The War in Chechnya: the Council of Europe Must Reinforce its Pressure on Russia and Demand Political Negotiations.

24/01/2001
Press release
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As the war in Chechnya continues, the civilian population suffers dire consequences.
While serious human rights and humanitarian violations have been committed on both sides, those committed by the Russian armed forces are comparably far more egregious in terms of the number of victims and extent of the damage. Moreover, the Federal Forces, members of the military, and police all act under the orders of the Russian Federation authorities. Since the Russian government has signed a series of international instruments committing itself to the protection of human rights, these violations are particularly serious, as well as hypocritical.

The Russian troops continue to massively and systematically violate human rights, in contradiction notably to the European Convention on Human Rights. The Russian forces have been rendered guilty of grave violations of human rights, war crimes, and crimes against humanity-as attested to by investigations carried out by non-governmental human rights organisations.

The daily "mopping-up" operations are synonymous with arbitrary arrests, violence, physical and mental brutality, torture, and at times rape and summary executions. Over 15,000 people have already fallen victim to the persistent system of "filtration". Nearly all those arrested experience torture, ill treatment, blackmail, and racketeering. Thousands have also disappeared after their arrest. Finally, the mandatory checkpoints established over the entire Chechen territory have resulted in blatant extortion, and the pillaging continues.

As was the case during the massive bombings of the first phase of this war, the civilian population is the principal victim of the conflict. The firing of heavy artillery continues to fall on them. In addition, thousands of people have been victims of landmines.
The war continues behind closed doors. Access to the Chechen territory by NGOs and independent journalists remains hampered. As the Chechen territory is completely devastated, the Russian authorities have abandoned the population, including hundreds of thousands of refugees.

The human rights violations committed by the Chechen fighters (insufficient protection of the civilian population resulting in deaths of civilians during assaults against Russian soldiers, attacks against members of the Chechen administration, bad treatment and execution of prisoners of war) must also be condemned. But their magnitude and systematic character exist on a far smaller scale in comparison with the violations committed by Russian troops.

The procuracy, the only Russian organ with the ability to investigate and pursue the authors of crimes committed by the Russian forces, has initiated less than fifty criminal actions for crimes committed against the civilian population, and only 150 investigations concerning forced disappearances; at the same time, the office of V. Kalamanov, created especially for the receipt of victim complaints, has received upwards of 12,000 complaints, over 2,200 of which concern forced disappearances or arbitrary arrests.

It has been established that the office of V. Kalamanov has neither a clear mandate, nor proper jurisdiction. Thus, its activities after nearly a year, assisted by three experts of the Council of Europe, have neither brought forth justice for crimes committed, nor ameliorated the human rights situation. The Parliamentary Commission of the Russian Duma for Chechnya held its first hearings more than one year after the conflict started, and has still brought no visible results. Likewise, the "National Public Independent Commission", headed by P. Krashenninikov, is neither public nor independent, and has proved futile.
One has to deeply regret the absence of any systematic investigation of the crimes committed in Chechnya, and of any efficient protection of human rights. The official declarations on the progress made with regard to human rights protection are but an illusion intended to appease the international community. In spite of the declarations of President Putin concerning the necessity of a political solution, the Russian authorities continuously favour a military solution, and refuse to negotiate with the legitimately elected President Maskhadov.

Thus far, the Russian Federation has not met nearly any of the demands of the resolutions and recommendations of the Council of Europe since November 1999.

The combination of crimes committed, and the system of impunity that has benefited the authors of grave violations of human rights, make any lessening of pressure on Russia, for example the restitution of the right of the Russian delegation to vote, completely unacceptable; any easing of pressure constitutes a tacit authorisation for the Russian government to carry on with its policy, and thus amounts to complicity.

The FIDH and the Memorial Human Rights Centre demand that, at its session beginning 22 January 2001, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe:

- Reaffirm, by a resolution or new vote, the suspension of the Russian parliamentary delegation’s voting rights.
- Condemn the refusal of the Committee of Ministers to begin the procedure for the suspension of Russia under the pretext of a so-called amelioration in the sphere of human rights, and reiterate the urgency of this suspension.
- Remind the member states fervently, which have received demands on several occasions, to lodge an inter-State appeal against Russia with the European Court of Human Rights.
- Call on all parliamentary members of different member states to urge their respective governments of the two preceding points: to exercise all possible pressure for these governments to initiate an inter-State appeal, and to enact the procedure for the suspension of the Russian delegation.

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