UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson has called on Russia to set up an independent commission to investigate alleged massive human rights abuses in Chechnya. Judging by public comments from Russian officials, there seems little likelihood of that. RFE/RL Moscow correspondent Sophie Lambroschini reports.
Moscow, 5 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson ended an inspection trip to the North Caucasus yesterday by urging Russia to set up an independent commission to investigate human rights abuses in Chechnya. She said the commission should include legal experts, non-governmental organizations, and Russian military and civil prosecutors.
In a press conference in Moscow, Robinson -- who earlier had met with many Chechen refugees in the republic of Ingushetia and visited Chechnya's devastated capital Grozny -- again spoke of how shocked she had been by the scale of crimes she said had been committed in Chechnya:
"I do believe that there have been serious human rights violations. I listened in Nazran [in Ingushetia] to direct eyewitnesses to mass killings, to looting and pillaging, to civilians being summarily executed. There must be a day of reckoning regarding the situation in Chechnya."
Robinson called on Russian authorities to acknowledge the crimes committed in the region and to take responsibility for punishing their perpetrators. She said that she believes Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was receptive to her message when she met with him earlier yesterday:
"My concern is that there would be recognition by the Russian government of the seriousness of the scale of allegations of human-rights violations. I had the real impression this morning with Foreign Minister Ivanov that there is an appreciation of human rights violations and an intention to take special measures. So I believe that was very constructive."
But Ivanov's public comments after his meeting with Robinson did not reflect the same understanding. Ivanov told reporters he had told Robinson that the Chechen problem was too "painful" to allow it to be used by outsiders to interfere in Russia's domestic affairs.
On Monday, other Russian officials were even more blunt in their criticism of Robinson's five-day tour. President-elect Vladimir Putin's spokesman for Chechen affairs, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, called the UN representative's views unbalanced. And Putin's representative for human rights in Chechnya, Vladimir Kalamanov, accused Robinson of lying when she said she had not been allowed to inspect everything she wanted to. Robinson said she was denied access to villages and detention centers where human rights organizations allege Chechens have been tortured, raped, or murdered.
Kalamanov said that Russia can adequately investigate crimes in Chechnya without outside help. But while Robinson was concerned about executions, torture, and rape, Kalamanov appeared more worried about the non-payment of pensions: "If we speak about human rights violations in general, yes, there are a lot [in Chechnya]. Let's start with the enormous amount committed by terrorists and bandits. They were also [committed] by the Russian army, the administration, and so forth... There are thousands of complaints. Since I've been working [at this post], in one month we had 2,500 complaints. In practice it [is] the bad work of ministries and administrations, those that are linked to refugees, to migration problems, the payment of pensions, the loss of their homes."
Robinson spoke of the massive scale of human rights violations allegedly committed by the Russian military in Chechnya. But Kalamanov simply acknowledged that 129 investigations into alleged crimes are under way. He called these cases exceptions. He then asked:
"How can [Mary Robinson] put [these 129 cases] on the same level with the crimes committed by bandits and terrorists? That's scandalous."
In her press conference yesterday, Robinson diplomatically avoided responding to her hosts' disparaging remarks, emphasizing instead what she called Russia's constructive attitude. The Moscow representative for the international monitoring group Human Rights Watch, Diederik Lohman, later told RFE/RL that he has little hope Robinson's visit will bring about a change in Russia's attitude towards human right abuses by its army.
Lohman says Kalamanov and other officials have reacted skeptically to any information from Chechen civilians. He says Russian officials told Human Rights Watch that, on the one hand, the Chechens have an interest in spreading disinformation and, on the other hand, Chechens are afraid to talk to Russian officials.
Lohman also says that Kalamanov's human rights office has been functioning largely as a social-welfare center, where people can inquire where they can get their pension payments and how they can get compensation for lost property.