Doc. 8700

5 April 2000

Conflict in Chechnya - Implementation by Russia of Recommendation 1444 (2000)

Opinion1

Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights

Rapporteur: Mr Rudolf Bindig, Germany, Socialist Group

I.       Conclusions of the Committee

The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights concludes that:

1.       The main demands enumerated in paragraphs 11 and 16 of Recommendation 1444 (2000) on the conflict in Chechnya have not been met. No cease-fire has been introduced, and no negotiations on a political solution of the conflict have started.

2.        The Russian side has continued its indiscriminate and disproportionate military campaign in the Chechen Republic (hereafter "Chechnya"), including direct attacks on the civilian population. The Russian Federal troops have committed - and apparently continue to commit - grave human rights violations and even war crimes. Peaceful civilians have been – and still are at risk of being – shot dead, raped, arrested and arbitrarily detained, tortured and ill-treated; their homes destroyed and looted. Despite encouraging declarations of intent, investigations by Russian prosecutors have, in the majority of cases, yielded few, if any, concrete results. Most violations of human rights by the Federal troops in Chechnya go unreported, due to restrictions imposed on the free movement of journalists in Chechnya, and the non-admittance of non-governmental human rights organisations, and stay unpunished.

3.       Russia is thus, once again, found to be violating some of her most important obligations under both the European Convention on Human Rights and international humanitarian law, as well as the commitments she entered into upon accession to the Council of Europe, “to settle international as well as internal disputes by peaceful means” and “to respect strictly the provisions of international humanitarian law, including in cases of armed conflict on its territory”.

4.       The Chechen side has also continued its violations of international humanitarian law by using civilians as shields and endangering civilian lives by provoking Russian counter-attacks on densely populated civilian areas. Hostages are still being held. However, it must be said in this context that the scale and number of human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law on the Chechen side cannot be even remotely compared to those on the Russia side, which are of a much greater magnitude, and, due to Russia being a state party to the European Convention on Human Rights and thus bound by the duty to protect the rights she is violating, much more serious.

5.        Russia, upon its accession to the Council of Europe, committed itself in writing to observe the principles and standards of the organisation and to fulfil all obligations arising from the Statute of the Council of Europe and its most important conventions. In particular, Russia’s accession, it was assured, would not result in the lowering of the high standards of the organisation. In keeping with these assurances the Assembly has the right to insist on the maintenance and respect of the standards of the Council of Europe, and can only regret that Russia is digressing from these standards through its conduct in Chechnya, and is violating its commitments and obligations in the most serious manner.

6.        Substantial grounds for concern exist that the European Convention of Human Rights is being violated by the Russian authorities in Chechnya both gravely and in a systematic manner. The Assembly should thus appeal to the member states of the Council of Europe, as high contracting parties to the Convention, to make use of Article 33 as a matter of urgency and refer to the European Court of Human Rights alleged breaches by Russia of the provisions of the convention and its protocols.

7.        The conduct of the Russian Federation in Chechnya in the past few months up until the present time constitutes such a grave violation of Article 3 of the Statute of the Council of Europe, that the use of all of the possibilities afforded by the Statute and the Rules of Procedure of the Parliamentary Assembly would be fully justified. Nevertheless, the Assembly intends to try to strengthen and encourage those political forces in Russia which are willing to respect the obligations which arise from membership in the Council of Europe and to return to respect of its standards.

8.        Thus, the Assembly should call for the fulfilment of all demands contained in the operative paragraphs of Recommendation 1444 (2000), in particular the introduction of a complete cease-fire, the start of negotiations without preconditions and the immediate cessation (and investigation) of all human rights violations on both sides. In view of the considerations above, the Committee of Ministers should be asked to consider whether to initiate, in accordance with Article 8 of the Statute, the procedure for the suspension of Russia from its rights of representation in the Council.

Accordingly, the Committee submits the following amendments:

Amendement A:

In paragraph 2, replace "Chechnya" by:

"the Chechen Republic (hereafter "Chechnya")".

