Introduction to Chechnya-Ingushetia report: A deliberate strategy of non-assistance to people in crisis

In November 2000, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) testified before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe as to the grave humanitarian situation in Chechnya. At the time, we denounced the policy of terror conducted by the Russian and pro-Russian authorities following the resumption of war in 1999, and the difficulties encountered by civilians seeking access to vital health care. Testimony gathered in the field by our staff illustrates the arbitrary and violent nature of treatment meted out to civilians. Today, it is harder than ever to deliver humanitarian aid inside Chechnya, because of the deterioration in security conditions for aid workers and the increasingly obstructive bureaucracy. In fear of their lives, and without access to assistance in their home country, civilians continue to flee in massive numbers to neighbouring Ingushetia. There they are forced to live in inhumane conditions.
  • Civilians in Chechnya live under a reign of terror, in a prison-like environment characterized by arbitrary rules and daily violence. In the last two years, there has been no independent international inquiry into the large-scale violations of human rights and international humanitarian law that are perpetrated on a daily basis in Chechnya.
  • Now in its third year, the war in Chechnya is still causing large numbers civilians to arrive, seeking refuge, in Ingushetia. These new arrivals are 'clandestine' and are not officially registered. Between 20,000 and 50,000 persons have not been officially recorded.
  • Once they have arrived in Ingushetia, the refugees are housed in squalid and inhumane conditions, a fact even recognized by the Russian authorities. The paucity of assistance offered, combined with threats against them, are intended to drive these undesired refugees back to Chechnya. MSF wishes to point out that under international refugee law repatriation may only take place on a voluntary basis and if the conditions in the country of origin permit it. These observations are based on testimonies heard by MSF staff working in Ingushetia whilst providing assistance to the displaced, and on a study concerning the beneficiaries of aid there, conducted by MSF.