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Moscow Times
April 2, 2003
Soldiers and Chechen Rebels Criticized in U.S. Report
By Nabi Abdullaev
Staff Writer

The United States praised Russia's new Criminal Procedure Code but criticized Moscow for stepping on press freedoms and violations in Chechnya in its annual human rights report. The report for the first time was critical of Chechen rebels as well.

The findings, which U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell presented to Congress on Monday, are part of a broader report tracking human rights in 196 countries. Congress uses the findings to help determine how much U.S. security and trade assistance to grant those countries.

The Criminal Procedure Code that went into force in July "permitted for the first time the application of the existing constitutional provisions that only upon a judicial decision could individuals be arrested, taken into custody or detained," said the 33,500-word section on Russia.

The number of criminal cases opened by prosecutors dropped by 25 percent, while the number of suspects placed in pretrial detention fell by 30 percent, according to the report. Early indications show the law effectively was discouraging police from mistreating jailed suspects, the report said, citing human rights advocates.

The report also praised Russia for moving to adopt legislation banning human trafficking, but criticized lawmakers for not taking similar steps to ban torture, which thrived in prisons in 2002.

The State Department slammed both Russian troops and Chechen rebels for the indiscriminate killing of civilians. In previous reports, only Russian forces were criticized over Chechnya.

The United States has softened its stance on Chechnya after the Moscow theater crisis and the recent Chechen constitutional referendum, said Valentin Gefter, head of the nongovernmental Institute of Human Rights.

"A government evaluation always has a political component, and in the view of the U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq, the political correctness of the U.S. powers that be in evaluating the human rights climate in Russia is particularly strong," he said. "In a similar report on Russia that was compiled last year by the leading U.S. human rights watchdog, Human Rights Watch, criticism of the Russian government over Chechnya was a strong as ever."

The U.S. government added three Chechen rebel groups to its list of terrorist organizations last month, saying their leaders are linked to al-Qaida. The "Nord-Ost" hostage-takers were identified as "members of Chechen terrorist groups" in the State Department report.

Direct and indirect government pressure continued to weaken the independence of the Russian media, the report said. It referred to incidents of officials denying journalists access to information, especially in Chechnya, and demanding the right to censor stories before publication. In other cases, officials withheld financial support from state-owned media that exercised independent editorial judgement and attempted to influence the appointment of senior editors, the report said.

The Press Ministry called the report shortsighted, saying in a statement that it "sarcastically regards the attempts of the U.S. foreign policy organ to picture Russia as a country where free press is absent," Interfax reported.

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