Amendment B:

Replace sub-paragraph 5 i. and 5 v. with one new sub-paragraph as follows:

“appointing Mr Vladimir Kalamanov Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation on Securing Human and Citizens’ Rights and Freedoms in the Chechen Republic, and agreeing in principle to accept consultative expertise for his office in the form of Council of Europe expert staff;”

Amendment C:

Delete sub-paragraph 5 iv.

Amendment D:

Replace sub-paragraphs 5 vii. and viii. with one sub-paragraph as follows:

“concluding a working memorandum with the United Nations Secretary General on procedures governing humanitarian assistance in the region, and reaching an agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on its operation in the Chechen Republic and on ICRC representatives access to temporary detention centres;”

Amendment E:

In paragraph 8, insert the following words after the words “has violated”:

“and continues to violate”.

Amendment F:

After paragraph 8, insert the following new paragraph:

“In particular, the Assembly deplores the following actions of the Russian Federal troops in Chechnya:

i. the total and wanton destruction of the city of Grozny, the most striking example of indiscriminate and disproportionate military action which has cost hundreds, if not thousands of civilian lives;

ii. continued attacks on the civilian population, ranging from the use of aerial bombardments and other heavy weaponry in densely populated areas to the committal of war crimes by Federal troops, including the murder and rape of civilians;

iii. the alleged arbitrary arrest and detention of non-combatants, and their reported subsequent ill-treatment in detention;

iv. the continued use of young conscripts in the military campaign in Chechnya."

Amendment G:

Insert, before paragraph 9, the following new paragraph:

“The Assembly also deplores that, up until now, the Chechen side has not complied with the demands formulated in paragraph 11 of Recommendation 1444 (2000). In particular, it regrets that no cease-fire has been introduced on the Chechen side, and that hostages are still being held. The Assembly reiterates that all its demands remain fully valid, and insists that the Chechen side comply with them immediately, and take up any offer of negotiations without preconditions.”

Amendment H:

Add, after paragraph 11, the following new paragraph:

“The Assembly recalls that Russia, upon its accession to the Council of Europe, committed itself in writing to observe the principles and standards of the organisation and to fulfil all obligations arising from the Statute of the Council of Europe and its most important conventions. In particular, Russia’s accession, it was assured, would not result in the lowering of the high standards of the organisation. In keeping with these assurances the Assembly insists on the maintenance and respect of the standards of the Council of Europe, and regrets that Russia is digressing from these standards through its conduct in Chechnya, and is violating its commitments and obligations in a most serious manner.”

Amendment I:

Replace paragraph 13 with the following paragraph:

“The Assembly considers that substantial grounds for concern exist, as noted inter alia in some of the preceding paragraphs, that the European Convention of Human Rights is being violated by the Russian authorities in Chechnya both gravely and in a systematic manner. The Assembly thus appeals to the member states of the Council of Europe, as high contracting parties to the Convention, to make use of Article 33 as a matter of urgency and refer to the European Court of Human Rights alleged breaches by Russia of the provisions of the convention and its protocols.”

Amendment J:

In paragraph 14, add the following first new sub-paragraph:

“first and foremost, immediately cease all human rights violations in the Chechen Republic, including the ill-treatment and harassment of civilians and non-combatants in the Chechen Republic by the Russian Federal troops, and the alleged torture and ill-treatment of detainees;”

Amendment K:

In paragraph 14, replace sub-paragraph i. with the following sub-paragraph:

“to start immediately a political dialogue, without preconditions or prior restrictions, with a cross-section of representatives of the Chechen people, including representatives of the elected Chechen authorities, with the objective of achieving a comprehensive political solution to the conflict;”

Amendment L:

In paragraph 14, replace sub-paragraph ii. with the following sub-paragraph:

“ii.       to introduce an immediate and complete cease-fire;”

Amendment M:

In paragraph 15, add, after the first sub-paragraph, the following new sub-paragraph:

“to ensure that the competent international bodies have access to all detainees in the region, including in temporary detention facilities in Chechnya itself;”

Amendment N:

In paragraph 15, add at the end, the following new sub-paragraph:

“to ensure free access by Russian and international media to the region;”.

