The Sub-Committee on Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s (PACE) Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights issued a statement last week expressing its concern over “the recent wave of new serious violations of human rights in the Chechen Republic.” A Russian translation of the statement was posted on the Prava cheloveka v Rossii (“Human Rights in Russia”) website, Hro.org, on January 31. In the statement, the PACE sub-committee said it was “especially shocked” by the January 20 kidnapping of Chechen human rights activist Makhmut Magmata and the raid on the offices of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, and condemned the abductions of “no fewer than eight relatives” of Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov. It also stated that given the “serious reports about human rights violations, including torture, rapes, ‘disappearances’ and murders carried out by forces controlled by [Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister] Ramazan Kadyrov,” the sub-committee was troubled by the fact that he was granted the Hero of Russia award. It called for the investigation of alleged human rights abuses by kadyrovtsy, saying that those proven guilty be brought to justice. The sub-committee’s statement also stressed the importance of “continuing to ensure international protection” of refugees from Chechnya.
In a letter to PACE President Rene van der Linden, Russia’s PACE delegation questioned “the advisability of granting a PACE official document’s status to this statement,” claiming it was based on “unconfirmed information received” from the Amnesty International and Memorial human rights organizations that still needed to be verified. The Russian delegation also said that parts of the statement were “unacceptable and insulting to Russia,” Interfax reported on January 28.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) sent an open letter to the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee on January 25, the eve of the committee’s meeting in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The letter took aim at human rights abuses by Uzbekistan and Russia in course of their respective counter-terrorism campaigns.
The New York-based group noted that the September 2004 Beslan school siege led by Chechen gunmen that resulted in “the massacre of 330 schoolchildren, their teachers, and parents,” along with two attacks on civilians in August 2004 linked to Chechen separatist forces resulting in at least 99 deaths, and 14 rebel attacks since 2002, have caused 842 deaths altogether. At the same time, the HRW letter charged that Russian forces in Chechnya “have committed acts of enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial executions on a large scale,” and that the scale of “disappearances” was revealed last December 2004, when Russian human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin announced that 1,700 people had been abducted in Chechnya, many by Russian and pro-Russian Chechen forces. “Most of these people remain missing to this day; in some cases, their corpses were found in unmarked graves,” the open letter stated. “The Russian government has refused to establish a meaningful accountability process for such abuses. As a result, the vast majority of perpetrators of these acts remain unpunished.”
Such abuses over the last five years have had “disastrous consequences” for the level of trust in Russian state institutions on the part of Chechens, the open letter stated, adding: “Alienating the very community whose cooperation is essential for effective counter terror measures seems destined to undermine these measures.”
The open letter was signed by Joanna Weschler, Human Rights Watch’s United Nations Advocacy Director, and Rachel Denber, Acting Executive Director of the group’s Europe and Central Asia Division.