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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Report Criticizes Russia for Chechnya Rights Abuses

The U.S. State Department strongly criticized Russia in its annual human rights report Monday, accusing it of using torture against rebels in Chechnya and of killing secessionists outside normal legal bounds during 2001.

The report, which is compiled by canvassing U.S. diplomatic posts around the world and using information provided by human rights groups, was submitted to key members of Congress on Sunday evening.

Russian officials on Monday defended the government's approach to safeguarding human rights in Chechnya. Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said that ministry experts were still studying the report and had not yet formulated a response. However, he said that the government paid "the utmost attention" to human rights in Chechnya.

"All the law enforcement organs are working in Chechnya, and in cases where there are violations of laws of the Russian Federation, criminal cases are opened and the guilty are punished," Yakovenko told reporters. "There have been quite a number of such cases, and in this regard Chechnya differs in no way from other regions of the Russian Federation where Russian laws have to be followed."

Human rights groups are protesting moves in Germany and other West European countries to deport Chechen refugees refused asylum, arguing that they face discrimination on their return.

German officials ended a six-month freeze on deciding asylum applications by Chechens after the Interior Ministry ruled last May that conditions had improved in the republic. Human rights campaigners say that the first rejected asylum-seekers are now being sent back after exhausting their court appeals.

Germany rejects many Chechens' asylum requests on the grounds that they can move to another part of Russia to avoid returning home. But activists say deportees face difficulties from extortion to torture in other areas, especially cities such as Moscow.

"The way Chechens are treated here is absolutely atrocious," said Diederik Lohman, head of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch. "No self-respecting government should be sending people back."