Russia is Violating International Humanitarian Law in Chechnya

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Date: Sat, 29 Jan 2000 14:15:22 +0200 (EET)
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Subject: Russia is Violating International Humanitarian Law in Chechnya

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Russia is Violating International Humanitarian Law in

Russia is Violating International
Humanitarian Law in Chechnya
Should Allow OSCE to Assist in Finding a
Political Solution,
Observe Council of Europe Principles
Moscow and Vienna, 25 January 2000.  The Russian government’s military
action in Chechnya violates its commitments and political agreements
undertaken as a member of the United Nations, the Council of Europe
and the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE),
according to the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
(IHF), which represents human rights monitoring organizations in 37
countries, and its Russian affiliate, the Moscow Helsinki Group
(MHG).  The groups commented during a roundtable meeting on "Human
Rights and Humanitarian Law Violations in Chechnya" they organized in
Moscow on 25 January.
"No one can accept these crimes against humanity including the
shooting and bombing of civilians, rape, plunder, and displacement of
populations, and no one can accept the Russian government's obstinance
regarding searching for a peaceful solution," stated  IHF Executive
Director Aaron Rhodes.
"Not only civilians and soldiers are suffering from Russia’s
violations of international law.  Russia as a society is suffering
from this flagrant rejection of the norms and principles that can be
the foundation for human rights, security, and international
cooperation," he said.
"Russia needs the help of the international community, and that
community needs Russia — to help build security based on human
rights.  But the war in Chechnya is threatening to destabilize an
entire region.  It is no 'internal matter,'" according to Ludmilla
Alexeyeva, who is President of the International Helsinki Federation
and Chief of the Moscow Helsinki Group.
The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and the Moscow
Helsinki Group are urging Russian authorities to accept offers by the
OSCE to play a mediating role and to establish monitoring operations
in the area.
We appeal to the Russian authorities to respond positively to the
Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly President Lord
Russel-Johnston's call for negotiations, free movement of refugees and
access for humanitarian aid.
A Précis of the International Humanitarian Standards Violated in
I. Obligation to solve the conflict by non-military means
As a member of the United Nations, the OSCE and the Council of Europe,
Russia obliged itself to find peaceful solutions to both internal and
international conflicts.
A. As a member of the OSCE
Most recently, during the OSCE Istanbul Summit of November 1999, OSCE
member States, among which the Russian Federation, addressed the
question of the situation in the North Caucasus. But the Russian
government has since then shown then very little openness to any
concrete involvement of the international community in finding a
solution to the conflict. The relevant part of the Istanbul Summit
Declaration agreed to by Russia is as follows:
Article 23: "(...) We agree that a political solution is essential,
and that the assistance of the OSCE would contribute to achieving that
goal. We welcome the willingness of the OSCE to assist in the renewal
of a political dialogue. We welcome the agreement of the Russian
federation to a visit by the Chairman-in-Office to the region. We
reaffirm the existing mandate of the OSCE Assistance Group in
Chechnya. We welcome the willingness of the Russian Federation to
facilitate these steps, which will contribute to creating the
conditions for stability, security and economic prosperity in the
region”. (Istanbul Summit Declaration, 1999)
Likewise, OSCE states developed earlier the OSCE Code of Conduct on
Politico-Military Aspects of Security adopted in Budapest in 1994,
including specific standards to be applied in situations of conflict:
VI (19) "In the event of armed conflict (the participating States)
will seek to facilitate the effective cessation of hostilities and
seek to create conditions favourable to the political solution of the
conflict". (Budapest Document, 1994)
VIII (36) "Each participating state will ensure that any decision to
assign its armed forces to internal security missions is arrived at in
conformity with constitutional procedures. Such decisions will
prescribe the armed forces missions, ensuring that they will be
performed under the effective control of constitutionally established
authorities and subject to the rule of law. If recourse to force can
not be avoided in performing internal security mission, each
participating state will ensure that its use must be commensurate with
the needs of enforcement. The armed forces will take due care of
avoiding injury to civilians or their property." (Budapest Document,
B. As a member of the Council of Europe
Upon admission to the Council of Europe in 1996, Russia undertook
specific commitments with regard to Chechnya and any other potential
conflict. In Opinion No. 193 (1996) of the Parliamentary Assembly of
the Council of Europe, it is stated, among other commitments,  that
Russia must undertake:
10 vii.  To settle international as well as internal disputes by
peaceful means (an obligation incumbent upon all member states of the
Council of Europe), rejecting resolutely any forms of threats of force
against its neighbours; and
10 xxiv.  To respect strictly the provisions of international
humanitarian law, including in cases of armed conflict on its
II. Russia’s Obligation to Abide by International Humanitarian Law
A.  OSCE and Council of Europe
Both the OSCE and the Council of Europe refer to international
humanitarian law standards and stress the obligation by member states
to abide by these norms.
Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights also specifically
states that "Everyone's right to life shall be protected by law.
(...)". While article 15 of the Convention provides for the
possibility to derogate from the Convention's provisions "in time of
war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation"
(art. 15(1)), article 15(2) specifies that "No derogation from article
2, except of death resulting from lawful acts of war (...), shall be
made under this provision".

