Russia would like the world to look away while it flattens what is left of the Republic of Chechnya and does what it will to the Chechen people. In an unexpected display, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has shown itself unwilling to oblige. Earlier this week, member nations voted 25 to 7 in support of a resolution accusing Russia of widespread human-rights violations in that war and called for a national inquiry into the atrocities committed in Chechnya.
The resolution was presented by the European Union and supported by the United States and Eastern European states. Russia denounced the measure as interference in its domestic affairs, a position that was supported by China, Cuba and four other governments. Nineteen other countries abstained.
The vote was a surprise. Rarely are permanent members of the Security Council censured; indeed, the previous week, a measure condemning China’s human-rights record never even came up for a vote. Observers attributed the outcome to Moscow’s unwillingness to cede even a little ground to Europe.
The Moscow government should create the “independent national commission” that the measure proposes. The atrocities that have been committed in the republic are horrific: indiscriminate bombing, wholesale uprooting of populations, alleged rape and torture.
Moreover, Moscow should also use Europe’s good offices to negotiate its way out of the republic. Russia has declared that it has won the war. That is wishful thinking. Moscow has forced the Islamic guerrillas into the mountains, from which they cannot be dislodged and from which they will wage a war of attrition. It has already begun. Scattered attacks on Russian forces have claimed the lives of dozens of troops.
The longer Russia maintains a presence in Chechnya, the longer the list of Chechen grievances will become — and the bloodier the reprisals. The U.N. Human Rights Commission was right to censure Russia. Moscow would do well to listen.
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