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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Assembly Censures Russia Over Chechnya

By Sarah Karush

The Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly Thursday voted to censure Moscow over Chechnya but backed away from threats to suspend Russia from the 41-nation human rights organization.

The decision came after Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov defended Russia's position before the assembly in Strasbourg, France, and denied the military campaign was violating Chechens' human rights.

"To violate human rights, they have to exist. Can any one of you say that a single norm of the Council of Europe existed there in the past years?" Ivanov said, Reuters reported.

The argument was similar to the one he used in a letter sent earlier this month to the council's secretary-general. The letter, which has not been made public, was obtained this week by The Moscow Times.

The assembly approved a report demanding that Russia stop attacks on civilians, begin talks with Chechen authorities and improve access to Chechnya for humanitarian agencies, international monitors and media. Failure to meet those demands by April would "inevitably necessitate" a review of Russia's membership in the Council of Europe.

Some members had proposed immediate expulsion or suspension of voting rights for the 36 Russian legislators, but these proposals were rejected 83 to 71 with nine abstentions. Only 163 of the 572 members of the assembly participated in the vote, The Associated Press reported.

In his Jan. 10 response to the council's inquiry on how the European Convention on Human Rights was being applied in Chechnya, Ivanov did not mention reports of indiscriminate bombings or abuses by federal troops.

Instead, most of the 13-page letter deals with Russia's reasons for intervening in the first place.

Ivanov put the brunt of the blame for the conflict on Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, who he said refused to cooperate with Moscow authorities despite their desire to negotiate. Ivanov also said Maskhadov's authority was of "doubtful legitimacy."

Many experts on the region say Moscow failed to do enough to support Maskhadov, who after his election in 1997 was unable to bring the powerful rebel commanders under his control. Moscow refused Maskhadov's offers of talks before federal troops marched into Chechnya last fall.

Ivanov criticized Maskhadov's introduction of Shariah Islamic law, "reverting modern society to the system of barbaric penalties such as mutilation by cutting fingers and limbs even for minor crimes."

While Russian authorities insist they are carrying out an "anti-terrorist operation," the scale of the combat is of a full-blown war. Ivanov said the rebels were too well-armed and well-trained for a conventional secret service response.

Ivanov said the operation "is not aimed against the civilian population" and everything is being done to minimize civilian casualties.

But he added: "Naturally, in conducting a military operation of such a scale, casualties among the civilian population cannot be fully avoided."

Ivanov also refers to Article Two of the convention, which guarantees the right to life except "when it results from the use of force which is no more than absolutely necessary ... in action lawfully taken for the purpose of quelling a riot or insurrection."

Ivanov said troops were trained to have "a humane attitude toward the civilian population." The military prosecutor's office has opened 129 criminal cases within the federal troops, he said.

Ivanov said the government had allotted 102 million rubles ($3.57 million) from the 1999 budget and 3 billion rubles from the 2000 budget for "restoration of the social and economic infrastructure" in Chechnya.

The letter provides the latest statistics on refugees. As of Dec. 20, there were 267,600 registered, it says. The government has allocated 272 million rubles from its reserve fund for refugees.

Meanwhile, international organizations have allocated even more money. According to the letter, the Red Cross has requested 18 million Swiss francs (about $12 million) from governments and other donors. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which at the end of December dispatched its 19th convoy of humanitarian aid to Ingushetia, has already spent $4.5 million out of the $7.9 million it has raised from donor governments.


Excerpts from Ivanov's Jan. 10 letter to the Council of Europe:

The prinicipal aim of the anti-terrorist operation carried out by the federal authorities in the Chechen republic is to bring it back from the darkness of bandit lawlessness into the legal framework of the Russian Federation and the European legal space including the one guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights ...

During the whole period since the signing of the ... Khasavyurt Agreement the federal authorities patiently worked for its implementation, looking for every opportunity to restore law and order in the Chechen republic by peaceful means. ... A. Maskhadov was repeatedly invited to disassociate himself from criminal structures and terrorist elements, to take steps to stop their illegal activities. But he was unwilling to do so ...

The federal troops in Chechnya are not confronted by separate terrorist groups but by a well-armed and trained army of some 25,000 men (including up to 2,000 foreign mercenaries). They are equipped with 28 battle tanks, 61 armored personnel carriers, 14 anti-aircraft guns, a battery of Grad multiple-launch rocket systems, 20 152 mm guns and 120 mm mortars, a considerable number of 82 mm mortars, hand-held anti-tank grenade launchers, anti-tank missiles, man-portable air defense systems, various types of small arms, including some of large caliber, and also satellite communication systems."