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ICRC Asks to Visit Chechen Prisoners


The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, is calling for Russian President Vladimir Putin to let the Red Cross resume visits to Chechen detainees. The Red Cross president has not yet received a reply to a letter he sent to Mr. Putin two weeks ago.

It is unusual for the normally discreet organization to make public the contents of such an official correspondence. ICRC deputy head of Operations for Eastern Europe, Jerome Sorg, tells VOA the press release was not issued to put pressure on the Russian authorities. He says it is just another way of communicating the gravity of the situation.

Sorg says an agreement was reached in 2000 between the ICRC and Russian Federation that allowed Red Cross delegates to visit Chechen detainees. But, he says the Red Cross suspended these visits at the end of 2004 because there were too many obstacles to conducting them properly.

"At one point, we were not able to have individual interviews with some detainees," he said. "So, then we would negotiate and the next time it is going well. But, at that time, you could not have access to all places of detention that you would like to have. This is something we face in a lot of different contexts, but when we have too many problems and these problems are too frequent, then we consider that we are not able to go on with our activities in a satisfactory manner."

Sorg says the Red Cross conducts visits to detainees on the basis of four universal criteria. He says delegates must be given access to all detainees, must be allowed to visit all places of detention, must be able to conduct individual interviews with prisoners, and be granted repeat visits.

Between May 2000 and September 2004 when the visits were suspended, he says Red Cross workers had registered more than 3,200 Chechen detainees.

But Sorg says this number is low, because there were many detention centers in the north Caucuses and other areas of the Russian Federation to which the ICRC did not have access.

"When we visit detainees, we register them and then we follow them," he added. "So if they move from one place of detention to another place of detention, we have the possibility to visit them again and to follow them. So, of course, this is a means to avoid that these people will disappear."

The ICRC has been in discussion with Russian authorities for two years on resuming its visits to detainees. It says it regrets these negotiations have failed.

In his letter to Russian President Putin, the ICRC president, Jakob Kellenberger offers to go to Moscow to discuss the future of cooperation between Russia and the ICRC.