Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 49

Madeleine Albright’s protestations notwithstanding, the Clinton administration is likely to continue to hear demands that it take a harder line toward Moscow over the war in Chechnya. Indeed, a failure in this area now could ultimately undermine the administration’s own strong backing for the so-called principle of “humanitarian intervention”–that is, the notion that the world community needs to step in when governments are guilty of serious abuses against their own populations. That point was made earlier this year by Emma Bonino, the former head of the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO). During an awards ceremony at the UN, Bonino lashed out at both the United States and the European Union for neglecting the crisis in Chechnya. “By continuing to keep quiet about what is happening in Chechnya now,” she warned, “the United States and the European Union… will inevitably lose in the future the right to condemn the excesses of belligerent aggressors in other parts of the world” (IPS, January 26, March 7).

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who has also strongly backed the notion of humanitarian intervention, has a similar stake. Annan appealed earlier this week for additional international aid to Chechnya (as well as to Mozambique). He also told reporters that he was hearing and seeing “very disturbing reports of what was happening in Chechnya, and the terrible destruction and suffering caused by hostilities there.” Annan, who referred to “very troubling questions about violations of human rights and humanitarian law” in Chechnya, also said that he fully backed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson’s calls for an international human rights presence in the Caucasus (IPS, March 7).

Robinson is scheduled to visit the Caucasus in early April, and will apparently report her findings to the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. The Russian Foreign Ministry has harshly criticized Robinson for her comments concerning Russian human rights abuses in Chechnya, but Moscow backtracked a bit on the eve of this month’s Russian-EU-U.S. talks in Lisbon and invited her to visit the North Caucasus (Reuters, March 2). Robinson’s report could put new pressure on Annan–and on Moscow itself–to ensure that discussion takes place at the UN on the war in Chechnya and, especially, on reports of Russian atrocities there.