Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 57

Russia’s never-ending battle to ward off international censure for its bloody war in Chechnya continued yesterday as pressure intensified for the UN Human Rights Commission to take up the issue. In an address opening up the annual session of the commission, UN human rights chief Mary Robinson declared that there must “be no selectivity, no sanctuary, no impunity for those guilty of gross human rights violations.” Her plea follows calls last week from two of the world’s top human rights organizations–Amnesty International and the New York-based Human Rights Watch–for the commission to take up both Russia’s war in Chechnya and China’s dismal human rights record.

That the political battle will be a difficult one, however, was suggested by another of Robinson’s remarks yesterday: that she is unable to guarantee that the commission will confront Russia for its alleged abuses in the Caucasus. Powerful nations have often managed to use their clout to head off consideration of human rights embarrassing to their governments. Previous efforts to pass a resolution condemning China’s human rights abuses, for example, have failed to win enough votes for passage of a relevant resolution. China is reported to be maneuvering once again to block a draft resolution circulated this year by the United States that condemns Beijing’s crackdown on prodemocracy groups. The push for a censure of Russian actions in Chechnya is likely to be even more of an uphill battle insofar as no country has yet taken the initiative to push the issue.

According to reports yesterday, the commission may be awaiting the results of a visit to Russia and Chechnya by Robinson, which is scheduled to start on March 31. In her remarks yesterday, the former Irish President said that he intended to “follow up on the serious allegations” of human rights abuses and on the humanitarian situation of civilians who have fled Russia’s war in the North Caucasus. She also said, however, that she did not “wish to anticipate one way or the other how the commission… will respond to the issues” (AP, UPI, March 20).

Robinson has been notably outspoken in her criticism of Russian actions in Chechnya. Her comments have provoked denunciations in Moscow, where government officials only grudgingly agreed to the upcoming visit. Indeed, the invitation to Robinson was issued under pressure exerted on Moscow by U.S. and European leaders earlier this month, on the eve of three-way Russian-EU-American talks in Lisbon (Reuters, March 2). Those discussions centered on Russia’s ongoing war in the Caucasus.

Human rights groups have accused Russian troops in Chechnya of summarily executing, torturing and raping Chechen civilians detained in the course of military operations there. In statements to the press issued last week, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch urged the UN Human Rights Commission to get tough on Russia over Chechnya (AP, March 17).

Russian diplomats and political leaders have talked incessantly over the past year of the need to strengthen the UN’s authority as an arbiter of international disputes. The coming weeks–the UN Human Rights Commission will run through April 28–are likely to reveal once again just how selective and self-serving Moscow can be in applying that injunction. Russia has labored furiously in recent months to ensure that Chechnya is not made a topic of discussion in the UN General Assembly or the Security Council. Russian diplomats can be expected to operate just as energetically to limit discussion of Chechnya at the human rights conference in Geneva.