High Commissioner for Human Rights calls on Russian Federation to allow greater international access to Chechnya

Points to Need for Increased Monitoring of Human Rights Situation

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson today called on the Russian Government to allow human rights monitoring of the situation in Chechnya, Russian Federation, and to act on mounting evidence of serious human rights violations during and after the assault on Grozny and other parts of the territory.

Expressing deep regret that the Russian Government had not agreed to her request to visit Moscow and the areas affected by the conflict, or to her earlier offer to send a personal envoy to the region, Mrs. Robinson said the failure of the Russian authorities to respond to legitimate worries "leads to heightened concern that allegations of human rights violations may be well-founded".

The High Commissioner expressed particular concern over the "catastrophic situation" facing civilians in Chechnya and their exposure to disproportionate use of force by the Russian military, including heavy bombardment and attacks with especially devastating munitions.

"The suffering caused by indiscriminate bombing and seeming disregard for civilians must not be compounded by the denial of the basic human rights of people in Chechnya", she said. "It is the responsibility of the Russian authorities to do all they can to ensure that those under their jurisdiction enjoy the rights and freedoms they are entitled to under international law and to provide for effective remedies for victims of violations".

Mrs. Robinson listed allegations, gathered despite severely restricted access, brought to her attention by different organizations, including:

  • reports by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on the situation of the civilian population as a result of the war in Chechnya indicate that recent severe fighting in Grozny left tens of thousands of civilians with extremely limited water, food, medical care, electricity or gas. The ICRC said the same precarious situation is likely to prevail in other conflict zones in Chechnya;
  • ICRC reports that numerous captured persons are in need of protection. The ICRC has not been granted access to detainees held by the Russian authorities; documented cases of some 40 civilians reportedly summarily executed by Russian forces in Grozny and Alkhan-Yurt, Chechnya; the reported rape of Chechen women by Russian soldiers in Russian-controlled areas of Chechnya. Rapes have reportedly taken place in Alkhan-Yurt and the village of Shali;
  • overly restrictive accreditation requirements for journalists, limiting independent coverage of the conflict;
  • the case of Andrey Babitsky, who was apparently exchanged by Russian forces for soldiers being held by Chechens. The release of Mr. Babitsky into the hands of people the Russian authorities consider terrorists would be in contravention of the provisions of common article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and article 5 of Protocol II of the Conventions.

Mrs. Robinson said the extent of the allegations pointed clearly to the need for increased monitoring of the situation. She underlined that allegations should be investigated and persons found to be responsible for abuses brought to justice. The same applied to the allegations of serious human rights violations by Chechen fighters, she added.

"Only a political solution and scrupulous application of accepted standards of international law will lead to lasting peace and respect for human rights in Chechnya", said the High Commissioner.

Mrs. Robinson said she would be addressing the situation in Chechnya at the upcoming session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which opens in Geneva on 20 March.