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U.N. Commission: Back Strong Chechnya Resolution

Human Rights Watch applauded today's introduction by the European Union of a resolution on the situation in the Chechnya region of the Russian Federation at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, but called on other governments to strengthen the text and join as co-sponsors.

At its last session, in April 2000, the Commission passed a resolution expressing deep concern about human rights and humanitarian law violations in Chechnya and calling on all parties in the conflict to halt abuses. That resolution also urged the Russian government to set up an independent national commission of inquiry to investigate violations-the first time a Commission resolution censured a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. But one year later, the Russian government has defied the Commission: there have been no effective domestic prosecutions, no national commission of inquiry established, and many serious abuses continue on a daily basis.

"In the face of this blatant non-compliance, the Commission must react strongly," said Holly Cartner, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "Otherwise the Commission leaves itself open to accusations of double standards and lack of firm principles."

The draft resolution tabled today, strongly condemns the use of disproportionate force and serious human rights violations by Russian military forces, federal servicemen and state agents and calls on the Russians to ensure that both civilian and military prosecutors undertake credible and exhaustive criminal investigations of all violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws, but it fails to set up an international commission of inquiry.

Human Rights Watch has insisted that any resolution on Chechnya 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 Commission's previous resolution;
note the inadequacy of Russia's domestic prosecutorial efforts; and
establish an international commission of inquiry that is mandated to investigate and document atrocities committed by both sides to the conflict in Chechnya.
Any 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.

The European Union, the resolution's chief sponsor, is expected to continue to try to reach agreement with the Russian government on a weaker "chairman's statement" in place of the resolution. A chairman's statement requires consensus approval by all commission members, whereas a resolution is adopted by a majority vote in the Commission.

A draft of the chairman's statement obtained by Human Rights Watch reflected a significant backpedaling from the position taken by the E.U. and other co-sponsors in last year's resolution. Indeed, the statement omits any reference to the 2000 resolution and Russia's failure to comply with it.

Some have argued that a weak chairman's statement would be preferable to a resolution because it would at least imply a Russian government commitment to comply. Human Rights Watch called such arguments preposterous.

"The Russian government has had a whole year to take the kinds of meaningful steps toward accountability recommended in last year's resolution. Not only has there been no action on past atrocities, abuses in Chechnya continue today," said Cartner. "Russia's failures seriously call into question their commitment to abide by the terms of a chair's statement-even if they formally agree to its terms."

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