Caucasus Seen Facing Turmoil

Chechnya is making progress on human rights, but Dagestan and Ingushetia may plunge into violence, a senior European human rights official said Friday.

Money is being spent on new schools and hospitals, and many refugees are returning to Chechnya, Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, said after visiting the North Caucasus earlier in the week.

He told President Vladimir Putin on Friday that some issues remained in the region, even though there had been no new reports of torture in Chechen jails for more than a year and kidnappings were less common.

"This [meeting with Putin] was focused on Chechnya and the missing persons there," Hammarberg said at a news conference. There are 3,000 people missing in Chechnya, he said, while about 50 mass graves had been unearthed there.

"We know that quite a number of those [missing] were killed, and they probably are those who are found in those graves," he said. "What I told President Putin was that … it will be difficult to go into the future if this problem is left unresolved."

Hammarberg said many Chechen security officials had been replaced in the past year and that interrogation methods had improved.

But while Chechnya is improving, Islamic insurgents have stepped up attacks on local governments in neighboring Dagestan and Ingushetia, Hammarberg said.

"Sometimes security forces use more violence than they should, and they are also careless when it comes to protecting civilians, which creates bitterness which makes it easier for insurgents to recruit new supporters," he said.

"There is a risk there of a vicious cycle which will lead to an increase in violence," he said. "My message to both [Dagestani and Ingush] presidents really was … to ensure that all the law enforcement forces are very careful about not using methods that hurt civilians or violate human rights."

Hammarberg also met President-elect Dmitry Medvedev on Friday. "I didn't want to hold him responsible [for violence in the North Caucasus], so it was intended to be more a discussion about the future," he said.