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    Rights Abuses On Rise In Chechnya, U.S. Won’t Condemn -

    Rights Abuses On Rise In Chechnya, U.S. Won’t Condemn

    MOSCOW, April 11 – Though human rights violations are on the upswing in Chechnya, the United States decided not to co-sponsor a resolution that condemns Russian human rights abuses in the country.

    Despite the controversial constitution referendum last month, Russian soldiers are still perpetrating human rights abuses on an unprecedented scale in Chechnya, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned Friday, April 11.

    "The armed conflict in Chechnya continues and humanitarian law violations appear to be increasing," the U.S.-based group said in a new report published ahead of an upcoming U.N. Human Rights Commission meeting on Chechnya, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).

    "The human rights situation in the Chechen republic has deteriorated catastrophically because Moscow has understood that the absence of condemnation is a sign that the world community has closed its eyes," asserte4d Anna Neistat, head of HRW's Moscow branch.

    The rights watchdog accused Russian troops of abducting at least 26 people between late December and late February, making "the highest rate of 'disappearances' Human Rights Watch has documented since the beginning of the conflict" in October 1999.

    The report warned that Russian federal abuses were becoming less visible, with large-scale military operations carried out in the name of rounding up "separatist rebels" giving way to night time raids.

    "Although Russian government officials have routinely blamed Chechen rebel fighters for the raids, much evidence suggests that in many cases Russian forces are in fact responsible," the Human Rights Watch confirmed, saying masked men in Russian armored personnel carriers usually carried out the night time abductions.

    The report also condemned Russian authorities for "the disturbing new trend" of blowing up bodies in a bid to cover up abuses.

    "Russian forces increasingly resort to blowing up the bodies of executed Chechens -- a crude ploy that eradicates signs of torture, obscures the cause of death and makes identification of the corpse extremely difficult," it said.

    Official said unpublished government statistics found that 1,132 civilians were killed in Chechnya in 2002 and that 76 people were murdered and 126 abducted in the first two months of 2003 alone, it said.

    U.S. Won’t Support Rights Abuses Draft

    State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher, for his part, said Washington has not yet decided how to vote on the resolution on Chechnya proposed by other nations at the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Commission, but stressed that the United States remained "concerned" about the human, rights situation in the country.

    "We have decided at this moment that we're not going to co-sponsor the Chechnya resolution," Boucher told reporters.

    He said the United States would prefer to have its concerns about Chechnya raised in a so-called "chairman's statement" which carries less weight than a resolution but would still have the backing of the commission's members.

    "We have also said that we think it's best to have a chairman's statement on the subject of Chechnya," he said.

    "In either case, whether this goes to a resolution or whether it's a chairman's statement, I'd say we do remain very concerned about the human rights situation in Chechnya and we will continue to work for progress there," Boucher added.

    The decision came despite the fact that less than two weeks ago, in its annual global human rights review, the State Department said Russia's record in the area was "poor," particularly in Chechnya.

    "The government's record remained poor in Chechnya, where federal security forces demonstrated little respect for basic human rights," said the report, released on March 31.

    The department noted "credible reports of serious violations" including the involvement of Russian government forces in extra-judicial killings as well as politically motivated disappearances.

    The U.S. decision on Chechnya came shortly after London-based Amnesty International had condemned Russia for failing to prosecute claims of human rights abuses.

    "Prosecutions for grave human rights violations in Chechnya are few and far between, and many investigations appear to be conducted in a superficial manner and then suspended," it said in a statement.

    The U.N. Human Rights Commission, which condemned Russia for the bloody war in Chechnya during its 2000 and 2001 sessions but which failed to do so last year, is due to discuss the issue during its annual session on Wednesday, April 16.


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