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For the second year in a row, the UN Human Rights Commission has voted to condemn abuses by the governments of Belarus and Turkmenistan. The Geneva-based commission this year has also taken the extra step of appointing a special rapporteur to investigate rights issues in Belarus. The moves were part of a series of votes on country-specific situations, including a defeat of an EU-sponsored measure to criticize Russian actions in Chechnya.
United Nations, 16 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The world's top human rights forum has expressed deep concern at widespread reports of abuses by the Belarusian government and voted to set up a rapporteur's position to investigate rights issues there.
The moves are among the toughest the commission can make and reflect ongoing concern about repression in Belarus.
The commission rejected a motion by Russia to block the resolution on Belarus. It voted 23 to 13 with 17 abstentions in favor of the resolution, with mainly European and Latin American states supporting the measure. It urges Belarusian authorities to fully investigate cases of forced disappearances or summary executions involving opponents of the government.
The U.S. envoy in Geneva, Richard Williamson, said the resolution reacts, in part, to the Belarusian government's failure to respond to last year's calls for reform. "[The resolution] cites the failure of the Belarusian government to cooperate with the relevant special procedures of the commission or to adopt the reforms and election procedures recommended by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe," he said. "It describes the regime's intensified assault against independent journalists, nongovernment organizations, and peaceful political opponents, aggravating an already dismal human rights situation."
But the representative of Belarus, Syarhey Aleinik, said the commission was allowing itself to be used as a political tool by some of its members. He said the appointment of a special rapporteur was an attempt to divert the commission's attention from other areas of rights abuses, such as in Iraq.
"It is obvious to anyone that the accusations toward Belarus are built up in the same manner as the statements about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the 45-minute preparation time to use it. The international community has already had the opportunity to see for itself the untruthfulness of such statements. By the way, such actions have already become a norm for the United States," he said.
The commission's resolution on Turkmenistan similarly expressed grave concern about the government's crackdown on opposition. Ireland's ambassador, Mary Whalen, speaking on behalf of the European Union, noted the trouble areas: "Concern is expressed at the persistence of a government policy based on the repression of all political opposition activities, newly introduced restrictions on the exercise of the freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief and discrimination against ethnic and other minorities. Grave concern is expressed with regard to the investigation, trial and detention procedures following the reported assassination attempt against the president in November 2002."
The commission urged the Turkmen government to immediately release all prisoners of conscience. It requested that UN rapporteurs who examine torture, extrajudicial executions, freedom of opinion, and freedom of religion consider visiting Turkmenistan within the next year.
The resolution on Turkmenistan passed by a vote of 25 to 11, with 17 abstentions. Russia and Armenia, which had voted against the Belarusian resolution, decided to abstain on the Turkmen vote.
The European Union and other states which champion human rights failed for the third straight year to condemn Russia's record in Chechnya. The failed draft resolution condemned terrorist acts by Chechen rebels but also pointed to abductions, extrajudicial killings, and torture by the Russian military. It also called on Russia to provide better access into Chechnya by humanitarian aid groups and to cooperate with international bodies that want to monitor the situation there.
Ambassador Whalen said it was important for the European region that the alleged abuses be dealt with through the commission. "As in the past, the European Union this year sought to engage at an early stage with the Russian Federation with a view to arriving at a consensual text," she said. "We deeply regret that the Russian Federation did not wish to engage in discussion on the subject with us."
But Russian Ambassador Leonid Skotnikov told the commission that the European moves were counterproductive. "Nobody is more interested than [Russia] in having Chechnya flourish and become prosperous," he said. "All the necessary measures have been taken and will be taken in that regard. Everything that obstructs this policy, for instance the present draft resolution for Chechnya, is absolutely unacceptable. This is not a friendly action. Such steps, no matter what some others are saying, are coming very much in handy for the terrorists. Such steps are opposite to the principle interest of Russia, but above all they are against the interests of the peoples of Chechnya."
The vote against the resolution was 23 to 12, with 18 abstentions. Armenia and Ukraine voted against the measure while many of the commission members from Latin America who supported closer scrutiny of Belarus abstained on the vote on Chechnya.
(More information on the commission's votes can be found at: http://www.unog.ch/news2/documents/newsen/cn04050e.htm)
(RFE/RL's Nikola Krastev contributed to this report.)