BACKGROUND: The commission for rehabilitation of former members of the militant underground was created by a decree of Dagestan’s president Magomedsalam Magomedov on November 2, 2010. The main goal of the commission is to ensure the return of rebel fighters to civilian life by guaranteeing them safety and fair treatment by the law enforcement, with follow-up assistance in their adaptation to normal life. Since its establishment, the commission has held 17 meetings, processed 46 applications (31 positively) and addressed 150 complaints. The commission reports that although some of its applicants are currently serving prison terms, 23 former members of Dagestan’s insurgent groups were successfully rehabilitated and presently live and work in urban or rural areas of the republic.
Apart from the assistance to those militants who wish to surrender and need a guarantee of fair treatment from Dagestan’s president, the commission also works on discouraging potential rebel recruits from joining the insurgency by holding seminars and working on awareness campaigns. As stated by a key member of the commission in an interview to the Caucasian Knot: “The commission serves as a platform of an ideological struggle. We seek for people who were only recently members of the insurgency and are ready to convince others not to repeat their mistakes.”
From 2011 onward, the commission members were also taking part in negotiations for the surrender of militants besieged during counter-terrorism operations conducted by the law enforcement agencies in Dagestan. After ensuring that the former militants are cleared of criminal charges or have served their sentences, commission members provide support for their applicants’ resettlement and stay in touch with them on a permanent basis. As of 2013, there were no cases of rebels rehabilitated by the commission re-joining their former comrades in arms. Praised by the republic’s authorities as a success, Dagestan’s rehabilitation commission has served as a role model for the establishment of a corresponding institution in Ingushetia, where the separatist insurgency is also on the rise.
The creation of a rehabilitation commission in Dagestan represents the first effort to implement a “soft” form of counter-insurgency, markedly different from the brutal military-centered tactics employed by Ramzan Kadyrov in Chechnya. In contrast to previous approaches involving seasonal amnesty campaigns for rebel fighters in the region, particularly implemented in Chechnya and to a lesser degree in Dagestan, Dagestan’s commission is designed as a permanent institution with branches operating in all administrative districts of the republic.
IMPLICATIONS: Dagestan in 2012 saw the most intense conflict-related violence across the North Caucasus. Not only did more conflict-caused deaths among security personnel, civilians and rebels occur in Dagestan than elsewhere in the region during the last three years, but the scale of violence in the republic also continues to increase at an alarming rate. In contrast to 378 people killed as a result of the insurgency in 2010, 413 deaths occurred 2011 and 405 in 2012. The armed resistance in Dagestan lost 231 of its members in 2012, compared to 173 in 2011. The same year, 110 law enforcement personnel were killed, in comparison to 111 members of security forces in 2011.
These data decisively dwarf the modest numbers of militants who surrendered to the rehabilitation commission over the last three years – 46 applications. Moreover, comparing the commission’s reports for 2011 and 2012 it appears that only six militants applied to the commission in 2012. A more detailed analysis of the applications to the commission reveals that the predominant majority of ex-rebels were either recent recruits or rebel collaborators with no combat experience. As observed by a co-chairman of the Dagestan’s NGO Territory of Peace and Development, not a single “real” insurgent yet approached the rehabilitation commission.
A number of local observers also emphasized that apart from the lack of trust among insurgents, Dagestan’s commission is also not particularly popular with the law enforcement officials. As a result, seven members of the armed underground who surrendered to the commission in 2012 were handed over to the criminal court and delivered prison sentences – a development that will hardly serve as an encouragement for future rebel applicants to the commission.
The commission members are clearly aware of the shortcomings of their institution. As lamented by the commission’s representative, Bagir Malliyev, Dagestan’s siloviki (law enforcement) are positive only towards those members of the armed resistance who admit their guilt, testify, cooperate with the investigation, and preferably surrender voluntarily rather than being captured as the result of a counter-terrorism operation. Thereby, the role of the rehabilitation commission, as envisioned by the republic’s officials, is limited to assisting the law enforcement in persecuting the militants rather than ensuring their return to civilian life.
Furthermore, the commission’s treatment of its applicants are clearly counterproductive; the commission practices televised public appeals during which former rebels are expected to repent and condemn the armed resistance. This not only puts them in danger of retribution from former fellow insurgents but is also humiliating. Such an approach will most likely deter rebel recruits from dealing with the commission in the future – an implication suggested by the low turnout of applicants in 2012.
In addition, far from offering its applicants employment opportunities, the commission encourages them to seek jobs on their own. According to Mallayev, rehabilitated ex-militants usually end up working in private logistics, construction or farming; low paid part-time types of employment with few prospects of earning a decent income. According to residents of the North Caucasus, this difficulty of finding employment is among the primary reasons why young people join the rebels in the first place.
CONCLUSIONS: Post-conflict rehabilitation initiatives are a crucial feature of successful conflict resolution. Therefore, the creation of Dagestan’s commission for rehabilitation of insurgency members, the first of its kind in the North Caucasus, is unboundedly a unique phenomenon for the region. Its emphasis on the necessity for a “soft” counter-insurgency approach is an aspect of conflict resolution that has long been neglected by Russian and local authorities alike. Yet, both the simmering violence in the republic and the markedly low numbers of rebel fighters applying to the commission suggest that the rehabilitation initiative has failed to decrease the intensity of the conflict. Having achieved only a handful of modest accomplishments in the rehabilitation of former insurgents, the commission can hardly serve as a platform for peace-building. Its achievements in terms of “soft” counter-insurgency measures are dubious as well: the public humiliation of surrendered rebels and their handover to criminal investigations, which often result in prison sentences and bleak prospects for future, are hardly an incentive for young rebels and even less so for more experienced fighters to seek a return to normal life.
AUTHOR’S BIO: Huseyn Aliyev is a Ph.D Candidate at the University of Otago, New Zealand.