Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Seeks to Suppress Draft UN Report on Secret Prisons

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 23 – Moscow is seeking to block the publication of a UN Human Rights report on the use of secret prisons in the fight against terrorism and to remove it from a UN website where it has been available for more than a month lest it, in the words of a Russian diplomat, “create confrontation.”
Last Thursday, AP reported with Russian news agencies following that the Russian government was demanding that the UN Council of Human Rights prohibit the open publication of a 226-page report which includes three interviews with anonymous residents of Chechnya who said they had been subject to torture in secret prisons (www.agentura.ru/?id=1266573120).
The draft report, which has been available online since January (http://bit.ly/aYT7ls), was prepared by a group of independent experts and contains reporting on the use of secret prisons in the war on terrorism by the United States and Great Britain as well. American and British officials say they plan to discuss it in Geneva on March 8th, but Russia is trying to block it.
Vladimir Zheglov, a counselor at the Permanent Representation of the Russian Federation to the UN in Geneva, said that “this report creates confrontation and it ought to be removed from the official site of the UN on which it has been accessible already for the last month.” But Moscow can block the report only if a majority of UN Human Rights Council backs it.
While most of the report is devoted to the American use of secret prisons, Moscow is clearly angered by references to its secret prisons in Tsentoroy, Gudermes, Shali, Urus-Martan and Goyty, which it has used since it launched its attacks on Chechnya in the 1990s and which have attracted notoriety because of reports, including in this report, of torture in them.
According to Memorial human rights activist Aleksandr Cherkasov, approximately 3,000
Chechens and other North Caucasians have been kidnapped and have disappeared, many apparently passing through these secret prisons before being killed and their remains left to be picked over by “beasts and birds.”
On Saturday, Oleg Orlov, the head of Memorial, told Interfax that “the powers that be in the Russian Federation prefer not to eliminate illegality but as before to deny things that are obvious for all.” And he called on Moscow to address the problem rather than try to cover it up (interfax.ru/news.asp?id=124684).
Because the report has been available online and repeatedly cached, Moscow will have little chance of keeping its findings from being available to those concerned about secret prisons and related violations of human rights. But because the report criticizes other countries as well, there may be less resistance to Russia’s effort to prevent it being officially accepted.
Consequently, the discussion in Geneva on March 8th will be not only a measure of Russia’s influence on the UN Human Rights Council but also an indication of the willingness of other countries, including the US and the UK, to face up to this issue and to allow for its discussion in such an international forum.

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