War and conflict

MSF presentation to Council of Europe regarding Chechnya and Ingushetia

Presented by Jean-Hervé Bradol, president of MSF-France on 23 January 2002. 

I would first like to thank you for inviting Médecins Sans Frontières here today. Our presence here reflects the relationship that exists between the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and Médecins Sans Frontières. Since 1995, we have been publishing reports and informing the committees of the Council of Europe on the extent of the crimes committed against the Chechen civilian population.
Likewise, we have described the restrictions imposed on humanitarian aid which affect both the population who have remained in Chechnya and those who have fled to neighbouring Ingushetia. Through regular contact with you, we have always been able to speak frankly.

Our various reports describe events over several years and reading them is as depressing as they are tedious. The tedium comes from the unwavering repetition of violence that is committed against the Chechen population. This repetition demonstrates the policy to destroy a people through bombing, sending them into exile, enslaving those who cannot flee and executions. We are witnessing another attempt to destroy a people.

The history of the Russian-Chechen confrontation began at the turn of the 19th century with the campaign of terror during the Russian colonisation. A hundred years later, history repeated itself with massive repression during the civil war that followed the Russian revolution.

In 1944 nearly the entire population of Chechnya was deported. More than a third of those deported died whilst being transferred to the frozen steppes of central Asia. All Chechens over 50 years old today have experienced deportation and, confronted once again with a campaign of terror, they are convinced that their lives are threatened. The events confirm this fear.

During the first period of conflict, from December 1994 to August 1996, 100,000 Chechens are estimated to have died - literally, a decimation.

After a brief period of calm, punctuated by the election of a Chechen president recognised by the international Community, the war started again with a vengeance. Once again civilians began falling by the thousands under the bombs, arbitrary arrests, torture and force deportations. They are even deprived of the minimum assistance nneded to help them out of their misery. Tens of thousands have died since autumn 1999.

The Council of Europe's mission is to monitor the respect of Human Rights in the 43 member states. Has Russia been excluded from the Council of Europe? No. At one point, the Parliamentary Assembly suspended the Russian delegation's right to vote, but only to lift this suspension a few months later - despite the fact that none of the conditions for lifting the suspension had been fulfilled.

Have the member states of the Council of Europe taken the crimes of the Russian Federation before the European Court of Human Rights? No. Over the last two years there has been no independent international investigation into the crimes committed by the Russian forces and, to a lesser extent, by the Chechen fighters.

In Russia, the work of Vladimir Kalamanov in favour of human rights is systematically thwarted by the Public and Military Prosecutors.

In fact, the Council of Europe has given in to the pressures of the influential member States of the European Union (France, United Kingdom and Germany). You have opted for 'a logic of cooperation' with Moscow, ie. To keep quiet about the massive violation of Human Rights and Humanitarian law perpetrated in Chechnya.

For over two years you have chosen to ignore, in full knowledge, the repression of the Chechen population and the crimes committed in the name of the 'fight against terrorism'. By "you", I am addressing the Parliamentary Assembly, in particular the Committee of Ministers and the General Secretary of the Council of Europe. Your passivity over the last two years, and the new free hand given to Russia since the 11th September 2001, implicates your responsibility with regards to the gravity of the crimes committed against the civilian Chechen population.

Medécins Sans Frontières is also here today to underline the precarious situation of the displaced Chechen population in Ingushetia. This unacceptable humanitarian situation is the direct consequence of the policy, set up over a year ago by the Federal Russian authorities. By depriving the displaced population in Ingushetia of assistance, the Russian authorities hope to force this population to return to Chechnya. The pressure to return has increased markedly over the last few months and is of great concern to us. The border which separates Ingushetia and Chechnya separates a lawful from a lawless state - where rape, summary executions and torture reign.

Your responsibility when voting of January 23rd is to state clearly that the living conditions and security in Chechnya do not permit the civilian population to return. It is your responsibility to recall that the right to flee one's country when one is threatened is one of the fundamental principals of Human Rights. On January 23rd, during your discussion on Chechnya, it will be your responsibility to either bury the identity and values of the Council of Europe or the start to defend them.