Following are excerpts from the report, delivered on April 5, by Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, after her visit to the Chechnya region between March 31 and April 4 of this year.1
On April 1 I traveled to Nazran, the capital of Ingushetia, where I visited the Sleptzovskaya camp for internally displaced persons. I saw the main camp where thousands of people live in tents. I also saw some of the ninety-six railway carriages which house some four thousand displaced persons. One carriage to which I went housed forty-five people from sixteen different families who told me that they had been there for six months. I was approached by many of the displaced persons, mainly women, who were distressed and made appeals for help. They were deeply concerned about what the future holds for them, about missing relatives—particularly those left behind in towns and villages which have been bombarded, and those taken to detention centers—about lack of health care, restrictions on travel, and difficulties with identity documents.
I met President Aushev and heard from him about the efforts his government is making to cope with the flood of IDPs [internally displaced persons] from Chechnya—whose number totals, according to the best estimates, 213,000—and about the severe strains being placed on the local economy and host families.
During my visit to the region I heard allegations of mass killings, summary executions, rape, torture, and pillage. On the evening of April 1, I heard detailed firsthand testimony from witnesses of alleged gross violations of human rights…in Chechnya. I regard these direct accounts and personal testimony as a most significant part of the visit since they bear out the scale and the seriousness of the allegations of human rights violations by Russian military, militia, and Ministry of Interior forces in Chechnya.
For several hours I listened to harrowing accounts from direct witnesses to events. I was given photographs and videotape evidence, and shown the wounds and scars of those who had themselves been injured. The individuals were clearly traumatized by what they had endured, and frightened, but they gave detailed, precise answers to close questioning. They were earnest to be accurate in response to questions, but, of course, the events would need full investigation and verification. I will describe three of these personal accounts, all of which shocked me by what they implied of how the military campaign is being conducted.
I listened to the account of a woman who, with two other women, went back to the Staropromoslovsky district of Grozny on January 21 to check on their houses. She described abuse at checkpoints, insults, ransom extorted, and finally that the three women were blindfolded by troops whom she described as being from the regular army. They were taken to a destroyed house and the blindfolds were removed. They pleaded desperately but the witness described how they shot the first woman and [how] part of her head came off, how they then shot the second in the head, and how they shot her, but the bullet went through her shoulder and she collapsed. While semiconscious she remembers having her earrings and ring pulled off and her clothes searched for money. The next sensation was of burning on her leg when mattresses had been placed over the three bodies and set alight. She managed to crawl away and was brought to a cellar where other people were hiding. Eventually she was able to be reunited with her family. Her injuries are serious and require urgent attention.
The second testimony I will mention is that of a woman and a man who said that they were present in Novi Aldi when mass killings were carried out by militia or OMON special forces.2 The woman testified that the forces killed many people, including children and old people. She directly witnessed the shooting [to death] of one man to whom she sought to give assistance. She helped with the burial of bodies and showed me photographs of the burials that had been taken by a friend. The man said that there were so many bodies after the killings in Novi Aldi that they could not bury them all as quickly as they should. They decided to make a video film on February 9 of the bodies still not buried so that there might be evidence of the extent of the civilians killed. He also mentioned that the killings had been carried out by OMON forces.
The third testimony I will mention is that of a woman who had been a professor of linguistics at the State University in Chechnya and lived in Katyr-Yama in Grozny. She and her family tried to stay, hoping the violence would stop, but on October 25 they could not stand it anymore and decided they had to leave. They had been waiting for a promised humanitarian corridor and found themselves in a queue of several hundred cars at a checkpoint. A colonel came and said there was no humanitarian corridor and they should go back. They turned slowly because of the number of cars and began to return. She felt a sudden blow and the windows of the car shattered. Although wounded in the head, she and her family members got out and hid in a ditch. Wave after wave of aircraft came, flying very low, and bombed the convoy of cars. She knew her eldest son was in a car further back and ran to find him. On the way she saw many dead and dismembered bodies. Later that day, planes attacked again and there were more casualties. This happened near the village of Shaami-Yurt.
Other testimony gave detailed accounts of killings at Gekhi-Chu and Tangi-Chu; of torture and ill-treatment while in detention at Urus Martan and near Achkoi Martan; killing and looting at Katar-Yurt; rape and ransom demands.
