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Recent reports out of Chechnya increasingly point to acts of abuse, including extortion and beatings, by the Russian Federal Forces against Chechens fleeing Grozny.
On December 6, Russia's military command delivered an ultimatum to Chechens in the besieged city of Grozny. "Those who remain in Grozny"è"will be viewed as terrorists and bandits and will be destroyed by artillery and aviation." Two corridors were opened for non-combatants wishing to leave Grozny. Though the Russian government claims they are safe, the highest estimate of people fleeing via the corridors is 3,000. Though it is not clear how many non-combatants remain in Grozny, there could be as many as 35,000, and most of them are believed to be too old and/or sick to leave the city. Russia is still obligated under international law to ensure the safety of Chechen non-combatants.
Residents who have recently left Grozny tell similar tales of abuse at the hands of the Russians. Some people are not being allowed through without paying a bribe to the Russian soldiers manning the safety corridors. When they are unable, or refuse, to pay the requested amount, they are detained and beaten. Furthermore, on several occasions, non-combatants fleeing Grozny via the safety corridors have been fired on, apparently by Russian forces. Although figures are not available, these incidents have resulted in a number of deaths and injuries. These are the same corridors which the Russian government claims are maintained to assure that residents of Grozny can leave the city in safety.
In recent days, the Russian government appears to have backed away from its earlier announcement that Grozny and all its inhabitants, combatants and non-combatants, would be destroyed. However, the egregious abuse of Chechens wishing to leave Grozny defeats the purpose of the corridors and prolongs the agony of Chechen civilians trapped in the city.
RI, therefore, recommends that,
- A cease-fire be declared immediately, along with an extended evacuation period, in order to allow Grozny residents a realistic opportunity to exit the city.
- Russia allow neutral organizations to enter Grozny and organize transportation for all those wishing to evacuate the city.
- The security of safety corridors and the safe evacuation of non-combatants from Grozny be monitored by neutral international organizations such as OSCE, UNHCR, and ICRC.