#2 - JRL 7218
April 2, 2003
SOLDIERS, REBELS, AND TERRORISTS
Russian human rights advocates comment on the US State Department report
Author: Vladimir Dzaguto
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]
THE US STATE DEPARTMENT HAS RELEASED ITS ANNUAL REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHTS AROUND THE WORLD, AS AT 2002. AS USUAL, RUSSIA IS FEATURED PROMINENTLY IN THE REPORT, ALTHOUGH NOTHING RADICALLY NEW WAS SAID, AND THE OVERALL RHETORIC HAS SOFTENED.
The US State Department has released its annual report on human rights around the world, as at 2002. Secretary of State Colin Powell said at a conference before the report was released that the regime of "Saddam Hussein is a classical example of the fact that regimes guilty of severe human rights abuses tend to threaten the rest of the world and international stability."
As usual, Russia is featured prominently in the report, although nothing radically new was said about our country. As before, the major problem with human rights in Russia is Chechnya. Besides, the US State Department has been concerned about the Russian electronic media for the past three years, as they "continue losing their independence". On the other hand, there were certain achievements: in particular, the US is satisfied with the new Criminal Code which came into effect recently.
Besides, there was less criticism of violations of the rights of religious minorities, and the conditions in Russian prisons slightly improved.
As for Chechnya, the complaints of the US analysts are the same: federal soldiers kill and arrest local residents without trial or investigation; many of those detained go missing; clean-up operations in Chechen villages continue; soldiers and officers are not punished for their crimes. As previous reports have done, this year's report devotes much more attention to the federal forces than to the Chechen guerrillas; it seems no theater hostage-takings or bombings of government buildings can correct this imbalance. On the other hand, there has been some progress: the US State Department has finally admitted that guerrillas provoke clean-up operations by carrying out terrorist acts in Chechen villages. Besides, while last year's report described Chechen guerrillas with the neutral term "fighters", this year they are defined as "rebels". The State Department has dared to use the word "terrorists" only once, in describing the Nord-Ost theater hostage-taking; but the building of the Chechen government in Grozny - where, according to Americans, "over 80 people died, mostly civilians" - was blown up by "rebels". These terms demonstrate that the US is still not always prepared to consider "Al Qaeda terrorists" and "Chechen rebels" equal.
SOME LEADING HUMAN RIGHT ADVOCATES DISCUSS THEIR RESPONSE TO THE STATE DEPARTMENT REPORT
Ella Pamfilova, chairwoman of the presidential human rights commission:
I think the saying "That's his guilty conscience speaking" is very appropriate here. Currently, the whole world order is on the verge of destruction - and unfortunately, the US has a great deal to do with it. I do not want to justify the violations that take place in Chechnya, we know and speak about them. However, Americans soldiers shot at a minivan carrying women and children, and the US leadership has ordered soldiers to fire at the slightest danger.
That is why I think the US does not have a moral right to issue such a report now. I am especially surprised by their criticism of the Russian media: currently, the Americans have become real Bolsheviks in that respect.
Ludmila Alekseeva, chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group:
It is a quite adequate report, competently written - the Americans know what the human rights situation is like in every country. The report has nothing to do with the events in Iraq - some are fighting in Iraq, while others write the report. The report is part of the usual routine, and they started writing it long before the Iraqi war began. The State Department has issued such reports every year since the Carter era, and they are devoted to the situation in countries with which the US has diplomatic relations. The US decided under Carter that it would structure its relations with other countries depending on the extent to which human rights are observed there. Unfortunately, this rule is no longer observed in the US. For instance, Turkey violates human rights, but as it's a NATO member, the US is on good terms with this country. In the past, the report was very tough on the Soviet Union; now, their rhetoric is more mild.
Yuly Rybakov, independent Duma member, a member of the Duma commission for aiding political settlement and observing human rights in Chechnya, a member of the presidential commission for finding and liberating hostages, chairman of the subcommittee for human rights:
I agree with the evidence and assessments in the report concerning our actions in Chechnya. On the other hand, there is the matter of removing the beam of wood from your own eye before removing a splinter from somebody else's eye. Today, the US has become the same kind of insane criminal in Iraq as we are in Chechnya. Now, we are equal.
(Translated by Arina Yevtikhova )