B.  United Nations
General principles
Article 3 of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of
Civilian Persons in Time of War provides for standards to be applied,
as a minimum, during conflicts of a non international character.
Article 3 (1) of the Geneva Convention states that "Persons taking no
active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who
have laid down their arms and those who have been put hors de combat
by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all cases
be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race,
colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar
Moreover, UN Protocol additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12
August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of
non-international Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), develops further the
minimum requirements set in article 3 above. This is the major
legally-binding document providing for compulsory norms to be applied
with regard to the protection of civilians in situations of internal
The general idea of the Protocol is that the civilian population shall
be preserved against the dangers arising from military operations. It
is a clearly established and recognized principle of international law
that no attack shall be aimed at the civilian population. More
specifically, "acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of
which is to spread terror among the civilian population are
prohibited"(article 13(2), Protocol II).
According to Protocol II, Article 4 (1), "all persons who do not take
part or have ceased to take part in hostilities, whether or not their
liberty has been restricted, are entitled to respect for their person,
honour and convictions and religious practices (…)
Specific violations
The way the war is being conducted in Chechnya raises questions as to
the violation of internationally-recognized standards, by which Russia
claims to be rigorously abiding (see letter of Russian Foreign
Minister Igor Ivanov of 10 January 2000 to the Council of Europe
Secretary General). Evidence collected by human rights groups show the
existence of blatant violations of, among others, the following norms:
Article 4 (2) of Protocol II lists prohibited acts, which include,
among others:

-   "violence to life, health and physical or mental well-being of
persons, in particular murder as well as cruel treatment such as
torture, mutilation or any form of corporal punishment"(a);
-   collective punishments (b);
-   outrages against personal dignity, such as degrading treatment or
rape (c);
-   pillage (g), etc.

·   Armed forces shall refrain from resorting to "starvation of
civilians as a method of combat" (article 14).
·   Forced movement of civilians is prohibited. According to article
17, "The displacement of the civilian population shall not be ordered
for reasons related to the conflict unless the security of the
civilians involved or imperative military reasons so demand(...).".
Article 17 further stresses that "Civilians shall not be compelled to
leave their own territory for reasons connected with the conflict".
·   Article 3 specifies that "all appropriate steps shall be taken to
facilitate the reunion of families temporarily separated", and that
children under the age of fifteen years shall get special protection,
despite of their possible involvement in the hostilities.
Access to Humanitarian aid
In cases where displacements were ordered and where civilians had to
flee a region affected by hostilities, article 17 of Protocol II to
the Geneva Convention states that "all possible measures shall be
taken in order that the civilian population may be received under
satisfactory conditions of shelter, hygiene, health, safety and
In Istanbul in November 1999, OSCE States stressed that "in light of
the humanitarian situation in the region it is important to alleviate
the hardships of the civilian population, including by creating
appropriate conditions for international organizations to provide
humanitarian aid" (article 23, Istanbul Summit Declaration).
For more information:
Ludmilla Alexeyeva, President; Chief of the Moscow Helsinki Group: 
Aaron Rhodes, IHF Executive Director, +43-1-408 8822(office) / 
+43-676-635 6612 (mobile)
Brigitte Dufour, IHF Deputy Executive Director, +43-1-408 8822(office) 
/ +43-676 –690 2457
Vladmir Weissman, IHF Regional Coordinator: +45-21-22 77 26 (mobile)
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
Rummelhardtgasse 2/18
Tel. +43-1-408 88 22
Fax  +43-1-408 88 22-50

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