Amendment O:

In paragraph 16, delete the word “fully” after “inter-act”.

Amendment P:

In paragraph 18, add as the first sub-point of sub-paragraph i:

“a.       insist that Russia fulfil its obligations arising from the Statute of the Council of Europe and international humanitarian law;”

Amendment Q:

In paragraph 18, sub-paragraph i, line b., delete “committed to renounce terrorism and violence”.

Amendment R:

In paragraph 18, replace sub-paragraph ii. with the following text:

“on the basis of paragraphs 16 and 18 of Recommendation 1444 (2000), and paragraphs 14 and 15 of this Recommendation, consider whether to initiate, in accordance with Article 8 of the Statute, the procedure for the suspension of Russia from its rights of representation in the Council of Europe;”

Amendment S:

Add, as the final paragraph of the recommendation, the following paragraph:

“The Assembly concludes that the conduct of the Russian Federation in Chechnya in the past few months up until the present time constitutes such a grave violation of Article 3 of the Statute of the Council of Europe, that the use of all of the possibilities afforded by the Statute and the Rules of Procedure of the Parliamentary Assembly would be fully justified. Nevertheless, the Assembly intends to strengthen and encourage those political forces in Russia which are willing to respect the obligations which arise from membership in the Council of Europe and to return to respect of its standards. In addition, the Assembly, in this important political question, wants to ascertain the opinion of the Committee of Ministers.”

II. Explanatory memorandum

by Mr Bindig

A. Introduction

1.       The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights appointed me its Rapporteur on the conflict in Chechnya at its meeting in Paris on 10 January 2000. In this capacity I took part in the two visits of the ad hoc Committee of the Bureau to Moscow and the North Caucasus from 16 to 20 January 2000 and from 8 to 13 March 2000. This opinion is thus based on information gathered during the latter visit, both in official meetings in Moscow2, Dagestan3, North Ossetia-Alania4 and Ingushetia5, and in informal discussions with local residents and internally displaced persons in Grosny, the Chechen town of Argun, and camps for internally displaced persons in Ingushetia. The ad hoc Committee of the Bureau also visited Chernokosovo detention centre and the local police station in Naurskaya (both situated in Chechnya).

2.        However, due to the fact that the ad hoc Committee was unable to hear the opinion of the Chechen side, and had little access to the local population, I will also rely on written reports from international and non-governmental organisations. Furthermore, I will take into account the memorandum submitted by the Russian parliamentary delegation to the Council of Europe concerning the Implementation of Recommendation 1444 (2000) on the conflict in Chechnya. In order to ensure an entirely neutral position, it is necessary not only to take into consideration the arguments of the Russian authorities, but also of other sources. I will build on the Recommendation of the Assembly, and refer to my previous opinion on the conflict in Chechnya of 25 January 20006 where appropriate.

3.        The political situation in Chechnya will be assessed by Lord Judd, Rapporteur of the Political Affairs Committee; Mr Iwinski, Rapporteur of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography, will deal with the issues of humanitarian aid and the situation of internally displaced persons, and Mr Hegyi, Rapporteur of the Committee on Culture and Education, will look into the issue of freedom of the media and the case of Mr Andrej Babitsky. The Monitoring Committee will also contribute to the debate. In this opinion, I will thus concentrate on the human rights situation in Chechnya through an analysis of the (non)compliance of the Russian and Chechen sides with the operative paragraphs of Recommendation 1444 (2000).

B. Developments in Chechnya since January 2000:

(Non)compliance with Recommendation 1444 (2000) of the Assembly

on the Russian side

4.        Since the Assembly’s debate on the conflict in Chechnya on 27 January 2000, the war in Chechnya has continued, and with it the whole panoply of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law on both sides, but especially the Russian one, already documented during the January 2000 part-session of the Assembly.

