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UN: Russia Faces New Scrutiny Over Rights Abuses in Chechnya

  • Robert McMahon

Human rights groups have singled out Russia's record in Chechnya as a target for action at this year's meeting of UN Human Rights Commission, which begins Monday (Mar 19) in Geneva. Rights activists are hoping to build on last year's surprise resolution urging Russia to investigate abuses, but they are doubtful the commission will take any strong action this year.

United Nations, 16 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Two of the world's most prominent human rights groups say they will call for an international commission of inquiry into alleged human rights abuses in Russia's separatist Chechen republic.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say they will ask the UN Human Rights Commission to follow up last year's resolution, the first ever to address rights abuses by a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Last year's measure called on Russia to investigate widespread charges that government forces committed abuses against civilians in their war on Chechen rebels.

The UN representatives for Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch told our correspondent this week that stricter measures are needed. They say that Russia ignored last year's resolution, a charge Russia denies.

The two organizations are among the non-governmental organizations that play an active role in the debates taking place before the commission.

Amnesty's UN representative in Geneva, Melinda Ching, told RFE/RL there is evidence that in the year since the last commission meeting, Russian forces continued to carry out bombing of Chechen civilian areas and to operate filtration camps where detainees were abused.

"Amnesty International continued to receive reports that Russian forces frequently resorted to indiscriminate bombing and shelling of civilian areas, in breach of international humanitarian law, and that they extrajudicially executed dozens of Chechen civilians and prisoners of war every month."

Ching said the UN commission's credibility is at stake if it fails to pursue further measures to protect Chechen civilians from rights abuses.

Joanna Weschler of Human Rights Watch said last year's resolution on Chechnya was relatively mild, leaving most of the responsibility for investigation in Russia's hands. The resolution was introduced by the European Union and co-sponsored by a number of countries, including Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Latvia.

Weschler says Human Rights Watch will try to reinforce the call for an independent investigation, based on reports of continuing abuses.

"We are obviously also calling on the commission to condemn the ongoing abuses of human rights that are very widespread in the region and we are asking the commission to note the fact that its previous resolution has been ignored."

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Mary Robinson, earlier this week released a report saying Russia's response to last year's commission resolution was unsatisfactory. She said that, as a result, disappearances and killings, and corruption and abuses, are continuing in Chechnya.

Officials at Russia's UN mission in Geneva were not immediately available for comment.

Robinson's spokesman, Jose Diaz, told RFE/RL that Russia has taken some action in response to the commission's resolution. He said there has been ongoing communication between Russian authorities and the high commissioner's office and that Russia has allowed visits by the high commissioner, as well as officials from the Council of Europe, to Chechnya.

Russia has indicated openness to further visits by Robinson but rejects any proposals for an international commission of inquiry. Diaz says:

"I think there has been some movement as a result of what happened at the commission last year on Chechnya. Perhaps not as much as we would have liked but movement, nonetheless."

Human rights monitors would not predict what measure may ultimately be taken by the commission this year, but they noted that some changes in the composition to the commission could make it more difficult to prompt action on Chechnya. Among the new members to the commission this year are Cuba, Libya, and Syria.