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Human Rights Report Accuses Russia of Abuses

Human Rights Watch says people in the Russian Republic of Chechnya continue to "disappear" while in the custody of Russian forces. The organization has released a new report in Geneva which details nearly 90 cases of "disappearances" between September 2000 and January 2002.

Human Rights Watch says the scale of the ongoing disappearances belies any notion that forced disappearances of civilians in Chechnya is a problem of the past. The Report provides detailed information on 87 cases of disappearances.

Human Rights Watch representative Rachel Denber says these cases are based on extensive interviews with family members and only represent a fraction of disappearances. She says the actual total of "disappearances" is believed to be far higher.

Ms. Denber also says there is a uniformity in the way people disappear. She notes Russian military or security forces will detain an individual, usually a man, in the presence of witnesses. And this, she says is normally the last time the person is seen alive by his relatives, who then embark on a prolonged search for the missing person, who has likely met a terrible fate.

"In some cases, the search ends when a body is found in a makeshift grave," she said. "In most cases though, the person never turns up at all. They are simply never found. They have disappeared. Meanwhile, while they are missing, the person who disappeared is in grave danger of extra judicial execution and torture."

Ms. Denber says the Russian authorities have introduced some improvements with respect to such missing persons reports. These include better channels for the complaints of relatives and the formal opening of investigations in most cases. However, she says most abuses remain uninvestigated and unpunished.

And, she says there is credible evidence that the military obstructs investigations by transferring those accused of crimes out of Chechnya to avoid having them questioned. Ms. Denber says Human Rights Watch has done several studies of violations committed by Chechen rebels. She says these mainly involve the assassinations of people who work for the civilian administration of Chechnya and are suspected of collaborating with the Russian authorities.

"The lion's share of the abuses are perpetrated by Russian forces and that makes sense," she said. "There are just sheer numbers of the Russian forces there and of the number of cases we have documented, the lion's share are perpetrated by the Russians. But, that's not to say that the Chechens do not perpetrate abuses as well."

Human Rights Watch is calling on the U.N. Human Rights Commission to condemn violations by Russia in Chechnya. It also is appealing to Russia to invite U.N. monitors to investigate cases of disappearances.