Chechens urge Swiss to live up to humanitarian obligations

Ruth-Gaby Vermot and Ilyas Akhmadov, a member of the Chechen government, speaking in Bern Keystone

A senior member of Chechnya's breakaway government has appealed to Switzerland to convene an international conference aimed at protecting civilians trapped in the armed conflict in the Russian republic.

This content was published on September 29, 2001 minutes

Ilyas Akhmadov, a member of the Chechen government, said Chechnya had become a region where law, human rights or political dialogue no longer applied.

Speaking in Bern this week, Akhmadov accused Russia of committing atrocities of the worst kind against civil society, including mass arrests, kidnappings and deportations.

In a letter to the Swiss Foreign Ministry, Akhmadov called on Switzerland to convene an international conference and draw attention to the plight of civilians in Chechnya.

He said Switzerland as the repository state of the Geneva Conventions, which include laws to protect civilians in times of war, should intervene on an international level.

Chechnya not recognised

However, the Swiss Foreign Ministry refused to receive Akhmadov. A spokeswoman, Muriel Berset Kohen, told swissinfo that Chechnya was not an officially recognised country and was therefore legally not able to invoke to the Geneva Conventions.

However, the spokeswoman said the Swiss government was concerned about the situation in Chechnya and hoped a political solution to conflict could be found.

Berset said the Swiss authorities in August offered visas for delegations from Russia and Chechnya to meet for talks in Switzerland.

Russian propaganda

At the media conference in Bern, organised by the Swiss branch of the Society for Threatened Peoples, Akhmadov said he was used to being treated like an outcast, but he would continue his campaign to seek support for the civilian population.

He criticised Russia for exploiting the international situation in the wake of the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, as a pretext to step up its campaign in Chechnya.

Russia was spreading unsubstantiated rumours about links between Chechnya and Osama bin Ladin, the prime suspect behind the attacks in the US earlier this month, Akhmadov said.

Moscow claims Chechnya is part of the Russian Federation and has set up its own administration in the breakaway republic. Russian forces have lead two military campaigns since 1994 in a bid to crush separatists in the region.

An estimated 200,000 people have been killed or have disappeared, since 1999.

by Urs Geiser

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