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European human rights commissioner says Chechnya is in transition to normality
Source: Ekho Moskvy radio, Moscow, in Russian 0910 gmt 30 Oct 01

In an interview on Russian Ekho Moskvy radio on 30 October, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, Alvaro Gil-Robles, said he thought now was the time to reinforce human rights observance in Chechnya because there was now a real desire for peace. He said it was most important for the legal system in Chechnya to work properly so that no crimes or human rights violations go unpunished. An excerpt from the interview follows:

[Interviewer] This is Aleksey Venediktov at the microphone. Our guest is the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, Alvaro Gil-Robles. Welcome.

[Gil-Robles, speaking in French followed by consecutive Russian translation] Hello.

[Interviewer] Let us begin with the latest news that we have received from a public opinion institution, on Russians' attitudes to what is happening in Chechnya. We have just heard that 40 per cent of Russians think that the situation will remain the same as now, while 34 per cent think that the situation will become more acute. Only 12 per cent think the situation will calm down. After your talks at the Foreign Ministry and at the State Duma and so on, to which school of thought do you belong?

[Gil-Robles] I think that, above all, one must always work for the sake of hope, for the sake of hope for the better and against hope ceasing to be. For many years now, my work has always been aimed at improving the situation in Chechnya, at halting the suffering of the Chechen people, and so that the Russians too, many of whom are suffering because of the situation in Chechnya, could feel better. I think that a good time has now arrived for us to strengthen our work on human rights observance and for peace.

[Interviewer] Why is now a good time?

[Gil-Robles] I think that this is primarily a good time because part of Chechen civic society has been reconstructed. And because many people in Chechnya and Russia now really want the war and combat actions to end. They really want peace. And because the refugees really do want to return home and really want to work to reconstruct their land. And it is our duty to work to this end...

[Interviewer] Many people in Russia compare what is happening in Chechnya with what is happening in Afghanistan. Have you thought of such comparisons - the civilians there are also suffering, but the Western countries, the USA and its allies, support military action. So why does the Council of Europe, which comprises all of the European countries, not support similar actions in Chechnya? Is this double standards, as is sometimes said in Russia?

[Gil-Robles] You know, I would say that these two things are not comparable. And I have always been against any violence, any military action. And I am always working to help prevent violence... I think that all democrats in the whole world, and Russian democrats naturally, are against any kind of fanaticism. They are against totalitarianism, against desires to impose a decision on anybody by military methods...

[Interviewer] Many people in Russia think that Europe wants Chechnya to be independent of Russia and that Europe is on the side of Chechnya in the conflict between Russia and a part of Russia, the Chechen Republic. What is the stance of the Council of Europe on this?

[Gil-Robles] Firstly, I would like to give my own personal stance in my capacity of Council of Europe human rights commissioner. We have always said that no-one is casting doubt on the integrity of the territory of the Russian Federation. And personally, I never discuss issues of the future political system of the Chechen Republic, what degree of autonomy it will have and so on. That is not in my remit. That is for other bodies to decide. But this is what is important - all the citizens of the Chechen Republic, all citizens of the Russian Federation are protected by the European convention on human rights. But when human rights violations under the European convention occur on the territory of Council of Europe countries, this comes under the duties of the human rights commissioner. I would like to remind everyone, the governments, and those who violate human rights, of their responsibilities under the convention and of their responsibilities in general...

[Interviewer] And another question, maybe the most important one right now. What is the legal authority in Chechnya now? There is the federal authority, which is entirely legal. But the local authority - we know that, for example, [separatist leader Aslan] Maskhadov was elected president, but his term has expired. On the other hand, the current authority has been appointed rather than elected. And so, the people could not have their say as to which local authority they want within the framework of the Russian Federation. What can be done regarding this?

[Gil-Robles] You know, the main thing that should be campaigned for is the end of the violence, any violence from any side. Then, it is necessary for all bodies of administration, both local and federal, to respect and observe human rights in their work. And it is necessary for all groups advocating or using violence to halt their activities. It is necessary for the legal system to work as it should, so that not a single crime, not a single violation goes unpunished. This is very important for the security of the people. After this, political normalization is needed so that the Chechen and Russian people resolve matters, so that elections are held. This depends on the attitudes and opinions of the public. This is just the transition to a normal life.

[Interviewer] From your personal point of view, from the point of view of the Council of Europe, is there a legal local authority in Chechnya? Not federal, but local. Who for you is the legal authority? For you, who represents the people apart from the Russian federal authority?

[Gil-Robles] I think that at this moment everything there is temporary. And they are trying to return to a normal way of life. And we should work towards normalization. It is necessary for the courts to work. This is very important. It is necessary for the health care agencies to function, hospitals, schools, for houses to be built, for refugees to be able to return without fearing arrest at any corner. It is necessary to create a climate of peace - not violence, but dialogue...

[Interviewer] Our guest on Ekho Moskvy was the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, Alvaro Gil-Robles. Thank-you, Mr Gil-Robles.

[Gil-Robles] Thank-you.

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