Russia escapes censure over Chechnya

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The Independent Online

The United Nations Human Rights Commission yesterday rejected a resolution submitted by European countries that said Moscow must do more to end abuses by its armed forces in Chechnya.

There was applause after the 53-country commission, which is dominated by developing countries, threw out the motion by a 23 to 12 vote; 18 countries abstained.

While condemning terrorist acts by Chechen separatists, the resolution cited cases of abductions, extrajudicial killings and torture by the Russian military. It said that although Russian authorities had taken steps to punish military personnel for crimes against civilians, Chechens still faced difficulties in getting officials to investigate alleged human rights abuses. The resolution also called on Russia to provide better access to Chechnya for humanitarian aid groups and to co-operate with international bodies that want to monitor the situation.

"This should not be seen as confrontation but as part of a dialogue," said Mary Whelan, the Irish ambassador, who was speaking on behalf of 30 European countries.

But Leonid Skotnikov, the Russian ambassador, said European governments had committed an "unfriendly act". Sha Zukang, the Chinese ambassador, also criticised the "interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state".

Russian troops pulled out of Chechnya in 1996 following a disastrous 20-month campaign against separatists who want to break away from the Russian Federation. The military returned in 1999 following rebel incursions into a neighbouring region and a series of explosions in Russia blamed on rebels.

Large-scale fighting has ended, but daily rebel raids and Russian sweep operations continue and tens of thousands of Chechens still live in refugee camps in neighboring Ingushetia.

Moscow says that Russian operations against Chechen rebels are an anti-terrorist action rather than a war. The European resolution "played into the hands of terrorists by undermining the international anti-terror coalition", said Mr Skotnikov, noting ties between rebel groups and al-Qa'ida.

Ms Whelan said European countries also supported Russian efforts to battle terrorism, but that Moscow should not undermine human rights as it did so. It is the third year running that Russia has escaped criticism over Chechnya.