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Blair Should Take Tough Stand with Putin

(London, April 12, 2000) -- Prime Minister Tony Blair must take a tough stand on Chechnya when he meets on Sunday and Monday with Russia's president-elect, Vladimir Putin, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Blair sent today.

Human Rights Watch urged Mr. Blair to warn that Britain is prepared to take Russia to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, if Moscow does not vigorously investigate and punish war crimes committed by its forces in Chechnya.

"It's up to Prime Minister Blair to keep up the pressure," said Holly Cartner, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "Russian forces committed three massacres in Chechnya, and their perpetrators are still at large. Blair has to make clear that Britain will take the lead in bringing Russia to account."

Human Rights Watch has documented massacres of at least 125 civilians by Russian forces in Alkhan-Yurt, and in the Staropromyslovsky and Aldi districts of Grozny.

Last week the Council of Europe urged its members to file a complaint against Russia in the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg for violations of human rights in Chechnya. It also threatened to suspend Russia from the organization altogether.

The Human Rights Watch letter urges Prime Minister Blair to condition British support for current and future loan payments by such international financial institutions as the World Bank on the sincerity of Russian investigations into war crimes. To date, the Russian authorities have shown scant inclination to facilitate open investigation of war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law in Chechnya. The United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, was prevented from visiting detention centers and massacre sites on her recent visit to the region, while President Putin refused to meet with her.

Human Rights Watch is not aware of any punitive measures taken against members of the Russian military in response to the three mass killings of civilians in Alkhan-Yurt, Staropromyslovsky or Aldi.

The letter to Prime Minister Blair is attached.

For further information contact:
In London: Urmi Shah, +44 171 713 1995
In Moscow: Malcolm Hawkes, +7 095 250 6852
In Brussels: Jean-Paul Marthoz, +322 732 2009
In New York: Rachel Denber, +1 212 216 1266

--------------------------------

April 12, 2000

Prime Minister Anthony Blair
10 Downing Street
London SW1A AAA
United Kingdom
Via facsimile: 44-171-925-0918

Dear Prime Minister Blair,

I write with regard to the forthcoming visit by Russia's president-elect, Vladimir Putin, to urge that you use this opportunity to send a principled message about the consequences of Russia's brutal actions in the context of the war in Chechnya.

Your failure clearly to condemn the war crimes committed by Russian forces and to call for accountability will undermine the action taken by the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly. As you know, last week that body voted to strip the Russian delegation of its voting rights, put Russia on notice that it risked suspension from the organization, and called on member states to file an inter-state complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Your meeting with President-elect Putin last month in St. Petersburg signaled that Britain was eager to play a leading role in developing a strong relationship with Russia in the post-Yeltsin era, but that it was unwilling to use this relationship as leverage to secure better human rights compliance by the Russian government. We believe that at this juncture Britain must play a critical role in maintaining pressure on the Russian government to curtail abuses by its forces in Chechnya, and to punish those who have perpetrated war crimes and other violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. As I am sure you are aware, these abuses include the mass, summary execution of civilians, arbitrary detention and subsequent beating and torture of detainees, the indiscriminate bombardment of densely populated areas, systematic looting, and rape.

In particular, there is an urgent need to ensure that war crimes, such as the summary execution of civilians in Alkhan-Yurt and the Staropromyslovsky and Aldi districts of Grozny, be vigorously prosecuted. We remain skeptical as to the willingness of the Russian authorities to investigate and punish these crimes in a transparent, credible, and vigorous manner. You should make absolutely clear to President-elect Putin that if the investigations currently underway prove to have been carried out in bad faith or should they fail to result in prosecutions, Britain will take the lead in calling for an international commission of inquiry and will file an inter-state complaint against Russia with the European Court of Human Rights for gross violations of human rights. In this vein, we also ask that you put President-elect Putin on notice that Britain stands prepared to withhold its support for loan payments to Russia by the World Bank and other international financial institutions.

We would also ask that you raise the matter of the disgraceful obfuscation by Russian authorities during the recent trip by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, to Chechnya and Ingushetia. Mrs. Robinson was repeatedly denied access to detention facilities and massacre sites, and President-elect Putin also refused to meet with her. President-elect Putin should be made aware that Britain will fully support a strong resolution at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, currently in session, that will condemn abuses and call for their thorough investigation.

Only strong, consistent pressure on the Russian government can ensure that Russian forces will desist from the atrocities for which they have become notorious, and that their perpetrators will be held accountable. We count on you to contribute to this effort, and to make clear now Britain's opposition to the wholesale abuse of human rights with impunity.

Sincerely,

Holly Cartner

Executive Director

Europe and Central Asia Division

Human Rights Watch

-------------------------------------------------

For more Human Rights Watch coverage of Chechnya, visit

http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/russia/chechnya

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