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Powell Urged on U.S. Support of Strong Resolution on Chechnya

Washington – In a letter to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, five members of the U.S. Helsinki Commission have urged the United States to press for the adoption of a strong resolution on the ongoing conflict in Chechnya, now entering its fifth year of human rights tragedies. 

Signing the letter were Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Commissioner Senator Gordon H. Smith (R-OR), Commissioners Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA).

“As the United States prepares for the 60th session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, we urge that the United States delegation in Geneva press for the adoption of a strong resolution on the ongoing conflict in Chechnya, entering its fifth year,” the Commissioners wrote.  “We believe that the situation in Chechnya represents the most egregious violation of international humanitarian law in the OSCE region.”

Referring to the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2003, the Commissioners noted that “the Government’s record remained poor in the continuing struggle with separatists in Chechnya, where federal security forces demonstrated little respect for basic human rights…” and that “efforts to ‘normalize’ Chechnya such as the March constitutional referendum and the flawed presidential elections in November will prove meaningless unless Moscow takes conscientious and effective steps to uphold the rule of law and protect human rights.”

The letter also calls for condemnation of human rights violations perpetrated by Chechen insurgents.

“Mr. Secretary, you have stated, and we agree fully, that a world in which every person can exercise fundamental freedoms is a world in which terrorism cannot thrive,” the letter concludes.  “We view a strong resolution on Chechnya at the UNCHR as consistent with that principle and urge strong U.S. leadership in Geneva to put this principle into action.”

In response to reports that the European Union intended to submit a resolution on Chechnya at the UNCHR (as it has in previous years), the Russian Foreign Ministry has labeled such a step as “inappropriate” and “untimely.”   At the opening session of the meeting on March 15, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer called upon the Russian Government to protect human rights in the northern Caucasus and to bring human rights violators in the region to justice.

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.

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