Activists Say West Turns a Blind Eye

APAlexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, holding a copy of the group's annual report on human rights released Tuesday.
Police torture suspects and disregard a rising tide of nationalist violence, while abuse of Chechen civilians rages unchecked -- and Western governments are partly to blame for ignoring the problems, a human rights group said Tuesday.

The Moscow Helsinki Group, a respected human rights watchdog, criticized the West's silence following President Vladimir Putin's backing to anti-terrorism operations after Sept. 11 as a cynical exchange, leaving activists in Russia without powerful Western supporters.

"The integration of Russia into the anti-terror coalition became a pardon of violations by Western democracies," Lyudmila Alexeyeva, who heads the group, said Tuesday. "This ally that we had in Western governments, the United States, European Union, Canada, is immeasurably less of an ally now."

In one example, she said German colleagues have reduced support for Russian human rights groups since Sept. 11, saying it is no longer the priority it once was. Alexeyeva's colleague Tatyana Loshkina accused the United Nations of allowing Chechnya to "drop off the agenda."

The war in the breakaway republic occupied a large chunk of the Moscow Helsinki Group's 470-page annual report on human rights released Tuesday.

It accused federal troops of forming death squads that target Chechen men with no proven rebel ties, torturing civilians and ransacking Chechen homes.

The Helsinki Group dismissed Russian officials' stance that they are fighting terrorists in Chechnya -- a position that U.S. officials started backing after Sept. 11. "In fact ... the opponents are separatists," the report said.

Beyond Chechnya's borders, the rights report said, the most alarming new trend over the past year was the rise of racist and anti-Semitic violence.

The report said racist violence is "the result of a sense of impunity for this type of behavior," and accused police of overlooking -- and in some cases taking part in -- such attacks.

The report also accused police of continued torture of crime suspects, and outlined government pressure on outspoken journalists.

Alexeyeva slammed a new anti-extremism law, saying it is so broad that even the Moscow Helsinki Group could qualify as "extremist" and be persecuted for its opposition views.