Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 13

The U.S. government has decided not to co-sponsor a resolution about Chechnya at this week’s meeting of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told journalists at the department’s daily press briefing on April 11 that Washington had not even decided how to vote on the resolution, which was drafted by the European Union. Instead, said Boucher, “we think it’s best to have a chairman’s statement on the subject of Chechnya.”

This year’s chairman of the human rights commission is Libya. It was described by the State Department’s annual human rights report, issued on March 31, as a “dictatorship” responsible for “numerous serious human rights abuses.”

The resolution proposed by the EU refers to continuing violations of international human rights pacts in Chechnya. It calls on Russia to take “all necessary steps” for the complete, systematic and swift investigation of abuses such as kidnappings and torture.

The independent, New York-based Human Rights Watch called on the UN commission to adopt a resolution that would:

“Condemn ongoing violations of human rights and humanitarian law by both parties to the conflict.

“Insist on accountability by: calling on the Russian authorities to ensure meaningful investigations into all reported crimes by Russian troops against civilians in Chechnya or Ingushetia; calling on the Russian authorities to publish a detailed list of all current and past investigations into such abuses and indicate their current status; renewing the call for a national commission of inquiry to document abuses by both sides to the conflict; and making clear that continued failure on the part of Russian authorities to make progress on accountability will result in the establishment of an international commission of inquiry to document abuses and produce an official record of them.

“Call on Russia to desist from coerced returns of internally displaced persons and to ensure their well-being.

“Call for visits to the region by key UN thematic mechanisms, as required by the previous Commission on Human Rights resolutions.

“Call for renewal of the OSCE Assistance Group’s mandate.” (The Russian government canceled that mandate at the end of 2002.)

Human Rights Watch pointed out that the Russian authorities have “continued to resist establishing any meaningful accountability process for crimes committed by its forces. Although the procuracy opened hundreds of criminal investigations into abuses by Russian troops, in most cases officials failed to conduct even the most basic investigative steps (including questioning eyewitnesses and relatives). As a result, most investigations remained unsolved and almost none made it to the courts.”

In a detailed report released on April 7, Human Rights Watch noted that when the Commission rejected a resolution on Chechnya a year ago, “the Russian government interpreted the resolution’s failure as a signal that the international community now endorsed its actions in Chechnya, and refused to implement the key elements of the resolutions the Commission adopted in 2000 and 2001.”

The April 7 report concluded that “humanitarian law violations appear to be increasing. Human Rights Watch research conducted in the region in late March found that Russian troops had ‘disappeared’ at least twenty-six people between late December and late February, or roughly three people per week. This is the highest rate of ‘disappearances’ Human Rights Watch has documented since the beginning of the conflict. In more than fifty interviews with victims and eyewitnesses, we also documented new cases of extrajudicial execution, torture and ill-treatment, and arbitrary detention.”

On torture, Human Rights Watch reported from its own interviews with five victims as well as information from other sources about seven others that “in most of these cases, Russian soldiers tried to force the detainees to confess to involvement in the December 27, 2002, attack on the main government building in Grozny. Torture and ill-treatment are most prevalent in unofficial places of detention, such as pits and basements at the Khankala and DON-2 military bases. Due to their unofficial status, these detention centers are immune from international scrutiny; neither the International Committee of the Red Cross nor the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture has visited them. Methods of torture most frequently described by detainees include prolonged beatings, often with rifle butts, straps or clubs, electric shock, and asphyxiation.”

The report also noted human rights violations by the separatist side: “Chechen rebels are believed to be responsible for a continuing pattern of assassinations of village administrators and other civil servants working for the pro-Moscow government in Chechnya.”

Researchers from Human Rights Watch found that pressures from the Russian authorities on Chechen refugees in Ingushetia have continued. Though tent camps in that province were no longer being closed as of January, “instead officials have resorted to other coercive measures, such as deregistering displaced persons, thereby depriving them of access to housing and social services in Ingushetia.” Also, according to the April 7 report, “in recent months Ingush police have intimidated displaced people in a number of spontaneous settlements by conducting law enforcement operations there that strongly resemble abusive operations Russian forces conduct inside Chechnya.”

The full text of the Human Rights Watch report is available via the organization’s website https://www.hrw.org/