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Council of Europe Failing on Russia

Urgent Need for Vigorous Monitoring in the North Caucasus

A statement published today by a committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on “alarming” human rights violations by security forces in the North Caucasus reaffirms the need for increased monitoring in the region, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today. The memorandum, made public on April 15, 2008, shows the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly should reinvigorate its monitoring in Chechnya and the region.

An introductory memorandum issued by Dick Marty, the Parliamentary Assembly’s Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee rapporteur on the situation in the North Caucasus, highlighted ongoing human rights violations by security forces, including enforced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial executions. It also notes impunity for these violations of international law. The memorandum, “Legal remedies for human rights violations in the North Caucasus,” characterizes the human rights situation in the region as “by far the most alarming” in all 47 Council of Europe member states.

“The fighting in Chechnya has died down but the rapporteur’s memo shows the situation for civilians there is still dire,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Parliamentary Assembly could improve life for the people of the North Caucasus by sending monitors in to report on the serious human rights abuses still taking place.”

Senator Marty issued the Supplementary Introductory Memorandum instead of the full report usually issued by rapporteurs. The Parliamentary Assembly’s Bureau has not yet authorized its Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights to prepare a full report, which would require information-gathering trips to the region. The findings in a full report would be debated publicly by the Parliamentary Assembly and result in the issuing of a resolution making concrete recommendations for remedying the human rights violations to the Russian government and Council of Europe institutions.

The Parliamentary Assembly last debated and adopted a full report on the human rights situation in Chechnya in January 2006.

“Although there has been a decrease in the number of disappearances in Chechnya, serious violations continue with impunity, and in recent years the violations have spread to other parts of the North Caucasus,” said Nicola Duckworth, director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme. “The Parliamentary Assembly has an urgent role to play in preventing an escalation of violations in that region by empowering its Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights to conduct much needed fact-finding in the North Caucasus and issue a full, public report.”

Although the number of new enforced disappearances in Chechnya has decreased in recent years, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International continue to document grave human rights violations by security forces in Chechnya and other parts of the North Caucasus. These include extrajudicial executions, torture, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary arrests and detention. Prosecutions for these crimes remain extremely rare and most “disappearances” remain unresolved years later.

Human Rights Watch research in Chechnya has found that torture in both official and secret detention facilities remains widespread and systematic. In the neighboring republic of Ingushetia, the past year has seen a marked deterioration in the human rights situation. Russian counterinsurgency practices increasingly involve serious abuses reminiscent of those employed by state security forces in Chechnya during the second armed conflict, antagonizing the Ingush population and threatening to further destabilize the situation in the republic.

Amnesty International has documented a disturbing pattern of harassment and violence against human rights defenders, lawyers, and journalists who work to protect human rights in the North Caucasus, as well as against applicants to the European Court of Human Rights.

In 26 cases to date the court, the Council of Europe’s judicial body, has found Russia responsible for serious human rights violations in Chechnya including extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, and torture in incidents dating to 1999. In every case adjudicated to date, the court has found that Russia failed to conduct an effective investigation into the alleged violations. The European Court also confirmed the systematic nature of abuses in Chechnya. More than 200 additional cases concerning violations in Chechnya are pending.

Armed groups, including Chechen rebel forces and others, have committed grave crimes, including numerous brutal attacks targeting civilians in and outside the North Caucasus republics. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have condemned these crimes.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said all parts of the Council of Europe, including the Parliamentary Assembly, should be engaged in preventing further human rights abuses in the North Caucasus including by ensuring that Russia brings to justice those responsible for serious human rights abuses. Robust monitoring and public reporting on the North Caucasus by the Parliamentary Assembly’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights will help ensure this.

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