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Open Letter to Members of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights

In early February Human Rights Watch wrote to Members of U.N. Commission on Human Rights urging that your government support a new resolution on Chechnya at the current session. Tuesday, April 10, is the final day for tabling such a resolution, and we are writing once again to underscore how critical it is for your government to cosponsor a resolution that deplores the serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law that continue on a routine basis, as well as the Russian government's utter non-compliance with the terms of last year's resolution.

Prior to the opening of the Commission, some argued that it would be best to negotiate a chairman's statement with the Russians. Even advocates of this position, however, predicted that the Russians would never agree to a chairman's statement that would be even remotely accurate in its description of the grave human rights abuses being committed by Russian forces in Chechnya or that would call for effective, concrete action to hold the worst abusers accountable.

From the outset, Human Rights Watch feared that any document negotiated with Russia would be an empty gesture that would not contribute to an improvement to the human rights situation on the ground. The draft statement that has been circulated informally by the European Union has confirmed our worst fears. It is a weak text that fails to condemn the severe violations of the Geneva Conventions being committed on a daily basis by Russian forces in Chechnya. Nor does it even acknowledge Russia's year-long refusal to comply with any of the key requirements of last year's resolution; in fact, the draft statement does not even mention last year's resolution. It is a disservice to those who worked hard to draft and cosponsor the resolution last year, to the Commission, and to the values it represents.

We understand that a draft resolution is being prepared and may be deposited by Tuesday 1:00 p.m. (Geneva time). Should a resolution be tabled, we urge you immediately to deposit your signature as a cosponsor and to work for its adoption. Given the ongoing atrocities being committed by Russian forces in Chechnya-including torture, summary executions, and forced disappearances-as well as the absolute failure of the Russian government to comply with any of the key provisions of last year's resolution, the resolution should:

Condemn ongoing human rights and humanitarian law violations in Chechnya; note the total failure on the part of the Russian government to implement the CHR's previous resolution; note the inadequacy of the domestic prosecutorial efforts; establish an international commission of inquiry that is mandated to investigate and document atrocities committed by both sides to the conflict in Chechnya. Such an international commission should be impartial and independent and operate in a manner consistent with the general principles outlined by High Commissioner Mary Robinson in her April 2000 background note on national commissions of inquiry.

Your government was a cosponsor of last year's resolution, which represented the broadest consensus among international actors that impunity would not be countenanced in Chechnya. One year later, there can be no question that the Russian government has blatantly defied the Commission: there have not been effective domestic prosecutions, no national commission of inquiry has been established, and because of this ongoing environment of impunity, many serious abuses continue to be perpetrated on a daily basis. In the face of this blatant non-compliance, it is inconceivable that the Commission would respond with something as weak and inaccurate as the draft chairman's statement.

We urge your government to make clear that a chairman's statement is simply not acceptable and that a strong resolution is the only appropriate response to the scope and gravity of the abuses being perpetrated by Russian federal forces and tolerated by the Russian government.


Holly Cartner
Executive Director
Europe and Central Asia division

Joanna Weschler
U.N. representative

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