Yesterday’s EU-Moscow-Chechnya developments came as UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson arrived in the Russian capital to start a four-day visit which will also take her to the Caucasus. Robinson has been a vocal critic of Russian military actions in Chechnya and her condemnations of Russian behavior there–not to mention her demands for an international investigation into allegations of Russian atrocities in the Caucasus–have prompted denunciations from Moscow. The Kremlin agreed to her visit only grudgingly and after some delay, and Robinson complained earlier this week about restrictions Moscow had imposed on her access to Chechnya and the notorious “filtration camps” set up by the Russian army there (AFP, March 30). Following her return on April 4, Robinson is scheduled to inform the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva of her findings in the Caucasus. Human rights groups have exerted some pressure on the commission to take up the issue of Russian abuses in Chechnya, but to date no country has been willing to sponsor a resolution condemning Moscow for its actions there.
In an apparent effort to defuse at least some of the criticism of its Chechnya campaign–and undoubtedly in hopes of staving off suspension by the Council of Europe–Russian authorities this week took two steps to meet international demands. Yesterday prosecutors announced that a Russian colonel had been arrested and charged with the rape and aggravated murder of an eighteen-year-old Chechen girl. Russian authorities had previously dismissed allegations of atrocities committed by Russian troops in Chechnya, and the case against Colonel Yuri Budanov is the first of its kind. As a spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch noted, however, that “a single prosecution [by Russian authorities will] not begin to address the problem. There have been hundreds of war crimes, including summary executions and rapes, committed by Russian soldiers in Chechnya.” The New York-based rights group issued a statement observing that rape is defined as a war crime under the Geneva Convention. That leaves open the possibility–however slim it may be–that Russian servicemen could ultimately be charged with war crimes for their actions in Chechnya (UPI, March 30; AP, March 29).
In another action aimed at doing just enough to deflect charges that Moscow is dismissing international outrage over the war in Chechnya, President-elect Vladimir Putin yesterday agreed to let Red Cross representatives visit detention camps in Chechnya. Putin’s offer, which came only after months of prodding, followed talks in the Kremlin with Jakob Kellenberger, a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross. It remains to be seen, however, whether Putin will follow through on his commitment. Kellenberger cautioned after yesterday’s talks with the Russian leader that a final agreement on Red Cross visits could take “weeks” to work out fully, and that some locations in Chechnya would remain out of bounds to the Red Cross. Kellenberger reportedly refused to comment on whether Putin’s concessions to the Red Cross were linked to the upcoming Council of Europe debate on Chechnya (International Herald Tribune, March 31; UPI, March 30).
BATTLES FLARE UP ACROSS CHECHNYA.