Demand for an immediate cease-fire and negotiations without preconditions with the elected Chechen authorities (paragraphs 16.i. and ii):

5.       No cease-fire was introduced, and no negotiations were started. In particular the Russian Federal leadership insisted on retaking control over the entire territory of Chechnya by military means. Several times, e.g. in interviews with the media (now forbidden7), President Maskhadov had offered to start negotiations and introduce a cease-fire, but his overtures were scorned by the Russian side8. On 28 March 2000, however, the French news agency AFP reported that President Maskhadov was unwilling to negotiate with the Russian side until the Russian army had withdrawn from Chechnya.

6.       It is certainly true that President Maskhadov does not control all Chechen fighters, and it is probably also true that he did not put up a sustained enough resistance to the “criminalisation” of the Chechen economy (including most brutal acts of hostage-taking, public executions and the introduction of Sharia-law) before Russia’s intervention in Chechnya9. Be that as it may, Mr Maskhadov remains the Chechen Republic’s legitimately elected President, and any negotiations must include him or his representatives.

7.       The Russian authorities seem to think that there is no necessity to enter into negotiations with any Chechen who does not fully share their views, i.e. they seem to consider that a political settlement with those Chechens who have taken up arms against the Russian Federal forces is not necessary. In my opinion, this is a grave mistake. While it might be possible to defeat the remaining Chechen fighters in the mountains over the next few months10, an extended guerrilla war seems very likely. To all extents and purposes, the Chechen conflict cannot be settled militarily. This has been the Assembly’s message right from the very start in 1993/1994, and I am confident that this will stay the Assembly’s message: The Chechen conflict can only be solved peacefully. The sooner the Russian authorities agree to a complete cease-fire, and start negotiations without preconditions with the elected Chechen authorities, first and foremost President Maskhadov and his representatives, the better. It goes without saying that President Maskhadov must enter these negotiations without preconditions, as well.

8.       I would like once more to underline in this context that the continued Russian military campaign as it is being conducted in Chechnya is unacceptable. However lawless the Chechen republic had become in 1996-99, however dreadful the acts allegedly perpetrated by Chechen terrorists were, Russia was and is bound by international obligations which require it to settle internal conflicts by peaceful means, and to strictly respect the provisions of international humanitarian law. Even in cases of terrorist attacks, a state has to use means which are proportionate to the threat, and which do not unduly endanger innocent lives. The scale of Russia’s military intervention in Chechnya was and is of such magnitude that it cannot be justified in terms of an anti-terrorist operation, and must in itself be condemned as a violation of human rights and international humanitarian law.

Demand to stop immediately all indiscriminate and disproportionate military action in Chechnya, including the use of young conscripts, and to cease all attacks against the civilian population (paragraph 16.i.):

9.       As Lord Judd has remarked, the most striking evidence that Russia did not stop all indiscriminate and disproportionate military action in Chechnya is the state of its capital, Grozny. It is hard to believe one’s eyes when one is witness to the effects of the systematic and deliberate destruction of a European city by its own government. Grozny is not only in ruins (the city had suffered greatly already during the first Chechen war) – it has been practically razed to the ground. It is surprising that it appears at least 12.000 inhabitants managed to survive the dreadful aerial and long-range artillery bombardment of the city. How many civilians perished, however, we will probably never know. The Russians declared the Chechen capital a “closed city” for several weeks, ostensibly for security reasons.

10.        Even though the Russian authorities have repeatedly announced that the military phase of the operation is ending, several villages have suffered from indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks even after the “fall” or “liberation” of Grosny11. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to receive independent reports from the conflict zone, due to the restrictive information policy of the Russian government, which – while ensuring the security of journalists – allows them only to go on “organised tours” of the region under Russian control, and does not permit non-governmental organisations access to Chechnya at all, forcing them to rely on witness testimony gathered in camps for internally displaced persons, mainly in Ingushetia. Visiting delegations like that of the ad hoc Committee of the Bureau can, for reasons of security and shortage of time, also seldom verify these reports on the spot.

