A Council of Europe report on Wednesday said investigations into the complaints were rarely completed.

Secretary General Walter Schwimmer condemned poor investigative practices into kidnapping cases in the January report and lamented the fact that criminals were not being arrested.

"There is still much to do as regards … the relatively small number of people found guilty of atrocities in the Chechen republic."

The document is a review of the activities of the council, a pan-European human rights body, in war-shattered Chechnya over the past three years.

Terrible record

According to the report, 9952 human rights claims were laid with the Office of Russia's special representative in Chechnya between 2000 and April 2003.

More than 2050 of these claims related to kidnapping and "people who had disappeared".

"There is still much to do as regards … the relatively small number of people found guilty of atrocities in the Chechen republic."

Walter Schwimmer,
Secretary General,
Council of Europe

The report said in 2001 the office passed on 83 complaints to military prosecutors, of which only four ended in criminal proceedings.

In 2002, of 115 complaints passed on, just 19 ended up in the courts.

Russian military censure

The experts' efforts principally concerned human rights violations "committed by members of the federal forces and by organisations responsible for the application of laws, notably extra-judiciary executions and disappearances," the report said.

It also highlighted so-called mopping-up operations and identity controls.

The first permanent European experts arrived in Chechnya in June 2000. The remaining two officials left in April 2003 after an attack in the capital Grozny on a convoy in which they were travelling.

Russia and the Council of Europe have agreed on a new form of cooperation for 2004 which will involve the rights organisation providing an occasional rather than a permanent presence there.

Russian forces reinvaded the de-facto Caucusus republic in 1999 in an attempt to crush surging separatist sentiment. They have routinely been accused of human rights abuses.

Some estimates put the number of civilian lives lost in Chechnya at 70,000 since the first war of independence in 1994.