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U.N. Urged to Act on Chechnya

U.N. Urged to Act on Chechnya

Rights Group Blasts Record of Commission members

(Geneva, March 14, 2001) The Russian government has utterly failed to comply with the demands of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which must take action on the ongoing atrocities in Chechnya, Human Rights Watch said today. The organization made the appeal on the eve of the Commission's annual six-week meeting, which will start in Geneva on Monday, March 19.

The group also noted that this year's Commission has an unusually high number of abusive governments among its 53 members. The 14 new Commission members this year, elected for staggered three-year terms, include Algeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Vietnam.

Human Rights Watch urged the establishment of an international commission of inquiry to investigate abuses in Chechnya.

"Russian forces continue to commit atrocities in Chechnya," said Reed Brody, Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch. "Last year, the Commission asked Russia to rein in its forces and bring abusers to justice. In light of Russia's total failure to comply, the Commission must act."

According to Human Rights Watch, Russian troops regularly engage in arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions, torture, summary executions, disappearances, extortion, violations of medical neutrality, and the shelling of population centers. Corruption and lack of discipline and accountability among the troops remain pervasive.

Last year, the Commission called on Russia to conduct an investigation of abuses by its forces and to allow designated U.N. human rights investigators and rapporteurs to monitor human rights on the ground. But there was no follow-up when Russia spurned compliance even with those minimal demands. "Countries that sponsored the resolution last year have an obligation to follow through this year," said Brody.

Human Rights Watch also pointed out that U.N. member states are increasingly electing abusive governments to serve on the Commission, including governments that refuse visits by Commission monitors. For instance, Commission envoys on torture and extrajudicial executions have been trying in vain for several years to visit Algeria, a country that has never received a Commission rapporteur.

"Having these governments on the Commission is like having foxes guarding the chicken coop," said Brody. "Governments eager to serve on the Commission on Human Rights must be willing to live up to the responsibilities of membership."

Looking at some of the Commission's new members, Human Rights Watch highlighted that:

- In Algeria, there has been no progress in locating or determining the fate of some 4,000 documented cases of Algerians who "disappeared" after being abducted by the security forces since 1992. Government officials have disclosed little beyond inconsistent statistics that downplay the scope of the problem and statements that portray the "disappeared" as persons who for the most part joined or were abducted by armed opposition groups.

- In the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the government and the various rebel and armed groups target civilians and are responsible for egregious abuses, including massacres, rapes and recruitment of child soldiers. Both the Kinshasa government and the rebels fighting to topple it stifle civil society, attack independent journalists and arbitrarily detain and ill-treat dissidents.

- Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi continues to undermine the promised constitutional reform that is needed to bring greater democratization to Kenya. This has left in place a deeply flawed political system with power concentrated in the presidency, insufficient checks on the executive, and a lack of accountability for government and ruling party officials.

- In Saudi Arabia, freedom of expression and association are non-existent. Institutionalized gender discrimination, harsh restrictions on the exercise of religious freedom, and the use of corporal punishment also characterize the kingdom's human rights record. Saudi Arabia has not signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and does not permit local human rights groups or allow international monitors to visit.

- In Syria, most civil and political rights are strictly limited in law and practice. There are no effective safeguards against arbitrary arrest and torture, and no one has been held accountable for hundreds of "disappearances" and deaths under torture. The Kurdish minority continues to be denied basic rights, including in tens of thousands of cases the right to a nationality.

- In Vietnam, the government maintains tight control over freedom of expression and other basic rights. Authorities continue to take strong action against those who criticized the Vietnamese Communist Party and restrict access to areas affected by social unrest.

Human Rights Watch also noted that of the world's five most frequent users of the death penalty, four (China, DRC, Saudi Arabia, and the United States) are on the Commission. Only Iran is not.

The group called on the Commission to press for the establishment of an international observer mission to monitor and report publicly on continuing abuses in Gaza and the West Bank. The organization said that such a presence could itself improve security for civilians while providing the international community with the independent and credible evidence needed to determine if further protective steps are necessary.

Human Rights Watch noted that China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, should not be exempt from criticism by the Commission for its poor and deteriorating human rights record.

Human Rights Watch is an international monitoring group based in New York. It conducts investigations into human rights abuses in more than seventy countries and publishes its findings in dozens of reports every year. It accepts no funding from any government.

For more information, please see:

Chechnya: Renewed Catastrophe (HRW Campaign Page, last updated March 2001) at

and the UN Commission on Human Rights web page at

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