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International Helsinki Federation Wants to Probe War Crimes in Chechnya - 2003-04-03

The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights wants the international community to set up a tribunal to try war crimes and crimes against humanity in Chechnya.

Human rights defenders want a war tribunal modeled on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to bring justice to those guilty of human rights abuses in Chechnya.

The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights supports a resolution passed Wednesday by the Council of Europe that calls for such a tribunal.

In Moscow, a Russian spokesman for Chechnya dismissed the proposed court as "judicially meaningless" and described the initiative as politically harmful.

The International Helsinki Federation says Russia has failed to prosecute persons who committed human-rights violations in the 1994-1995 conflict. It adds that Russian soldiers and Chechen soldiers continue to violate human rights today because they know they can get away with it. Brigitte Dufour, deputy director of the International Helsinki Federation in Vienna, said a tribunal is necessary. "It seems clear more than ever now that only an independent, international tribunal could finally bring justice to all Chechen victims of massive violations of human rights and humanitarian law there," she said.

Last month a constitutional referendum was held in Chechnya. Ms. Dufour said the ballot, organized by the Russian military, was one of the most illegal and manipulated in the entire post-Soviet period. "It was done in a way that was reminiscent of Soviet times, that was clearly a farce," she said.

The Kremlin says the referendum showed a majority in favor of democratic constitutional change that should bring stability to Chechnya.