I visited Chechnya on April 2. I had asked to visit a number of locations but was informed that for reasons of weather and security it was only possible to go to the Staropromoslovsky district of Grozny. I had also asked to visit detention centers other than Chernokozovo, which had been visited already. In the event, the detention center to which I was brought housed only two women who were being held on charges of looting. I was accompanied in Grozny by a general and the commandant of the army in Grozny. I met the Acting Head of Administration, the Mayor of Grozny, and the Deputy Civilian Prosecutor.
I visited a hospital and the small markets that are starting up, and managed to speak to some of the remaining residents of Grozny. These are mostly women and the elderly. They complained bitterly of lack of sufficient food and their miserable living conditions. Many were anxious about relatives who had been detained. Criticisms were made of the Chechen fighters for their callous disregard for the welfare of the civilian population. A point made by many Chechen women was “We are not all bandits.”
The scale of the destruction in Grozny, even for those who have seen the television pictures, is shocking. In the central area it is difficult to find any building, large or small, which has not been destroyed or severely damaged. The sight of a city which was once famous in the Caucasus region reduced to rubble symbolizes the devastating effect of the conflict.
I flew from Grozny to Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan. There I met President Magamedov and representatives of his government. Weather conditions had not permitted me to land at the border areas where incursions by Chechen fighters had taken place, but I was able to meet two representatives of women’s groups who denounced the actions of Chechen fighters in strong terms, as did the President himself. The trauma of the attacks on a republic which previously had friendly relations with Chechen people was evident. The view was expressed to me that the international community has shown insufficient interest in the grave violations committed against the people of Dagestan during the incursions, which included significant loss of life and displacement of many Dagestani villagers in the affected areas.
In Moscow I was received by a number of senior federal ministers: the Deputy Prime Minister responsible for civil defense, emergencies, and natural disasters, Mr. Sergei Shoigu; the Foreign Minister, Mr. Igor Ivanov; the Minister of the Interior, Mr. Vladimir Rushailo; and the Minister for Justice, Mr. Yury Chaika. I also had the opportunity to meet the First Deputy Commander of the Armed Forces, General Manilov, and the Chief Military Prosecutor, General Demin.
The main elaborations of the position of the federal government that emerged from these meetings, in addition to the points referred to earlier, were that the Russian government believes it is doing all that could be expected of it to allow international figures access to the conflict; that insufficient attention is paid to the human rights violations committed by Chechen fighters; acknowledgment that human rights violations have been committed by some of the military but assertions that they are not systematic and that steps are being taken to process cases (the recent arrest of an officer on rape and murder charges being referred to as evidence of this); emphasis on the fact that the Russian Federation will not be told what to do by outsiders; accusations of a lack of objectivity on the part of the media and the international community; the view that finishing the war is the top priority for the moment but that movement toward restoring normal life is already underway….
The Need for a Credible Response
From the perspective of this Commission, the most pressing and immediate issue, in my view, concerns the adequacy and credibility of the response by the Russian authorities to the scale of allegations of gross human rights violations such as mass killings, extra-judicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, violence against women, torture, arbitrary detention, and pillage. Certain inquiries have been initiated and nine criminal prosecutions have been opened for offenses against civilians. But, bearing in mind the scale of allegations of violations and the depth of bitterness, resentment, and grievance of the civilian population which I encountered, I believe that a different level of response is needed.
For this reason, I focused in my discussions in Moscow yesterday [April 4] with Foreign Minister Ivanov, and with other ministers and officials, on encouraging the establishment, according to recognized international standards, of a national, broad-based independent commission of inquiry into the serious allegations that have already come to attention, and into any further egregious cases.
I fully recognize the complexity of the internal problems stemming from concern at the serious crimes committed against innocent civilians in Dagestan following the armed incursions there, the crimes of kidnapping, murder, and cruel actions of the Chechen rebels, and the need to counter terrorist activities. Nevertheless, the primary responsibility for addressing human rights violations, as recognized internationally, rests with the Russian authorities and I firmly believe it requires a sustained, effective national response. As the Secretary-General told this Commission yesterday international human rights law makes clear that every government must be able to show that it has in place a system of protecting human rights. No government can rest, and no people should remain satisfied, until this aim is achieved.
May 25, 2000