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Violence Against Civilians Continues in Chechnya

(Washington, DC--May 30, 2002) Eliza Moussaeva, the head of the Nazran, Ingushetia office of the Moscow-based human rights group "Memorial," and Bela Tsugaeva ,former administrator of the Nazran Legal Counseling Center, during a recent briefing at RFE/RL's Washington office, stressed that violence by Russian armed forces against civilians in Chechnya continues.

Moussaeva noted that, in the First Chechen War the Kremlin referred to its military campaign as "establishing Constitutional order," and in the Second Chechen War, the Kremlin claims it is "conducting an anti-terrorist operation." In Moussaeva's view, however, the exact opposite is true: in the First Chechen War the behavior of Russian forces violated Russian constitutional norms, and in this second war the Kremlin treats all civilians as terrorists.

Since the Kremlin turns a deaf ear to the ongoing terror against civilians, Moussaeva said, the West is now "the only hope" for the population of Chechnya. She drew attention to "Order number 80" which was issued on March 27, 2002 by the Russian military's general commander for Chechnya. The order, which seeks to reduce the occurance of human rights abuses against civilians, requires Russian units to provide local mayors with the names of anyone taken for interrogation and the license plates of vehicles used. Nevertheless, "Memorial" was finding evidence of further atrocities and a total disregard of the order. It is not that the West is indifferent to Chechnya, Moussaeva believes, it is simply that it is uninformed.

Tsugaeva focused on the plight of refugees from Chechnya--of the 150,000 resident in Ingushetia, 15 percent live in tent camps, 65 percent rent space from local families, and the rest have no housing. Conditions have worsened since the Russian Migration Service was absorbed into the Ministry of Internal Affairs with refugees no longer know ing where to turn for assistance. In addition, the Russian government no longer provides free bread to refugees, nor pays utility fees for families hosting refugees.

All of these steps, Tsugaeva said, are part of a Kremlin-directed plan to "induce" refugees to return to Chechnya, despite the ongoing military free-fire zone there. As a result, international organizations and NGOs--funded mostly by the United Nations--cover 70 percent of the costs incurred by the refugees from Chechnya residing in Ingushetia. Refugees from Chechnya in other parts of Russia or in Central Asia, however, receive only a one-time hand-out assistance from the UN and no regular assistance from other international organizations.