The U.N. special investigator on torture says Moscow has agreed to let him visit Russia, including the troubled region of Chechnya. This will be the first time Russian authorities have allowed such a fact-finding mission to take place since 1994.
U.N. Investigator Manfred Nowak says his mission to the Russian Federation will take place in September or October. He says his itinerary is not yet set, but he definitely will visit detention facilities in Moscow and Chechnya to investigate allegations of torture.
"There are very, very serious allegations of torture and ill-treatment," said Manfred Nowak. "I cannot, at this time, give you any details of the number of detainees and torture victims, etc. First of all, I would not have them, and also, during the time when I am negotiating with a government a future mission, I usually never make any statements on the actual situation of human rights in the country."
Islamic separatists have been fighting Russian forces in Chechnya for most of the last decade. Earlier this year, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about accusations of pro-Russian Chechen security forces using torture to extract confessions and intimidating civilians.
Nowak says the purpose of a fact-finding mission is to assess the human rights situation on the ground. He says Russia has agreed to all of his conditions for the mission. He says he will be able to go to any detention center of his choosing, and will be allowed to interview prisoners in private.
He chastised the United States, for refusing his request for similar access to detainees at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Nowak and other U.N. rights experts refused to go to Guantanamo for their investigation of prisoners' conditions there last year, because, they say, the conditions imposed by the U.S. government for the visit were unacceptable.
Washington denies that detainees in Guantanamo are tortured, and criticizes the U.N. investigator for having refused its invitation to visit the facility.
Nowak says he could not agree to the visit, because U.S. authorities would not allow him to interview prisoners in private. In a report released earlier this year, Nowak and other U.N. experts called on the United States to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld rejected such calls, saying the center is being run as well as possible and any allegations of torture or abuse of prisoners are being handled through appropriate military procedures.
On another issue, Nowak says he is investigating allegations that up to 6,000 practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual movement are being held in a concentration camp in China.
"Of course, if the information that you and I received is correct, then this is a very, very serious case, because, in particular, the allegation is that Falun Gong practitioners were used, or are being used for the sale of organs and human tissues," he said. "And, of course, if this is true, then this is a very serious violation of many internationally accepted human rights."
U.N. Investigator Nowak says if he concludes that these allegations are well founded, he will bring them to the attention of the Chinese government.