The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexei II, has accused international human rights organizations of applying "double standards" to Russia's policy in Chechnya. Reacting to recent criticisms of Russia's actions in Chechnya by Mary Robinson, the UN's high commissioner for human rights, and by the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly, Patriarch Alexei said: "Those who come to our country from PACE [the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which promotes European unity and safeguards local culture and human rights] or the United Nations, do not see what they don't want to see and do not hear what they don't want to hear."The patriarch was responding on Russian television April 7 to reporters' questions about a decision by PACE to call on the Council of Europe's committee of ministers to suspend Russian membership unless Moscow called a cease-fire and engaged in dialogue with a cross-section of the Chechen people. The parliamentary assembly, whose members are chosen by national parliaments, also suspended the voting rights of the Russian delegation to the assembly."They [Western delegations] see only what has been assigned for them to see, and accuse the Russian government and the Russian army of sins and crimes," Patriarch Alexei said, adding that the West European delegations "did not notice those crimes which have been committed and are committed by the [Chechen] fighters … taking hostages, torturing and killing them."The Council of Europe's actions have deeply angered Russia's political leaders. Although analysts suggest that Russia's expulsion from the council is unlikely—this can be decided only by the Committee of Ministers (made up of the foreign ministers of the council's member states) and not by the parliamentary assembly, the decision by PACE last week was seen in Moscow as the first major threat of international isolation.Russia's foreign and defense ministries accused PACE of siding with the Chechen terrorists. The Kremlin said that although it was willing to co-operate with international bodies such as the European Union and the International Committee of the Red Cross, no further fact-finding missions from PACE would be allowed to visit Chechnya. The Kremlin also said that Russia would continue its policy of eradicating all armed resistance in the predominantly Muslim republic, and vehemently rejected all "dictates" from abroad.Patriarch Alexei also referred in his comments to the recent visit to Chechnya by Mary Robinson, the former Irish president. She claimed after her visit that there was strong evidence of major human rights violations by Russian military personnel in Chechnya.The Russian Orthodox Church has, like the Russian public, backed Moscow's military campaign in the Northern Caucasus region since it started last summer when Moscow acted to halt Chechen rebels' incursions into neighboring Dagestan. Support for the campaign grew even stronger when apartment buildings in several Russian cities were blown up, killing hundreds of people. The explosions were blamed on Chechen terrorists."They often remind us [in the West] that one has to think about civilians," Patriarch Alexei said April 7. "But civilians lived in the buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk, [an industrial city of 190,000 inhabitants] which were blown up. And civilians live in Dagestan which was invaded by the [Chechen] fighters."That is why the West must end the double standard which it applies to Russia's actions in Chechnya," the Russian church leader said. He added that the West had also applied double standards last year with its policy on the Balkans. "The crimes of Albanian terrorists were ignored, and Serbs were blamed for all that was happening [in Kosovo]," he said.Last month, the Russian Orthodox Church's synod issued a statement urging the state and church bodies to provide as much help as possible to Chechen and Russian civilians in the Northern Caucasus so that "peaceful life" could be restored in the region. It also urged the Russian government to give "humane treatment" to Chechen fighters who surrendered.Copyright © 2000 Ecumenical News International. Used with permission.

Related Elsewhere

See our earlier coverage of the Chechnya bombing, " Saving Bodies, Rescuing Souls | Chechen Muslims find Salvationist care has compassionate accent' (Apr.11, 2000) and " As Moscow Continues Attacks, Churches Speak Out for Chechen Civilians" (Nov. 22, 1999).For more news and anaylsis of the Chechnya conflict, see extensive coverage in The Christian Science Monitor, the BBC, and Yahoo!'s full coverage.