Russia rebuked for rights violations
STRASBOURG, France (CNN) -- A top European watchdog on torture has reprimanded Russia for its failure to respond to human rights violations in rebel Chechnya.
The rare criticism from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture came just after Moscow prosecutors launched an inquiry into charges that Russian soldiers searching for rebels beat and robbed Chechen civilians.
The CPT, a division of the 43-nation Council of Europe of which Russia is a member, said its recent visits to Chechnya "strongly indicate that many persons were physically ill-treated" and that several cases were documented with medical evidence.
It said Russia had contravened treaty obligations that required the nation to report its efforts in investigating human rights abuses and in bringing to justice those responsible. The CPT maintained violations had been recurrent throughout the 22-month-old war.
Moscow denied all the allegations and said it would not comply with a CPT-recommended independent inquiry into the mishandling of civilians at the Chernokozovo detention centre, where it is suspected detainees were tortured from December 1999 to February 2000.
Russia refutes the existence of the centre altogether, a statement the CPT said was "clearly untenable."
Meanwhile, Moscow prosecutors began an investigation after thousands of Chechens fled to refugee camps in Ingushetia following security sweeps last week. According to residents, while looking for rebels, Russian soldiers beat, looted and tortured many of the men they questioned.
According to the Associated Press, Alexander Blokhin, Minister for Nationalities and Migration Policy said, "If servicemen violate the law, they will be punished."
Russian officials say dozens of investigations have begun into alleged military abuses. Only one has come to trial, that of a tank commander accused of raping and strangling an 18-year-old Chechen woman.
Russian troops are trying to restore Moscow's control over the breakaway region, which declared itself independent during the 1994-96 war.
Federal forces went back into Chechnya in September 1999 after rebels based there attacked a neighbouring region, and after apartment bombings blamed on Chechen terrorists killed some 300 people.
Kremlin-backed Chechnya civilian leader Akhmad Kadyrov said, "It's hard for us to convince people to return to their homes after residents of a whole series of villages have suffered from violence."
Four civilian Chechen officials resigned after the accusations of misconduct against the troops were made on Monday.
The Council has positioned three of its human rights monitors in Chechnya in hopes of improving the situation.
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