(Washington) - Four Members of the United States Helsinki Commission are among the growing chorus of those urging President George W. Bush to raise the issue of human rights abuse in Chechnya during his meeting this weekend with Russian President Vladimir Putin at Camp David.
"In their drive to suppress Chechen separatism, elements of the Russian military, security organs and police forces have employed brutal means and virtually guaranteed to drive a despairing civilian population into the arms of a radicalized resistance," the Commissioners wrote in a September 12 letter to Bush. "Today, the most egregious violations of international humanitarian law in the OSCE region are occurring in that region of Russia," they stressed.
Signing the letter to President Bush were Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Commissioner Senator Russell D. Feingold (D-WI).
The Commissioners said they wholeheartedly support U.S. efforts to work with the Russian Government on issues facing the two nations, including the war against terrorism. "Nevertheless, the charge of terrorism must never be used as a blanket rationalization for flagrant and massive abuse of Chechnya's civilian population," they wrote. "Indeed, a fundamental tenet of humanitarian law is that the means of warfare are not unlimited."
The Commissioners also noted that certain elements of the Chechen resistance have murdered hostages, kidnaped civilians for ransom and used them as shields during combat operations, and embarked on a campaign of assassination against innocent citizens of Russia as well as fellow Chechens who work for the Russian civil government in Chechnya. "They should be brought to justice, wherever they are and whomever they serve," wrote the Commissioners.
The full text of the letter as well as the transcript of the Commission's September 16 hearing on Chechnya are available on the Helsinki Commission's web site at www.csce.gov.
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.