Russia

U.N. Rights Chief Robinson Heads for Chechnya

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By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. rights chief Mary Robinson left on Friday for a five-day visit to Russia that will include visits to Chechen detention camps where human rights groups say Moscow's troops have tortured and beaten civilians.

Robinson, who has also denounced alleged executions of civilians in the rebel region, is due to report back to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights holding its annual session in Geneva.

She is due to fly by helicopter to the devastated Chechen capital Grozny on Sunday after visiting teeming refugee camps in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia on Saturday.

''There are still discussions about which filtration camps she will be going to in Chechnya,'' said her spokesman, Jose Diaz.

Humanitarian groups which have entered Chechnya during Russia's six-month military campaign against separatist rebels, including Human Rights Watch and Medecins du Monde, have said civilians were tortured in detention centers or ''filtration camps.'' The groups charge the violations amount to war crimes.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has reported that 130 civilians were killed by Moscow's troops between December and February in three incidents in the village of Alkhan-Yurt and in two Grozny districts.

On Thursday, President-elect Vladimir Putin agreed for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit detainees in Chechnya including Chernokozovo camp north of Grozny, where torture and beatings have been reported.

ICRC chief Jakob Kellenberger, whose Geneva-based humanitarian agency has been seeking access to the detainees, won the pledge from Putin. The ICRC, which has been providing food and hospital supplies to Chechen refugees, is also to provide humanitarian aid to 30,000 residents in Chechnya.

Robinson, a former president of Ireland, will hold high-level talks in Moscow before and after her trip to Chechnya, but her spokesman said it was not clear whether she would meet Putin.

''We've asked for a meeting with him,'' Diaz told Reuters.

On Monday she is expected to express her concerns in talks with Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, and on Tuesday to Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Justice Minister Yuri Chaika.

Both the United States and European Union have criticised violations in Chechnya at the main United Nations human rights forum, whose six-week session ends on April 28.

However, none of the 53 member states has signaled yet that it will table a resolution condemning Russia, and many say they will wait for Robinson's report before deciding how to proceed.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Harold Hongju Koh, told the U.N. meeting on Thursday: ''We are encouraged that the U.N. High Commissioner is in Russia and we look forward to hearing her report and considering appropriate Commission action when she returns.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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