Representative of Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons calls on Russian authorities to observe guiding principles on internal displacement

The following statement was issued today by the Representative of the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons, Mr. Francis M. Deng:

"Over the past few months, more than 250,000 persons have been forcibly displaced as a result of the conflict in Chechnya, and their numbers continue to grow, following the warning issued by Russian forces on 6 December to the people of Grozny to leave their homes or face
intensified attack.

The overwhelming majority of the internally displaced remain within the borders of the Russian Federation, principally in Chechnya and Ingushetia. As such they are internally displaced persons and responsibility for meeting their assistance and protection needs rests first and foremost with the Russian Government. As Representative of the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons, it is incumbent upon me to call on the Government of the Russian Federation to assume this responsibility and, in particular, to address the following concerns.

- Protection and Safety of Civilians : Russian military operations are endangering the physical security of civilians and preventing them from gaining access to safety. Reports indicate that many civilians remain trapped by military action while others, including many elderly and infirm, are unable or are too frightened to leave in search of protection and safety. Many of those who have left have been subject to military attack or harassment, or have been obliged to pay bribes at checkpoints set up by Russian forces. It is incumbent upon the Russian Government to protect civilians from indiscriminate attacks and other acts of violence.

- Arbitrary Detention : There are reports that Russian forces have established 'filtration camps at the border to detain internally displaced Chechens suspected of sympathising with the Chechen cause, as well as members of their families. Arbitrary detention of non-combatants contravenes international standards.

- Looting and Pillaging : Property left behind by the displaced reportedly is being looted and pillaged by Russian forces.

- Subsistence Needs : Many of the internally displaced persons in camps in Ingushetia are not receiving adequate supplies of basic essentials such as heating supplies, clothing, bedding and cooking facilities, and lack access to medical care and social services.

- Shelter : With winter fast approaching, the availability of appropriate shelter for internally displaced persons who have fled to Ingushetia is of particular concern. There are reports of severe overcrowding in both private accommodation and in camps for the displaced. Some internally displaced persons, including children, are having to sleep outdoors in the cold.

- Access to Humanitarian Assistance : The Russian Government should do everything possible to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to the displaced by international humanitarian organisations, and increase its own assistance to those in need. It must take effective steps to guarantee the security of displaced persons and of international humanitarian workers in areas under its control. The security situation and bureaucratic obstacles have been preventing international relief organisations from gaining access to the internally displaced, supplying them with assistance and monitoring the delivery of the assistance.

- Voluntary Return : The Russian authorities must ensure that the return of internally displaced persons to their homes takes place voluntarily and under conditions of safety. There are reports that camp authorities in Ingushetia are pressuring some displaced persons to return to their homes in Chechnya even though conditions are far from safe and they lack the materials to repair their homes.

As Representative of the Secretary-General, I call upon the Russian authorities to observe the relevant principles of international law as restated in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

I also join the voices of many around the world in urging the Security Council to discuss the conflict in Chechnya and to give special focus to the internally displaced and the humanitarian dimension of the conflict."