11.       It seems, however, that Russian military doctrine has not changed since January as far as the use of aerial bombardment and other heavy weaponry is concerned, not even in densely populated areas. As I already pointed out in my opinion in January 2000, international humanitarian law demands that, in the conduct of military operations during armed conflicts, a distinction must be made at all times between persons actively taking part in the hostilities and civilian populations. The Russian Federation, through its continued indiscriminate and disproportionate military actions, especially its use of aerial and long-range artillery-bombardment in densely populated areas, is violating international humanitarian law in the most elementary way.

12.        The Assembly, in its January recommendation, also expressed concern about the use of young conscripts in the conflict area, and demanded that this practice cease. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. According to the Russian authorities, more than 2,000 soldiers and conscripts have been killed in the second Chechen conflict; at least 4,500 have been wounded. Many observers believe that the real casualty figures are higher; the Russian NGO Soldiers’ Mothers’ Committee, for example, thinks these figures must be multiplied by two or three. Of the more than 100,000 Federal troops currently fighting in Chechnya12, 61% are said to be conscripts, the rest contract soldiers (mostly of the Ministry of the Interior, but also the Army). Incidents have been recorded in the Russian press when totally inexperienced conscripts were sent to Chechnya after six weeks of training, and when conscripts were forced to serve longer than the law allows, because commanders wanted to keep experienced soldiers in the field. The interfaction Group of the State Duma on Human Rights, Displaced Persons and the Normalisation of the Social, Political and Economic Situation in the Chechen Republic is investigating these allegations.

13. The Assembly demanded in January that Russia cease all attacks on the civilian population. Again, this demand has not been complied with. On the contrary, respected non-governmental organisations such as Human Rights Watch, Memorial and Amnesty International have documented a pattern of human rights violations by the Russian Federal forces, culminating in extrajudicial and summary executions of civilians in, for example, the Staropromyskovski district of Grozny in early January 200013, and the Grozny suburb of Novye Aldy on 5 February 200014. What is especially worrying is that the Military Prosecutor’s Office on 20 March 2000 ended an investigation into the killings in Novye Aldi, concluding that Russian troops were not responsible for them. The witness testimony gathered by human rights organisations on these incidents was, however, very detailed, mutually corroborating, and convincing. The effectiveness of the investigations of the prosecutor’s office must therefore be doubted. NGO-calls for an independent international enquiry into these incidents are thus understandable.

Demand to respect strictly the fundamental human rights of the civilian population in the territories of Chechnya under its control, in particular with regard to human rights violations and harassment by the military and police forces (paragraph 16.v.):

14.       Indeed, this has probably been the demand which has been disregarded most blatantly by the Russian side. The following pattern can be construed from reports of human rights organisations, the press, and witness testimony in camps for internally displaced persons, for almost every Chechen village or town which Chechen fighters set foot in:

15.        This kind of behaviour, even when perpetrated in a drunken state, if it can be proven to have happened along these lines in reality, is inexcusable, and can only be condemned in the strongest most possible terms. According to international law, such behaviour is classed as a war crime. It is imperative that these violations of human rights and war crimes not only be investigated and prosecuted, but that they be stopped immediately.

16.        In fact, evidence that war crimes were committed during the attack on Grozny - and are now continuing to be committed in the fighting in the southern mountainous area -

is mounting. In a report submitted on 31 March 2000 based on interviews with wounded soldiers in military hospitals, the respected Russian NGO “Soldiers Mothers St. Petersburg” alleges that, in Grozny, soldiers were given the order “not to take prisoners, to leave no-one alive in the town”15. Soldiers had also apparently been informed by their commanders that even women, old people and children might “throw a grenade” and were thus to be shot on sight. Among the alleged victims of this inhumane order were a woman in her eighth month of pregnancy and a five-year old girl. Some of the soldiers interviewed claimed that vacuum bombs16 and gas had been used. These allegations must be urgently and fully investigated.

