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Item 9 - Question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world: Russia (Chechnya) and Democratic Republic of Congo
Human Rights Watch Oral Intervention at the 57th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights
(Geneva, March 29, 2001) Mr. Chairman, Civilians in Chechnya continue to be the victims of systematic humanitarian and human rights law violations. Although major military clashes between Russian and Chechen forces ended in the spring of 2000, civilians continue to face the daily risk of torture, "disappearance," and summary executions at the hands of federal forces. Human Rights Watch's most recent fact-finding mission to the region, which ended only last week, found that federal soldiers and police on sweep operations arbitrarily detain men and women, and frequently loot and burn homes. Detainees are often taken to makeshift detention facilities such as earthen pits, where they are routinely tortured and denied all due process rights.

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We documented a growing pattern of "disappearances" in Chechnya; we have confirmed 113 cases of "disappearances" since September 1999, but believe the true figures are much higher. The discovery of the mutilated corpses of some of the "disappeared" -- some in recently discovered mass graves -- have substantiated fears that many have been tortured and summarily executed by federal forces.

The Russian government has shown no sincere intention to investigate war crimes and other abuses committed by Russian forces in Chechnya. The Russian procuracy claims it has launched numerous investigations into crimes perpetrated against civilians, but very few are substantial. Investigations into three well-known massacres have been incomplete, haphazard, or suspended altogether.

Chechen forces are complicit in the murder of civilian administrators who work with the federal government. The 56th Commission adopted a resolution condemning abuses in Chechnya and calling on the Russian government to take concrete steps to investigate and prosecute breaches of international humanitarian law in Chechnya. One year later, there can be no doubt that the Russian government has blatantly defied the Commission and failed to take any steps to fulfill either the Commission's recommendations.

We accordingly urge the Commission to adopt a resolution condemning ongoing human rights violations in Chechnya; noting the total failure on the part of the Russian government to implement the CHR's previous resolution; and noting the inadequacy of the domestic prosecutorial efforts, establishing an international commission of inquiry that is mandated to investigate and document atrocities committed by both sides to the conflict in Chechnya.

Mr Chairman,

Renewed commitment to the Lusaka Accords spark hope of peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo. An end to combat, however welcome, will not erase the innumerable wrongs done to the people of the DRC, nor to refugees who sought safety there. Parties to this war have engaged in indiscriminate massacres and extrajudicial execution of civilians, rape, and large-scale destruction of property, resulting directly or indirectly in the deaths of more than a million persons and the displacement of more than a million and a half persons inside the DRC and another half a million abroad. Perpetrators have thus far enjoyed total impunity for these crimes. Halting combat offers a chance for longlasting peace and stability -- but only if the end of battle opens the way to justice. The Lusaka Accords provide for justice for militia and members of armed opposition groups accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. These provisions must be enforced. But the Accords make no provision for government troops which have committed violations of international humanitarian law. Justice must be assured for these parties too if impunity is to be ended. The Commission can contribute to both justice and peace in the DRC by urging the Security Council to establish an investigative commission to continue and complete the work of the Secretary-General's Investigative Team, blocked in 1997. Neither this Commission nor the Security Council can ignore the already?existing evidence of abuses so grave that they have been characterized as crimes against humanity and possible acts of genocide. The Commission should also renew the mandate of the special rapporteur and provide him with necessary resources for meaningful interventions.

Human Rights Watch believes the Commission can help deter further abuses by endorsing an increase in the numbers of MONUC observers, particularly those charged with monitoring human rights and the protection of children, and by urging their close cooperation with the Field Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the DRC.

Thank you.