosas, head of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee.
Algirdas Endriukaitis, secretary general of the International Group of Parliamentarians on the Problem of Chechnya, spoke highly of the initiative, blaming Europe for its ignorance on the conflict.
Chechen independence activists based in Vilnius also applauded the initiative.
"Only barbarians can drag around a corpse. This is a tradition of a savage land, although I'm not completely convinced that even barbarians could do this. We can only speculate why the Russian authorities refuse to hand over the body. Are they hiding the marks of torture?" said Angele Gelumbauskaite, chairwoman of the Chechen independence support committee in the Foundation of Chechen Rights.
However, not everyone supported the initiative. Justinas Karosas, chairman of Parliament's foreign affairs committee, said he was "skeptical" about legislators' intentions.
"I believe the politicians on the parliamentary level should not get involved in matters that are so delicate," he told The Baltic Times. "We definitely know what freedom is worth and that it needs support, but here the independence movements are related to terrorism and the issues become so complex that it's difficult to say what is what."
News on Maskhadov's death was reported March 8 after Russia's security forces bombed a house in Tolstoy-Yurt, where Maskhadov had been hiding. Maskhadov was elected president of the republic in 1997. Upon outbreak of war in 1999 the separatist went into hiding, where he led part of the armed resistance.