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As Human Rights Abuses Continue in Chechnya, European Court to Hear First Cases

(Washington, DC--October 13, 2004) The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is to hear the first of six cases this week that accuse Russian federal forces of human rights abuses in Chechnya. The court had agreed to add the cases to its docket last year, according to a Russian human rights expert who spoke to an RFE/RL audience yesterday, but court proceedings are only now getting underway.

Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, the Nazran representative of the Moscow-based human rights organization "Memorial," said these cases before the ECHR are significant, both because of the lack of fair trials and due process in the Russian Federation and because the war continues in Chechnya, although there is little coverage of either by Russian or international media.

The cases to be heard this week deal with Chechen civilians who were allegedly executed in extra-judicial actions after they were arrested by Russian federal forces in 2000. Three other cases are the result of an alleged indiscriminate aerial attack by Russian forces against a refugee convoy evacuating Grozny (the capital of Chechnya). The refugee column was bombed after it was forced back into Chechnya at a closed border check point on the Chechnya/Ingushetia border on October 29, 1999.

Sokirianskaia also discussed the origins of the ten-year armed conflict during the briefing, and offered possible solutions to end the war in Chechnya. She said that Chechen terrorism is a "homegrown social phenomenon with domestic origins and roots." During the past decade of separatist war, Sokirianskaia asserted, both rebel and federal forces have "neglected the Geneva Accords" and applied terrorist tactics with little regard for civilian casualties. "Unresolved conflict leads to human disaster," she said, explaining that the continuing violence and disregard for human rights in Chechnya is intensifying internal divisions within a society already fragmented by warfare.

While reviewing the categories of human rights violations in Chechnya, Sokirianskaia said that Memorial and its monitors had documented a climate of "impunity," where the "double jurisdiction" of civilian and military authorities there allows criminal investigations to be lost in the bureaucracy while policies that allow federal forces to engage in gross violations of civil and human rights go unchallenged. This has led Chechen civilians to be reluctant to file charges against federal forces for crimes or sustained physical injuries because of a fear of government persecution, she said.

Sokirianskaia stressed the need for a peaceful resolution in Chechnya soon, as the violence there is spilling over into the surrounding republics of Daghestan, Ingushetia, and North Ossetia and raising inter-communal tensions throughout the region. She asserted that any lasting solution must involve negotiations between Chechnya and Russia, in which both sides can reach a "symbolic settlement where acceptance as well as compromise can take place." Once a political solution is achieved, the more difficult process of reconciliation between Russia and Chechnya can begin, which Sokirianskaia said will take many years and cannot be accomplished in the "current political situation."

While Sokirianskaia is hopeful for a peaceful solution, she stressed that more outside pressure from the media and foreign governments is needed to help resolve the armed conflict. Sokirianskaia said that independent reporting from the region is hard to come by, because of Russian government control of access to the territory, noting that journalists attempting to engage in independent reporting, if caught, are subject to detention and the loss of accreditation.

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