17.        There have been many worrying reports about incidences of ill-treatment and torture in detention camps (SIZOs or IVS facilities) in Chechnya. Most allegations originally centred on the camp in Chernokosovo, which the ad hoc Committee of the Bureau had the chance to visit at the beginning of March, as had journalists and other international organisations before us. My impression was that the conditions of detention had changed substantially since January-February 2000, when the most atrocious allegations of ill-treatment and torture had leaked out. In fact, the newspaper “Komsomolskaya Pravda” claims in an article of 7 March 2000 that the inmates of Chernokosovo detention centre had been taken in three train carriages to Chervlyonaya-Uzlovaya, where they continued to be mistreated while journalists and international delegations were shown a model detention camp in Chernokosovo where the new paint was still wet on the walls. The only fact our delegation could establish was that detainees did not seem to have access to a lawyer; considering that Russian law allows for detention of up to two months for identity checks (far too long in my opinion) – most detainees we met had been detained for this reason – access to a lawyer is vital.

18.        Allegations of ill-treatment and torture in detention can only be countered by an absolute openness on the Russian side. I thus welcome the visit of the Council of Europe Committee for the prevention of torture to Chechnya at the end of February, and the publication of the Committee’s first comments. The agreement reached on 31 March 2000 between the President of the International Red Cross (ICRC) and President Putin should enable the ICRC to play an important monitoring role in places of detention on Chechen territory.

19.        The Assembly obviously welcomes the nomination of Mr Kalamanov as Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation on securing human rights and freedoms of citizens in the Chechen Republic and the assistance Council of Europe expert staff will provide him with, as well as the assurances given on all levels that human rights violations will be prosecuted through the offices of the Prosecutor-General and the Chief Military Prosecutor. However, the recent closure of the investigation into the killings of civilians in Novye Aldi does not bode well, nor the statement of the Russian parliamentary delegation that the prosecutor’s office is investigating only 8 crimes17 committed against the local population (of 300 “verified facts of crimes committed by soldiers”18). The Federal troops behaved in a very similar way in the first Chechen war, too (especially concerning rape, arson and looting) – one of the commitments the Russian Federation entered into upon accession was therefore to investigate crimes committed by Federal troops in Chechnya and bring those guilty to justice.

20.        In the framework of the Monitoring exercise, Mr Mühlemann and I had to conclude in June 1998 that the Russian authorities were doing little, if anything to bring those guilty to justice19. We found that “Nevertheless, this commitment concerning the prosecution of human rights violations in Chechnya is very important. During the Chechen conflict, tens of thousands of Chechen civilians died and many more were wounded; most of these deaths were the result of indiscriminate or direct attacks upon civilians by the Russian army. Evidence of maltreatment and torture during the conflict, especially in the so-called filtration points, is bountiful, not to speak of the "ordinary" crimes of a badly disciplined army enumerated above (looting, rape, etc.). It is wholly unacceptable that the instigators and perpetrators of these crimes, which number in the thousands, should go unpunished. The Assembly must demand that this particular commitment be taken seriously by the Russian authorities, and that those responsible for human rights violations in Chechnya be brought to justice immediately.” I can only repeat the same demand today: accountability is a key question.

21.        It is very urgent and necessary that all alleged war crimes and human rights violations are investigated, and the guilty brought to trial. It is the primary duty and responsibility of the Russian authorities to do so. However, it might also be necessary for international bodies to get involved in this process to achieve satisfactory results. I thus fully support the demand of human rights organisations, taken up by Lord Judd, that Council of Europe member states should refer to the European Court of Human Rights all alleged breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights.

22.        In this context, I would like to make a remark concerning an argument often put forward by the Russian side: that social and economic rights are the most important rights in Chechnya right now (payments of salaries, pensions and state benefits, re-opening of schools and hospitals, reconnection of the gas, electricity and water supply, etc.). I do not want to belittle the efforts of the Russian authorities to normalise life in the Chechen Republic, but I want to point out that money, schooling, and even access to health-care are worthless if your most basic human rights are endangered, i.e. the right to life and to be protected from torture and ill-treatment. