Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 8

Following her visit to Chechnya and Ingushetia, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour visited North Ossetia, including Beslan, where she laid a wreath at the memorial to the more than 330 people who died in the September 2004 school hostage siege, Interfax reported on February 22. reported that same day that Arbour met in Beslan with members of the Mothers of Beslan committee. The committee’s chairwoman, Susanna Dudieva, said that Arbour was moved to tears during the more emotional parts of their conversation.

Interfax reported that Arbour met in the North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz with members of the more radical Voice of Beslan committee, which, like the Mothers of Beslan committee, includes people whose children were killed as a result of the seizure of the school by Islamic militants and the subsequent storming by security forces. “Yesterday we asked human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva [head of the Moscow Helsinki Group] to arrange a meeting with Louise Arbour,” Voice of Beslan Committee member Ella Kesaeva told Interfax on February 22. “We met with her in Vladikavkaz and handed her a letter calling on the United Nations office to help sort out the Beslan problem, because we want to know the truth. She [Arbour] told us that she would tackle our problem and assured us that the issue would not be forgotten.”

Six Voice of Beslan members announced on February 20 that they had ended a 10-day hunger strike they had held to draw attention to their claims that authorities were covering up the truth about the attack, the Associated Press reported. Voice of Beslan leader Emma Betrozova, whose husband and two sons died in the September 2004 hostage-taking, said they had ended their strike on February 19 because they had achieved their goal of alerting the public. The group says that the investigation carried out by the Prosecutor General’s Office into the school siege cannot be trusted and has demanded a new probe using independent experts.

The judge in the trial of Nur-Pashi Kulaev, the only person to stand trial in the Beslan school attack, retired to consider his verdict on February 16, telling the court in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia that it would reconvene to announce its verdict, Reuters reported. The judge did not indicate when the verdict would be handed down. Prosecutors have asked for the death penalty for Kulaev, but some Beslan victims’ relatives, including the Voice of Beslan committee members, accuse the authorities of making Kulaev a scapegoat and say that officials should be put on trial for the botched rescue operation. More than 330 people died in the Beslan tragedy, half of them children. Asked to enter a final plea, Kulaev told the court on February 16: “I do not consider myself guilty, not for the death of a single child or adult. As for the people who are guilty, let them confess their guilt when they are caught.”