MOSCOW — An international human rights watchdog lambasted an Oscar-winning actress and other Western celebrities on Wednesday for attending a concert held on the birthday of Chechnya’s Kremlin-backed leader, who has been accused of grave rights abuses and spending taxpayers’ money on his eccentric hobbies.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch said that American actress Hilary Swank, Belgian actor Jean Claude Van Damme and British violinist Vanessa Mae attended the concert in the Chechen capital, Grozny. The Oct. 5 show was held at a police-cordoned stage on Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s 35th birthday.
Human Rights Watch urged the artists to “avoid legitimizing people like” Kadyrov, who has been accused by rights groups of having orchestrated abductions, extrajudicial killings and the enforcement of sharia law in Chechnya, a Russian republic.
“Ramzan Kadyrov is linked to a grim record of abuse,” the group’s Europe and Central Asia director Huge Williamson said in a statement. “When stars get paid to turn up to party with (Kadyrov), it trivializes the suffering of countless victims of human rights abuses.
Respected human rights groups have documented disappearances, house torchings and extra-judicial killings, and say they have evidence of Kadyrov’s direct participation in torturing crime suspects. A string of Kadyrov’s critics and political rivals have also been brutally murdered in recent years in Russia, Austria and Dubai.
Kadyrov has imposed an Islamic dress code on women, and his feared security forces have used paintball guns, threats and insults against those refusing to obey. He also publicly approved honor killings of women by their relatives.
The audience gave Kadyrov a standing ovation when the bullnecked and burly man performed a traditional Chechen dance during a song that praised his rule and called Chechnya “the center of the universe.”
He has spent millions of dollars to acquire well-bred horses that have competed in some of the world’s richest races and to renovate a soccer stadium in Grozny. Famous soccer players have been hired for the club Kadyrov heads.
Under Kadyrov’s leadership and backed by huge tranches of money from the federal budget, Chechnya has become relatively quiet. Grozny, left mostly in ruins by two wars, has risen from the rubble, and the insurgent violence that once gripped Chechnya has largely migrated to neighboring republics of the volatile Caucasus region.
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