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Russia Accused of Human Rights Abuses in Chechnya - 2002-04-02

International human rights organizations accuse Russia of using the global fight against terrorism to justify gross violations of human rights in Chechnya. The groups are calling on the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Commission to initiate an international, independent investigation into the situation.

Representatives of human rights groups based in Chechnya describe in grim, often gruesome detail the violations they say are committed by Russian troops on a daily basis against civilians there. These include arbitrary detentions, forced disappearances, summary executions, indiscriminate fire and large-scale looting. A director of the Human Rights Center Memorial, Eliza Mousseava says some of the worst abuses occur during so-called mop-up operations. She said Russian forces typically seal off a village and conduct house-to-house searches for suspected fighters or supporters.

"Without any official witnesses of the persecution, searches are carried out in the houses and so-called suspicious persons are being detained," she said. "Impunity and lack of any responsibility that have been going on for the last couple of years have been conducive to the fact that these mop-up operations have become something like punitive operations."

Ms. Mousseava says these mop-up operations are accompanied by looting and violence. New York based-Human Rights Watch has just issued a report in which it presents numerous eye-witness accounts of torture, ill-treatment and forced disappearances. The report details at least 100 recent disappearances and killings of 25 civilians. But, Human Rights Watch Representative, Johanna Bjorken says the organization has also documented numerous cases of abuse by Chechen rebels, including abductions and hostage-taking. She says people are afraid to talk about these abuses.

"It is very clear that they feel a greater risk in talking about what the Chechen fighters have done, than what the Russian forces have done," she said. "And, we believe that that is partly because it is much easier to find them, they are much more exposable in their own communities by talking about such abuses."

Malcolm Hawkes is a researcher on Chechnya for Amnesty International. He says Russia has done nothing to investigate or prosecute Russian forces guilty of human rights abuse. He accuses these people of committing war crimes.

"It is now incumbent on the commission this year not to drop the ball on Chechnya," he said. "It is incumbent on the commission to adopt a very strongly worded resolution condemning the abject failure of the Russian authorities to properly and fairly and in-good faith investigate these very serious crimes and to prosecute them."

Mr. Hawkes says national commissions of inquiry established by the Russian government have been wholly ineffective. He is calling on the UN Commission to set up an international, independent body to investigate the human rights situation in Chechnya. The Russian government recently announced that it was setting up another body to investigate the situation.