April 10, 2000 Geneva

in response to
Statement by Mary Robinson, High Commissioner for Human Rights, to the
56th Session of the Commission on Human Rights under Item 4:
Report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and follow up to the World Conference on Human Rights (Geneva, 5th April 2000)

My name is Alexey Korotaev and I am the permanent Geneva representative of the International League for Human Rights.

1.  An International Commission of Inquiry:  We affirm the importance of an international commission of inquiry into the allegations of war crimes and other atrocities in the North Caucasus. We note that in the last century, neither Soviet nor Russian agencies of justice have ever mounted a credible prosecutor's investigation and judicial trial of any type of massive human rights violations on their own (political rehabilitation, or exoneration, has been the preferred mode in dealing with the legacy of past oppression.)  Not a single prosecution of a serious war crime was made with regard to the last Chechen war (1994-1996).  While several cases from the current Chechen conflict are ostensibly being investigated by the civilian prosecutor general's office, we note that since 1991, not a single case of a journalist, clergyman, parliamentarian, banker, or other public figure assassinated in Russia has been prosecuted, nor have perpetrators been brought to justice.

1.1 Domestic Independent Commission of Inquiry  Nevertheless, we support the efforts of the High Commissioner to foster a independent national commission of inquiry. Historically, and in the present day, there has never been a case where an international commission of inquiry has been permitted to work meaningfully and for any length of time on Russian territory without hindrance.

Therefore, we make the following recommendations for an independent national commission, based on our extensive consultation with our local NGO members and partners in Russia:  Such a commission should contain persons of eminence and credibility in Russia, as well as independent Russian legal specialists who can publicly provide assurances, both to the Russian public and the international community, that their inquiry is impartial and unbiased. In this regard, we welcome the High Commissioner's validation of local Russian NGOs such as Memorial Human Rights Center and Soldiers' Mothers Committee, and we propose that such Moscow-based NGO specialists also be included in the national commission, and that they make frequent consultation with Ingush and Chechen NGOs and other local specialists.

1.2  Independence of National Commission.   Such a domestic independent commission should be constituted separately from existing official and quasi-official bodies of the state  and the armed forces.  It will work in cooperation with, but independent from, existing appointed bodies such as the Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for ensuring human and civil rights and freedoms in the Chechen Republic  (Vladimir Kalamanov) and the ombudsman's office (Oleg Mironov).  Its mandate will be to review materials, supply them to the relevant authorities, and maintain oversight of such authorities until such time as a credible judicial proceeding can be established.

1.3  International Facilitation and Protection of National Commission.  A domestic inquiry does not mean that the international community withdraws its involvement or remains indifferent. We note that deployment of a domestic inquiry under Russian conditions in fact will  require from international human rights bodies even more scrutiny, vigorous effort, and stamina than an international commission if it is to be effective.  We would urge that the obligation of states should be kept in mind to protect human rights monitors under human rights treaties and the "Defenders' Resolution" passed by the General Assembly in December 1998. If a domestic inquiry is to be initiated and is to function effectively, it  will require from international human rights representatives constant encouragement, assistance, and verification of facts.  It will also require preventative and protective measures in the form of both public statements and private interventions to keep independent investigators from harm.  A domestic inquiry will require constant advocacy by the High Commissioner and other concerned international bodies if it is to gain entry to all persons and facilities and locations without fear of reprisal.

2.  Priorities of the National Commission.  In the Chechen conflict, egregious violations of human rights and humanitarian law have been committed by both sides of the conflict. However, the actions of the federal forces have caused a greater number of victims among the civilian population and the magnitude of the material damage caused by federal forces is incomparably greater.  Moreover, while the Commission is increasingly concerned with the abuses of non-state actors around the world, its primary mandate is to review the compliance of states with international instruments. The federal forces in Chechnya -- armed forces under the Russian Ministry of Defense, Interior Ministry troops, special Interior Ministry forces (OMON), and police -- are all under command of the  government of the Russia Federation.  The Russian state, in signing a number of international legal documents, undertook the obligation to comply with international human rights. That circumstance makes the allegations of disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by federal forces particularly grave and means they merit priority in the investigation.
3.  Access for Special Procedures.   While we affirm the importance of a credible international commission, we note that a coordinated team of Special Rapporteurs and other Represenatives and experts constitute a virtual international commission, and in fact, their degree of access is a litmus test for the Russian government's intentions regarding either a domestic or international commission of inquiry. The internationally-recognized thematic mechanisms, approved by all the members of the Commission, have travelled to many countries of the world in various regions, including all the permanent five members of the Security Council.  They have worked as a team in such situations as East Timor, where international and domestic commissions were also eventually deployed. The Special Rapporteur on Torture has travelled to the Russian Federation in the past and reported to the Commission (E/CN.4/1995/34/Add.1,  16 November 1994).

