STRASBOURG, 25 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- There were harsh words in Strasbourg today from a body that is increasingly seen by many as the top human rights watchdog in Europe. Chechnya, the Parliamentary Assembly said, was the most serious human rights issue in any of the Council of Europe's member states.
The resolution approved by PACE states that human rights abuses in Russia's North Caucasus republic have shown no sign of easing and that the excessively harsh manner in which the security forces act in the region in no way contributes to restoring law and order.
The 67-page report on human rights abuses in Chechnya, which accompanied the resolution, goes further still. It states categorically that there has been no end to murder, enforced disappearances, torture, hostage-taking, and arbitrary detention.
Still worse, the report goes on, the abuses appear to be spreading to other parts of the North Caucasus. The conflict in Chechnya, it states, appears to be spreading like an epidemic, threatening the rule of law throughout the Russian Federation.
Most of the speakers held the Russian government responsible, although they also blamed Chechen rebels and the so-called "Kadyrovtsy", the Chechen security forces effectively under the command of Ramzan Kadyrov, the first deputy prime minister of Chechnya.
Christos Pourgourides, a parliamentarian from Cyprus, said he made his criticisms as a sincere friend of Russia: "It is simply unacceptable -- and it should be the most unacceptable to the Russian federal authorities themselves and most particularly to the Russian Duma -- that in so many cases of murder, disappearance, torture, and other serious human rights violations, a criminal case is opened, suspended, and soon closed again."
But a succession of Russian speakers defended Moscow's record, among them nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia member Leonid Slutsky. He said that if you compared the situation in Chechnya now with the situation three years ago it was like comparing night and day. The Chechen capital, he said, was like one huge building site. And why, he asked, did neither the resolution nor the report make any mention of the November 2005 elections in Chechnya.
Election posters in Grozny in November (epa)
"I pose this question: is it not the case that the right to elect and to be elected are among the most fundamental rights on the territory of the Council of Europe? Of course they are," Slutsky said. "So why then is there not a word in the resolution about the fact that there have just been parliamentary elections in Chechnya that completed the process of the formation of constitutional power in the republic. For the first time in 15 years and after two wars, the Chechen people are free and, incidentally, have elected a parliament after a serious competition. From the point of view of human rights, that's huge progress."
The argument enjoyed some support in the assembly and was indeed acknowledged by the rapporteur, Erik Jurgens, in his summary. He also countered Russian accusations that the Council of Europe was hostile to Russia. On the contrary, he said, the council recognized the huge nature of the challenge facing Russia and wanted to help Moscow cope.
Rather than stepping back from monitoring events in Chechnya, he said, it was time for the Committee of Ministers, the executive body of the Council of Europe, to start playing a more active role. It hadn't done anything to seek an improvement in Chechnya since its monitoring mission ended in 2002. It was time, he said, for the committee to resume monitoring.
A Highly Critical Assessment
The PACE resolution was even more forthright. It stated that "a fair number of governments, member states, and the Committee of Ministers of Europe have failed to address the ongoing human rights violations in a regular, serious, and intensive manner, despite the fact that such violations still occur on a massive scale."
The resolution is one of the most critical assessments of the human rights situation in Chechnya at such a high level for some considerable time.