President Yeltsin’s former human rights commissioner, Sergei Kovalev, flew to Grozny yesterday. (Itar-Tass, January 15) Kovalev, who resigned as presidential human rights watchdog last year in protest against human rights abuses in Chechnya, is leading an unofficial group of like-minded Russian parliamentarians who will monitor Chechnya’s presidential and parliamentary elections. Before leaving Moscow, Kovalev said he was very worried by the disenfranchisement of some 140,000 former residents of Chechnya — refugees now in Russia proper who will be neither able nor willing to travel to Chechnya on January 27 to cast their votes. Kovalev said he would try to persuade the Chechen leadership to organize voting in the places where the refugees are now living.
In Moscow, meanwhile, President Yeltsin’s newly constituted Human Rights Commission lashed out yesterday at the way the Chechen authorities are organizing the elections, saying they will not be democratic because the refugees will be unable to vote. (Itar-Tass, January 16) Unlike Kovalev, the Human Rights Commission is not planning to travel to Chechnya to observe the situation first hand. But it called on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe to send monitoring teams. The OSCE’s Permanent Council is meeting in Vienna today to decide whether to send foreign observers. If a positive decision is made, the OSCE expects to send between 60 and 70 people. A major concern governing the OSCE’s decision will be the safety of the foreign observers. The Russian government has already stated that it cannot offer them any guarantees while on Chechen territory.
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