A statement on the human rights situation in the Chechen Republic was presented at a press conference during the Human Rights House Network’s annual meeting in Moscow. The participants of the meeting expressed their concern about the human rights violations in the Chechen Republic, and protested against the decision to close the OSCE mission in the Chechen Republic. (29 January, 2003)

Aaron Rhodes, Executive Director of the International Helsinki Federation, supported the statement, and announced he would visit Ingushetia the following week. Here interviewed by Radio Free Europe at the press conference in Moscow. Human Rights House Network representatives in Moscow, January 2003: Tin Gazivoda, Croatian Helsinki Committee; Srdjan Dizdarevic, the Human Rights House in Sarajevo; Bjørn Engesland, Norwegian Helsinki Committee; Natalia Taubina, Russian Research Center for Human Rights; Maria Dahle, the Human Rights House Foundation in Oslo, Norway.

Statement of Meeting of the Human Rights House Network

Moscow, January 17, 2003

We, participants of the annual meeting of the Human Rights Houses Network, representatives of human rights organizations of Albania, Austria, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kenya, Norway, Poland, the Russian Federation, express our deep concern about mass violations of human rights and humanitarian law in the Chechen Republic and the situation of internally displaced persons from the Chechen Republic, especially the campaign on forcing refugees out of Ingushetia.

In the Chechen Republic today, civilians continue to perish and disappear, and torture, violence and marauding have become part of everyday life. These blatant violations of human rights take place primarily in the course of so-called “zachiski” [mop-up operations]. Only within the period from May to September 2002, according to the data of Human Rights Center “Memorial”, four such mop up operations were carried out in Chechen settlements Mesker-Yurt, Chechen-Aul, Tevzeni and Tzotzin-Yurt, as a result of which a number of civilians perished and disappeared in three of these settlements. In all cases, multiple incidents of cruel and degrading treatment and marauding took place. Order No. 80 dated March 27, 2002, of the Force Commander Lieutenant-General V.Moltensky, which stipulates strict procedural rules for the implementation of special operations, is basically ignored by federal forces. Civilians also die in the course of subversive acts by Chechen combatants aimed at federal forces. However, one crime does not justify another.

We are concerned not only with the situation of civilians in the Chechen Republic. According to the estimates of Union of Soldier Mothers’ Committees of the Russian Federation, over 20 thousand militaries have been killed or are missing as the result of this armed conflict. 85% of federal forces losses are servicemen by conscription. In our opinion, it is impermissible to use conscripts in the Chechen Republic. In fact, 18-year old boys are sent to the conflict zone to be killed or become killers. These people have no awareness of the international humanitarian law provisions. In the Chechen Republic, they learn brutality, arbitrariness and become convinced of their impunity. Having served in the Chechen Republic, the former military, especially police officers, bring the same impermissible practices into peaceful life. Most of them need psychological rehabilitation and medical aid, but the state does not take adequate measures on rendering such aid.

After tragic events in Moscow in late October, the Russian Federation leadership declare that negotiations are absolutely impossible and propose to hold the referendum on the Chechen Republic Constitution as the only panacea. We think that under the conditions of continued armed conflict, presence of federal forces, ongoing instability in the Chechen Republic and large numbers of refugees it is impossible to ensure the free expression of Chechen people’s will. By now, there is already some evidence of violations in collecting signatures in support of the referendum. And it is practically impossible to secure the safety of observers supervising the voting under such conditions.

We voice our protest against closing the OSCE mission in the Chechen Republic, which was the only permanent international mission in the Republic.

We are indignant at the campaign conducted in the 2nd half of 2002 with the aim of driving the refugees out of Ingushetia back to the Chechen Republic. We are certain that the refugees’ return to the Chechen Republic is possible only on a voluntary basis and provided that their safety is effectually ensured. and adequate social infrastructure is in place.

We think that the federal authorities’ information policies expressed in strict filtration of the information coming from the Chechen Republic, propaganda support of federal forces actions, focusing the public attention both in the Russian Federation and abroad on allegedly active establishment of peaceful life and recovery of social infrastructure is absolutely unacceptable. The Russian and international community must receive reliable information on the situation in the Republic and on that of the Chechen refugees.