Update 00/02 on Northern Caucasus conflict

Situation Report
Originally published
REX/OPS 00/21
Geneva, 31 March 2000

Response of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to humanitarian needs in the northern Caucasus conflict

I. President Putin meets ICRC President

Breakthrough for ICRC visits to detainees

The President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), MrJakob Kellenberger, was received on 30 March by the newly elected President of the Russian Federation, Mr Vladimir Putin.

During the meeting President Putin expressed his wish to see ICRC activities extend into Chechnya, in cooperation with the Russian Red Cross, in order to respond to the urgent humanitarian needs currently prevailing there. He also made a commitment to providing Red Cross staff with the necessary security guarantees.

With regard to visits to detainees, President Putin gave his personal authorization for the ICRC to have access to people detained in connection with the conflict, wherever they are held, in accordance with the ICRC's customary working procedures. These essentially comprise the possibility of having repeated access to detainees and of holding private interviews with them. For his part, the ICRC President expressed his determination to gain access to persons detained by Chechen fighters.

In order to translate this key commitment obtained by the ICRC President into action, additional meetings with the relevant ministries have been scheduled to take place during Mr Kellenberger's visit.

In view of the ICRC's serious concern about reports of violations of international humanitarian law in Chechnya, the ICRC President further insisted on the importance of taking all necessary measures to ensure full respect for its provisions.

II. Background

Deep concern for civilians and detainees in Chechnya

A considerable number of civilians have reportedly been killed or wounded in Chechnya over the past months. The population remains in grave danger, particularly in the southern regions where fighting is continuing. Some thousand people have allegedly been arrested by the Russian authorities since the beginning of military operations. Some of these people have been freed while others still remain in detention in Chechnya and elsewhere.

Needs for humanitarian assistance

- displaced people in Ingushetia

There is currently less movement back and forth across the border with Ingushetia, where most of the 200,000 or so displaced people from Chechnya have taken refuge. In view of the prevailing insecurity and scarcity of assistance in Chechnya, people however still regularly venture into Ingushetia, while a minority of the displaced have chosen to return to Chechnya. Efforts to assist the displaced population in Ingushetia have been stepped up. The people most in need are those staying in abandoned buildings or with host families.

- displaced people elsewhere in the Caucasus region

Several thousand others have taken refuge in Daghestan, North Ossetia, Karbardino-Balkaria and elsewhere in the northern Caucasus, and also in Georgia, which is harbouring over 5,000 Chechen refugees. They, too, are in dire need of help.

III. Response of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement

Under the current Plan of Action (November 1999-March 2000), relief programmes benefited a monthly average of 55,000-60,000 internally displaced people in Ingushetia, 10,000 in Daghestan and several thousand displaced people elsewhere in the northern Caucasus and other regions of the Russian Federation. The assistance comprised food and material aid, medical supplies and care as well as deliveries of drinking water.

Extension of the Plan of Action

On 2-3 March the ICRC, the Russian Red Cross (RRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (International Federation) met at ICRC headquarters in Geneva to discuss assistance for victims of the present and previous northern Caucasus conflicts.

Based on a first evaluation of the Plan until March, the three partners agreed to extend it to December 2000 (see below). The programmes will follow along the same lines as before, providing basic food and other essential supplies to internally displaced people in the northern Caucasus, with some of the medical/water and sanitation activities being stepped up. A financial audit and comprehensive review of the Plan so far are to follow by the end of April and will be shared with Participating National Societies with a view to their potential involvement in rehabilitation and capacity-building programmes. The ICRC will fund all activities for IDPs, including RRC programmes, from this year's budget of 41 million Swiss francs for the Moscow regional delegation, presented in the 2000 Emergency Appeal of 8 February.

Stressing the need for independent Red Cross action

Preserving the specificity and independence of the Red Cross operation emerged as a strong concern shared by the partners. The Red Cross/Red Crescent's Movement's response is characterized by the fact that it provides assistance from start to finish itself. The ICRC will remain the lead agency for the Movement's relief operations in response to conflict-related needs, continuing to strengthen the ability of 11 local RRC branches in the northern Caucasus and the southern Russian Federation to function as an independent humanitarian force, while the International Federation retains the lead in helping to develop RRC activities and institutions. To maximize effectiveness, the Red Cross will continue to coordinate and exchange information with other agencies working in the region.

In view of the continuing hostilities in Chechnya and widespread security constraints affecting humanitarian organizations in the northern Caucasus, the partners decided that any extension of activities to Chechnya would have to proceed step by step and in line with appropriate security measures. Regular contacts are maintained with the Russian authorities and should be extended to all those concerned to minimize risks. Security is still a major problem.

IV. Extended Plan of Action April 1999 - December 2000

Ingushetia will remain in the focus of the relief operation:

- ICRC will pursue its food and non-food relief operation according to the previous plan of action.

- Current water and sanitation programmes and support for medical facilities will be stepped up.

- The ICRC will continue to support the RRC bread programme for 13,000 beneficiaries, soup kitchens for 3,000 people and the provision of clothes for up to 50,000 people.

- RRC medical facilities will be doubled to four mobile units and two health posts.

- Tracing activities to restore contact between separated family members and reunite them whenever possible will be developed as needed by the ICRC and the RRC.

In Daghestan the ICRC, in cooperation with the local RRC branch, will continue to provide food, material and medical assistance for the several thousand remaining internally displaced people, including those displaced by hostilities in August 1999.

In North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria, the ICRC together with the local RRC branches will go on distributing food, material and medical assistance for some 7,000 displaced people from Chechnya, including many displaced as a result of the first conflict.

On the basis of the meeting with the Russian President on 30 March, the ICRC is actively exploring practical ways to extend its humanitarian operations to Chechnya. It is planned to concentrate on visits to detainees and on assistance activities for up to 30,000 civilians in need to whom material, sanitation and medical aid will be provided.

For further information please contact the External Resources Division.