Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 9

Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles said on February 25 following a meeting with Chechen President Alu Alkhanov in Grozny that the war in Chechnya has ended and the human rights situation in the republic has improved, RIA Novosti reported. “Whereas in 1999 gunfire could be heard everywhere, there is none of that in Chechnya now,” Gil-Robles said. He also said that conditions at Chernokozovo, the remand prison once notorious as a “filtration” center for suspected rebels, are much better today than they were six years ago. “Criminals should be caught and put in prison regardless of who they are,” he said. “The use of extra-judicial methods, such as abductions, is unacceptable. Chernokozovo is a symbol of how things should be in a law-governed state. Criminals should be put in prison and not abducted.” Gil-Robles also said he had appealed to Alkhanov to lift the ban on the activities of the Danish Refugee Council. “The Danish people are not to blame for anything,” he said. “The council has done a great deal to support people who have suffered. I would like to use this opportunity to ask you to let the council continue its activities.” Gil-Robles also said that he would see through to the end the opening in Chechnya of a laboratory for the identification of bodies.

Alkhanov for his part, agreed that abductions remain a problem, but told Gil-Robles that while 703 people were abducted in Chechnya in 2001, last year 77 people went missing there, of whom only 33 were actually kidnapped.

In an interview with Belgium’s Le Soir published on February 26, Gil-Robles said “the climate of insecurity” remains Chechnya’s main problem and that disappearances continue and those responsible for them remain unpunished. He called the situation “frightful,” and said he condemned both the rebels for continuing to create violence and death and the authorities’ “inadequate efforts” to prosecute security forces “partially responsible” for the violence in the republic. Gil-Robles said he asked Ramzan Kadyrov directly to end the security forces’ impunity. “But I am only a commissioner for human rights!” Gil-Robles added. “I can make recommendations and requests but I have no army with me to ensure their application.”

Gil-Robles’ visit to Chechnya followed on the heels of the visit to the republic by United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner Louise Arbour (see Chechnya Weekly, February 23). After her visit to Chechnya, Ingushetia and North Ossetia, Arbour had a meeting in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin, during which she expressed grave concern over disappearances in Chechnya. “We discussed this problem,” she said during a press conference at the Moscow offices of Interfax on February 24. “This concern has existed for a long time. As far as I know, measures were taken, in particular the creation of a special commission that should take up disappearances…I believe that this problem continues to arouse very serious concern.” She also said that while Chechnya has the necessary prerequisites to create a trustworthy court system, the good name of the republic’s courts should not be tainted by the methods currently used to extract confessions. The process of improving the functioning of the republic’s judicial system, she said, “should not be placed in jeopardy by the application of the methods of torture” in order to extract confessions.

Chechen President Alu Alkhanov, for his part, told a Moscow press conference on February 28 that he had discussed the issues of disappearances and torture during his meetings with Arbour and Gil-Robles but that “concrete facts” had not been presented. Nezavisimaya gazeta correspondent Marina Selina reported on March 1 that she asked Alkhanov about the “objectivity” of the claims about disappearances and torture in Chechnya, to which he replied: “Torture is applied during interrogations all over the world. However, in Chechnya the level of such crimes is higher by 2-3 percent.” Alkhanov said officials that exceed their authority are prosecuted and claimed that the number of such cases had recently dropped.