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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

PACE Backs a Chechnya Tribunal

In a sharp rebuke to Russia, European lawmakers on Wednesday agreed that a war crimes tribunal for Chechnya should be formed if Moscow fails to take a tougher stance on human rights violations in the republic.

Lawmakers in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted 97-27 in support of a resolution paving the way for the tribunal modeled on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Ten lawmakers abstained.

The resolution, drafted by PACE's human rights rapporteur for Chechnya, German lawmaker Rudolf Bindig, criticizes both Russian troops and Chechen rebels for human rights abuses committed in the republic.

The vote infuriated Russian officials, who have strongly opposed the idea of a tribunal since Bindig first raised it about three weeks ago.

"There won't be a tribunal on Chechnya, and there won't be PACE in Chechnya as well. None of their representatives will travel to the republic," Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the Russian delegation to PACE, said in televised remarks from Strasbourg, France.

"We will use today's vote to close the issue of Chechnya in PACE once and for all," he said.

"Raising the issue of setting up some tribunal is absolutely out of place," said Akhmad Kadyrov, the head of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration.

The head of the Federation Council's foreign affairs committee, Mikhail Margelov, said PACE does not reflect the current reality of Europe and should be reformed. Russia will submit reform proposals shortly, he said, without elaborating.

Bindig delivered a harsh report to the Parliamentary Assembly that accused both Chechen rebels and Russian troops for human rights abuses. "Impunity encourages further human rights abuses," he was quoted by Interfax as saying.

Bindig, citing documents from the Russian Prosecutor General's Office, said prosecutors have opened only 162 cases concerning crimes committed against Chechen civilians since the ongoing conflict began in late 1999. Of those cases, only 57 have been sent to court.

"In the majority of the cases, the final verdicts are not issued and guilty parties are not identified," Bindig said.

Bindig, who Russian officials have accused of sympathizing with the rebels, sharply criticized the rebels for carrying out attacks on pro-Russian Chechens and for the hostage-taking raid on the Moscow theater in October.

In the resolution passed Wednesday, PACE calls on Chechen rebels to immediately stop terrorist activities and denounce all forms of crime. The Russian government is urged to take tougher measures to ensure that troops do not commit human rights abuses and to severely prosecute servicemen found guilty of abuses, regardless of their rank.

The resolution says that if Russia fails to step up efforts to bring guilty parties to justice, PACE will recommend to the international community that a war crimes tribunal be set up for Chechnya.

President Vladimir Putin's envoy on human rights in Chechnya told PACE earlier this week that a tribunal would torpedo Moscow's hopes for bringing peace to the republic and compromise last month's constitutional referendum.

"The idea of a tribunal is being supported by the destructive forces opposed to a political settlement in Chechnya," Abdulkhakim-Sultygov said.

Bindig cast doubt on the referendum in his report to PACE. The constitution, which subordinates Chechnya to federal law, was approved by an astounding 96 percent of voters on March 23, according to election officials. Turnout was about 85 percent.

Bindig said he doubted such a high turnout was possible in the war-torn republic. He also pointed to criticism from Russian human rights groups about new names being added to voter lists at the last minute and about the large number of soldiers and their families who were allowed to cast ballots.

Bindig said it would be an "illusion" to believe that the situation in Chechnya would go back to normal after the referendum without prosecutors and courts boosting their efforts to punish war criminals.