Chechnya: MSF presentation to 58th Human Rights Commission

Ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for hearing us today.

"The cleansing at Tsotsen Yurt between last December 31 and January 6 (2002) has paralysed the people. No one asked for their passport and, if they had one to show, they became furious. Each house had to pay 5,000 roubles and, if there was no man in the house, it was the woman who became the victim. Three days later (ago) two young people were killed in Argoun, quartered by two armoured vehicles."

This is but one extract from the numerous testimonies gathered by our teams on the ground and which I want to read to you by way of introduction.

The participation of Médecins Sans Frontieres in the Human Rights Commission Session is unusual and, for us, exceptional. It is reserved for situations of the utmost gravity. For the record, our last such participation was with the genocide in Rwanda.

If we, a humanitarian medical NGO, have come before you, it is because we refuse to resign ourselves to silently provide care for our patients who are victims of attacks and who are once again being plunged in violence, torture or executions as soon as they leave the hospital. Even while they are hospitalised they have to suffer these abuses of authority.

The act of providing care cannot be detached from its past and future situation lest the act itself fails or becomes useless. In this sense we are confronted with a situation which evokes the image of our doctors caring for torture victims while the torturers want to continue their activities.

Our presence today at the Commission of the Human Rights, and the presence of other organisations, bears witness to the gravity and specifics of the conflict in Chechnya.

For the past two and a half years we have been confronted by a new episode in the destruction of a people.

The history of Russo-Chechnya confrontation is marked by the use of terror from Russian colonization to the modern day, including the civil war and the Russian revolution. All Chechens older than 50 have lived through the deportation of 1944 and once again are confronted with this policy of terror. They believe their survival is at stake. The facts unfortunately support this point of view.

During the first conflict in Chechnya, from December 1994 to August 1996, the Chechen losses were placed at approximately 100,000 people. According to certain estimates, nearly 100,000 people may have been killed within the framework of the current conflict - close to 10% of the total population. According to any measure, that is a decimation.

As shown in our report, the violence today against civilians is still extreme and is without any relation to confrontations between the armed forces. On the contrary, these acts have been systematic. The surrounding of villages, raids, plunderings, arbitrary arrests and tortures - nothing stops the Russian forces and certainly not the walls of a civilian hospital, as seen in the attacks on the Chiri Yurt hospital last January 28. At this very moment, thousands of civilians continue to flee Chechnya towards Ingushetia. However everything is done to ensure the reception conditions are unacceptable, with an aim to discourage arrivals.

Thus the reign of terror and arbitrary nature of the violence in Chechnya is not enough. The federal authorities are prepared to keep the civilian population in conditions comparable to an open air prison and force those who took refuge outside Chechnya to re-enter at their own peril.

However, our objective today is not to detail the facts which are already known to all, and some even partly asserted openly by the Russian federal government itself, but to present the following point: -

Whereas violence, and the refusal of assistance to the populations which undergo it, is always the rule, the federal authorities show a clear willingness to continue this policy and not to take any sanction against those who perpetrate the crimes in Chechnya. At the same time, no international institution nor government has taken action that recognises these facts or brings pressure to the Federation of Russia. On the contrary, they have turned a blind eye since September 11. To date, no international survey into the massive human rights and humanitarian rights violations has been carried out.

The question which arises for you today is simple: at the time of this 58th Session of the UN Human Rights Commission, will you choose to close your eyes to this policy of the destruction of a people?