The Russian State Duma yesterday held hearings on the military campaign in Chechnya. Our correspondent says the hearings were the first since the campaign began last year and covered a wide spectrum of views. RFE/RL's Sophie Lambroschini has the story.
Moscow, 22 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- At yesterday's Duma hearings, Russian forces came under severe criticism for their alleged human rights violations in the breakaway republic.
Duma deputy Aleksandr Tkachev, who heads a special Duma commission on social and human rights problems in Chechnya, accused Russian police of perpetrating crimes against civilians. He said the armed forces personnel were responsible for undermining the local population's trust in Russia's administration.
In his opening remarks, he said Russian authorities are ignoring their mistakes in the first Chechen war from 1994 to 1996 and risk playing into the hands of the terrorists.
Most of the crimes denounced yesterday in the Duma had already been publicized for months by different human rights organizations. These include the arbitrary arrest and torture of Chechen citizens, as well as rape, theft, and extortion committed by Russian troops and officials.
Akhmat Kadyrov, Chechnya's Moscow-appointed administrative head, addressed the deputies and said he would fight crimes committed by Russian soldiers in the same way that he opposes Chechen terrorists.
He describes some of the abuses perpetrated on Chechen citizens and tells how these can work against the Russian military effort:
"For not having any I.D. documents, a person can end up in jail or in some detention center, where he can be seriously 'worked with' [beat up] in a bad way. When he comes out of there, he will just be seeking one thing -- how to take revenge, how to get more people over on his side, and will go away into the woods carrying a weapon. These [abuses] will only lead to more people fighting on their (the rebels) side.
President Vladimir Putin's special envoy for human rights in Chechnya, Vladimir Kalamanov, depicted an equally harsh picture.
He told deputies that when he observed the attitude toward human rights by the Russian authorities while on a visit to Chechnya in March, it made him shiver.
His agency now has 11 offices in Chechnya that are recording cases of human rights abuses. These offices will be working with envoys from the Council of Europe.
Walter Schwimmer, the secretary-general of the Council of Europe, attended the proceedings and said a thorough investigation of alleged crimes by both sides in Chechnya must be carried out. He said an estimated 18,000 people in the republic are now listed as missing.
That message seems lost on some Russian authorities. Deputy head of the prosecutor general's office, Yury Biryukov, claims there are only 16 cases of proven crimes committed by the Russian military on civilians in Chechnya. None of the 16 refer to arbitrary arrests. Biryukov says there has been one proven case of rape and six murders, as well as some cases of non-authorized use of weapons.
General Valery Manilov, the first deputy head of the general staff, also tried to down play the importance of crimes committed by Russian soldiers. Although he says Russian criminals are bandits like other criminals, he says it's necessary to focus on the individuals who provoked the war in Chechnya. He admits that ordinary citizens are fleeing bombings and artillery strikes, but again he blames the Chechen warlords who invaded Daghestan last summer for "provoking the war."
A member of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, Lord Judd, who toured the refugee camps in Ingushetia and parts of Chechnya this week, energetically refuted this logic:
"As has been courageously said from this rostrum, whatever the provocation, we have to demonstrate all the time that we are about something better. We must never, never justify our action in terms of it being excusable because of that of terrorists."
Earlier this spring the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe suspended Russia's voting rights in the European body over the Chechen campaign.