3.1  Accordingly, we call on the Russian government to issue invitations immediately to the persons mandated in these special procedures, and to ensure that they can work freely and safely to fulfill their mandates:

1. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions.
2. Special Rapporteur on Torture
3. Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women
4. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
5. Representative to the Secretary General on Internally Displaced Persons
6. Special Representative to the Secretary General on Children in Armed Conflict

(On 3 March, 2000 an urgent appeal was launched by the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, the Chairman-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions and the Special Rapporteur on Torture, calling on the Russian Federation to investigate allegations of arbitrary detention, extrajudicial,  summary or arbitrary executions, torture and violence against women in Chechnya.  In December 1999, urgent inquiries had also been made by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons and the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions.  See annex to the High Commissioners April 5 report to the CHR.)

(The Commission has just adopted without a vote a resolution on the strengthening of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (E/CN.4/2000/L.3/Rev. 1), in which it reaffirmed the importance of ensuring universality, objectivity and non-selectivity in the consideration of human rights issues. In this regard we note that only one special rapporteur (torture) has visited Russia in the nine years since the 1991 failed coup. During this period, thematic special rapporteurs with mandates from the Commission on Human Rights visited the other permanent members of the Security Council repeatedly, e.g. United States three times (summary executions, religious intolerance, and violence against women), United Kingdom twice (education, independence of judiciary.)

4.  National Justice Machinery.  Ultimately, an international commission, even if successful, cannot take the place of a credible and independent national commission, which, in turn, cannot supplant the proper and credible functioning of the office of the military and civilian prosecutors and the courts.  A national commission is only designed to enhance, encourage, and oversee the effective functioning of the internal justice machinery, and to provide a focal point for citizens with complaints.

Accordingly, we urge the national commission to institute regular and effective liaison with the civilian and military prosecutors' offices, and we urge the prosecutorial authorities to provide maximum cooperation with the independent national commission of inquiry.  The national commission should also meet regularly with the office of the representative on Chechnya (Kalamanov) and the ombudsman (Mironov) to exchange information.

5.  Focus and Division of Labor Within the National Commission.  The independent national commission should both initiate its own inquiries and respond to complaints from citizens and local and international NGOs. It should divide between at least two persons the functions of 1) investigating complaints about Russian Federation armed forces and 2) investigating complaints related to Chechen rebel forces or foreign mercenaries.  Through frequent public interviews in the media, the commission should make clear that its function is not related to social and economic rights (i.e. social work related to medical care, housing, and pensions) -- separate commissions or offices of existing ministries should be established for these urgent needs.

We note the importance of corroborated testimonies of internally displaced persons, particularly under circumstances when either domestic or international rapporteurs are unable to gain access to certain areas.

6.  Coordination of International Organizations.  Given the well-known tendency for venue-shopping, the complexities of the Chechen conflict, the logistical difficulties of both travel and security, and the pattern of taking of hostages whether literally or figuratively, it is vital that both international and domestic inquiries maintain a high degree of coordination and collaboration between each other, sharing reports regularly, and that international organizations involved in assisting or performing investigations maintain a high degree of cooperation and coordination with each other. We welcome the two tripartite statements made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the OSCE (Secretary General and High Commissioner for Nationalities, respectively), and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe on December 8, 1999 and February 25, 2000.

6.1 Currently, the Council of Europe is planning to second three experts to the office of the Russian special representative on Chechnya (Kalamanov), yet it is not known how the travel ban placed on PACE could affect this operation, or how quickly the expert team will be approved by the Russian Foreign Ministry and budgeted by the Council. OSCE Office of Democracy and Human Rights Institutions (ODIHR)  has also made an agreement with Mr. Kalamanov regarding technical assistance, and the OSCE chair-in-office is also working to secure its OSCE Assistance Group mandate in Chechnya. The COE's Committee on the Prevention of Torture (CPT) has also worked in the region, and the ICRC is currently gaining access to detention facilities.

6.2  All of these efforts are welcome, but none should supplant an independent national commission of inquiry. Most importantly, constant coordination is required by all parties investigating allegations in order to avoid re-traumatization of victims, and a constant stream of fact-finders who offer no real remedy.

7.  Keeping in mind all these principles, we call on the members of the Commission on Human Rights to adopt a resolution 1) calling on the Russian Federation to cooperate with the Commission's special procedures by inviting the special rapporteurs and representatives to visit Russia and have free access to all persons and facilities; 2) urging international facilitation of and assistance to a Russian national commission of inquiry; and 3) specifying cooperation among all international organizations involved in human rights investigations in the North Caucasus.