The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said in an interview she gave to the Toronto Star while in Moscow, which was published in the paper on February 14, that Russia should do more to investigate allegations of widespread abuse by its forces in Chechnya. “The crimes committed by law enforcement agencies cannot be ignored just because they appear to be less serious than the crimes perpetrated by terrorists,” she told the paper. “It represents a very serious breach of trust for agents of the state to attack their own population. This needs to be denounced and dealt with.” Arbour said she raised the issue of human rights abuses by Russian forces in Chechnya during a meeting with President Vladimir Putin on February 10. “He repeated to me what I had been told by the prosecutor general [Vladimir Ustinov]: that there are investigations into members of the armed forces, in fact they mentioned hundreds of investigations,” she said. Arbour said she plans to visit Chechnya soon.
As to Russia’s human rights performance more generally, Arbour said: “If you judge the situation in Russia only by what’s happening in Chechnya, it might be very discouraging. If you judge it only by what’s happening in Moscow, it may be too encouraging. In many respects, things are moving forward and in others, I think as a by-product of a pretty robust counterterrorism initiative, you see cause for a lot more concern.” Arbour also said she’s looking forward to seeing the report due this spring of a parliamentary commission on the Beslan school massacre. “We’ll be able to see whether it looks like a whitewash … or whether it will probe pretty deeply into what happened there — the kind of self-criticism that I think is the hallmark of a mature society,” she said.
Arbour spent most of the third day of her visit to Moscow – February 12 – holding meetings with various Russian human rights activists at the offices of the Memorial human rights group in Moscow, the Prava Cheloveka v Rossii “Human Rights in Russia” website, Hro.org, reported on February 14. One meeting, which lasted two hours, concerned the issue of human rights in Chechnya and the North Caucasus. Among the participants in that meeting were Oleg Orlov, Tatyana Kasatkina and Aleksandr Cherkasov of Memorial; Lyudmila Alexeyeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group; Valentina Melnikova of the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee; Sergei Nikitin of Amnesty International; Aleksandr Petrov and Anna Neistadt of Human Rights Watch; and Jane Buchanan of the Chechnya Justice Initiative.