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STATEMENT BY THE HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS ON HER VISIT TO RUSSIA
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24 February 2006

The following statement was made by Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, at a press conference given today in Moscow as she concludes a visit to Russia which began on 19 February 2006 :


"This is my second visit to the Russian Federation as High Commissioner for Human Rights, my first taking place almost precisely one year ago. It was on that occasion that President Putin invited me to return and specifically to visit the Northern Caucasus to assess for myself the situation in that region.

This past week I have visited Ingushetia, the Chechen Republic and North Ossetia, meeting with the leaders and senior government officials of all three republics.

I have also had the honour of meeting again with President Putin, Foreign Minister Lavrov, the President's special representative for the southern federal district Mr. Kozak, Ombudsman Lukin, as well as the President's advisor on human rights, Ms. Ella Pamfilova. I also briefly visited St. Petersburg, where I met with local officials.

In addition to discussing the situation inside Russia, I had the opportunity to discuss with President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov human rights developments in the world at large, and particularly the much hoped-for, imminent creation of the Human Rights Council.

Wherever I have been this past week, my colleagues and I have been received with immense hospitality, even when conveying difficult messages.

In all places I visited, I met with civil society and was impressed with their professionalism and dedication to the cause of human rights in the Russian Federation. I fully understand and endorse their desire to ensure that their space for action is protected. They raised with me a number of important issues, ranging from the recently passed NGO legislation, to the rise in the number of racist attacks, to brutality in the armed forces. An overarching theme in many of my discussions, from Ingushetia to St. Petersburg, concerned the multitude of human rights problems related to how the country copes with migration to, and inside, the Russian Federation.

After such a short visit, however, it would be presumptuous of me to claim expertise across the spectrum of human rights challenges this country faces. The primary purpose of this mission was to understand more about the situation in the Northern Caucasus, and particularly in Chechnya. It is on this issue that I would like to focus my comments today.

In Chechnya and elsewhere I emphasized to my interlocutors that the Chechen people have many friends throughout the world who support their desire to live in a peaceful society governed by the rule of law. I came in part to convey the distress felt by many who had witnessed the devastation inflicted on the republic and who continue to witness the ongoing violence wrought on its citizens.

I noted that welcome physical reconstruction appeared to be underway in Grozny, and that political structures were being put in place to normalize the situation.

I nonetheless also stressed that I had very serious concerns regarding the integrity of certain institutions, especially in the area of law enforcement. Two phenomena are particularly disturbing: the use of torture to extract confessions and information, and the intimidation of those who make complaints against public officials.

There can be little doubt that these phenomena are more than allegations but have considerable basis in fact. There is a wealth of credible information coming out of Chechnya, together with a number of judgments by the European Court of Human Rights, which highlight the very serious shortcomings of the law enforcement system in the Republic, shortcomings that, in effect, lead to a climate of fear prevailing in Chechnya.

I left Chechnya with the distinct impression that, despite ongoing political and physical reconstruction, the Republic has still not been able to move from a society ruled by force to one governed by the rule of law. I reminded my interlocutors that the ultimate measure of a state's capacity to be governed by the rule of law is its willingness to put constraints on its use of power. In Chechnya, this willingness is not yet apparent.

There is no question that the Federal Authorities are seized with this issue and are aware of the imperative need to assist Chechnya in addressing its very serious shortcomings in this regard. I have offered the support and expertise of my Office in these efforts.

Last year, in outlining his vision for the future of the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan asserted that there can be no development without security, no security without development and that neither is possible without full respect for human rights. I suggest to you that the situation in the Chechen Republic fully bears this out."
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For use of the information media; not an official record