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UN human rights chief invited by Russian authorities to visit Chechnya

UN human rights chief invited by Russian authorities to visit Chechnya

Louise Arbour
The top United Nations human rights official has been invited by Russian authorities to visit Chechnya, where the Government is embroiled in a long-running war with separatists and where, according to a UN expert, the State is confronted with the challenge of ensuring security whilst observing human rights.

At the end of a four-day visit to Moscow, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said Russian President Vladimir Putin had invited her to visit the Northern Caucasus region, including Chechnya, during her next visit to Russia, which she hoped to make “in the near future.”

She added that her Office would establish a presence in Russia. “Through our now closer contact with the Government of Russia, we hope to work on developing a series of concrete, practical programmes designed to bring about tangible benefits to the enjoyment of human rights in this country,” she said on Sunday.

“Such programmes will need to focus on the whole range of human rights: not simply the civil and political but also the economic, social and cultural.”

The need to safeguard human rights while ensuring security in Chechnya was stressed by the UN Commission on Human Rights' Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Yakin Ertürk, in a statement after a visit to Russia in December.

Ms. Arbour said she had extensive discussions on counter-terrorism. “The people of Russia have suffered acutely from terrorist acts and they deserve both sympathy and support in addressing this problem,” she added. “They have the right to expect from their Government legitimate and effective action in confronting this threat.”

In September, 338 people were killed and 747 injured when assailants took hostages in a school in Beslan, near Chechnya.

But Ms. Arbour said action ceases to be legitimate, and often becomes ineffective, when it steps over clearly stated bounds set by international human rights law. “When law enforcement officers abuse their powers with impunity and when civilians have no true remedies for violations of their rights by state agents, society is doubly victimized.

“The reconstruction of such regions as Chechnya will be critical both in restoring the dignity of its people and also in ending the violence,” she said, adding that her Office stood ready to help and she hoped to pursue the issue in greater detail in the future.

In addition to Chechnya, Ms. Arbour discussed a wide range of pressing economic and social challenges facing Russians. “We talked of the HIV/AIDS crisis facing the world and from which Russia is not exempt,” she said. “We spoke, in particular, of the disturbing increase in rates of infection among women – a consequence, in part, of the continuing subordination of women in many parts of the world, both in the home and in society at large.”