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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No Reason To Boycott Strasbourg

Security Council Secretary Alexander Lebed's decision not to attend the Council of Europe's Sept. 23 hearing on human rights in Chechnya looks like a perfect example of Russia shooting itself in the foot. Why boycott a forum when at last Russia has something good to report?

It took years of negotiation before Russia gained membership in 1996 to the Council of Europe, a worthy but largely symbolic human rights watchdog made up of members of parliament from 39 European countries.

Russia's acceptance into the body was regarded as a sign of its growing responsibility on human rights and was only achieved after the Kremlin proved it was committed to change on human rights issues ranging from capital punishment to living conditions in prisons and to ending the war in Chechnya.

When the Council of Europe first invited Russia to come to Strasbourg to report on human rights in the region, the Russian government was quite rightly happy to cooperate. It was, after all, a chance to tell the world about the new peace deal that had been struck for the region.

But a chorus of opposition to the trip has sprung up in Russia since it was made public that the delegation in Strasbourg would be led by Lebed and Chechen separatist military leader Aslan Maskhadov, Russia's chief partner in the Khasavyurt peace deal.

All of the reasons advanced for blocking this trip seem misguided or plain stupid, especially Lebed's own.

He canceled, he said, because Chechen separatists have embraced the law of the Moslem Shariah which does not comply with the Council of Europe's standards. Well if so, that is an embarrassment for the separatists, not Russia.

The more serious objection seems to be that Maskhadov's presence at an international forum would legitimize the separatists' cause. This is to some extent true, since it suggests that they are something more than the bandit groups that Russia has branded them for much of the past 20 months.

But the Kremlin is now negotiating with the separatists, meaning that they already have some legitimacy. It would be much smarter if Russia allowed Chechen separatists to appear in a Russian delegation to Strasbourg, providing a sign that Russia was willing to take all sides in the Chechen dispute seriously. This would not involve support for independence. But it would ensure that the Chechen view of the conflict is not the only one presented in Strasbourg.

The most worrying aspect of the affair is the impression that Russia rejects any scrutiny of its human rights record by an international body. If that is Moscow's attitude, then it should never have joined the Council of Europe in the first place.