Constitutional Background

On March 23, 2003 a new constitution was accepted through referendum in the Chechen republic. The constitution was thought and written up in 2002 under the direction of the Chechen administration chief Akhmad Kadyrov, the Kremlin strongman in Chechnya.

With the constitution being ready in April 2002 the initial idea of the authorities of the Chechen republic was to have the referendum in autumn of that same year. But the referendum was first forwarded to the Kremlin for consideration. In Moscow serious problems arose over several clauses. The main objections revolved around an article that made it mandatory for the president to have been living in Chechnya for the last ten years. This article would have removed all but one opponent of Kadyrov: Maskhadov. After resolving the problems, the green light was given for the referendum. This referendum was finally held on March 23, 2003.

The referendum was very controversial and was strongly opposed by human rights groups and international organizations. Several international organizations, among them the OSCE, declined to send observers.

The process was irregular. Most people never saw the new constitution. The referendum was held in a situation that for all accounts and purposes was still a war. According to Memorial, a respected Russian human rights organization, there were numerous grenade attacks obstructing the process as well as tens of thousands of Russian troops looking on. Moreover there are reports of serious infractions on normal voting procedures. For instance voters were not required to register which allowed residents and non-residents to vote alike and allowed for people to vote several times. There are accounts of polling stations were the number of people entering was counted in the hundreds while the number of votes cast ran in the thousands. Furthermore it seems that voters were intimidated. People were told pensions would be withheld and reprisals would follow if the right vote was not made. Finally, Russian troops stationed in Chechnya were allowed to vote. This added several tens of thousands of votes to the process.

The new 2003 Constitution contradicts separatist aspirations by firmly declaring Chechnya a part of the Russian Federation. More than that, the word sovereignty, prominently mentioned in the constitutions of the other ethnic republics, like Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, is absent from the text.

The constitution allows the Russian president to sack the Chechen one at any time. It also strengthens the hold over the judiciary by making the public prosecution answerable to the federal prosecution.

Finally the constitution keeps everyone in place. The head of administration was renamed acting president and the pre-referendum administration was renamed the new government. This lead to the charge that the referendum was in effect just a way to legitimize a new Moscow backed administration.

The Venice commission has released a very thorough analysis of the text.

History and News

  • 23 March 2003: New Constitution adopted by referendum. Authorities claimed participation of 88% of registered voters with about 96% voting in favour. The new constitution was intended to help normalize the region. (Interestingly even though accepting a new constitution, the old constitution was never abolished.)
  • 1999: Second post-Soviet Chechen war begins. The reasons listed are bombings on apartment buildings in Moscow and a raid of Chechens into the neighboring province of Dagestan. During the Dagestan Campaign, Russia suffered from several terrorist attacks in which powerful explosions ripped apart apartment buildings in cities throughout the nation. At least 300 people died due to the explosions in September of 1999. The Russia's government, then headed by President Boris Yeltsin, claimed that the Islamic rebels (meaning the Chechens) were responsible for the terrorism. Using this as an excuse to continue the Dagestan Campaign into Chechnya proved quite popular with Russian voters. After Yeltsin's retirement, Acting President Vladimir Putin won the March 2000 election largely on the strength of his continuing war against the Chechens and Islamic "terrorists."
  • 12 May 1997: Boris Yeltsin and Aslan Maskhadov sign a peace treaty which leaves open the question of independence, but confirms that Russia will acknowledge the norms of international law and not use force to settle disputes. Chechnya keeps the Russian rouble as currency. The treaty also clears the way for commissioned use of Chechen oil pipelines by Russia.
  • 12 Feb 1997: Chechnya's new president Aslan Maskhadovtakes the oath of office under heavy security, pledging to strengthen the self-proclaimed independence of his Muslim republic.
  • 27 Jan 1997: Aslan Maskhadov clearly wins elections and becomes Prime Minister in Chechnya's separatist government.
  • Aug 1996: Aslan Maskhadov, a former Soviet army officer who led Chechen rebel forces in the war, negotiates a peace agreement with Moscow's Alexander Lebed that provides for the pullout of the Russian troops and postpones an agreement on Chechnya's constitutional status until 2001.
  • 11 Dec 1994: Russian troups invade Chechnya with two tank units; the first post-Soviet Chechen war begins without Russia ever declaring it.
  • 1992: Russian tanks and troops are sent to the north Caucasus as "peacekeepers" in an ethnic dispute between Ingush and Ossetians.
  • 1956: Chechens are "rehabilitated" and return in 1957. However, they lost land and economic resources.
  • 1944: Chechens and Ingush, together with the Karachay-Balkar, Crimean Tatars, and other nationalities are deported to Kazakhstan and Siberia.

For methodology see: Comparing Constitutions and International Constitutional Law.
© 1994 - 27.6.2020 / Current author of this page L. Vocks.
For corrections please contact A. Tschentscher.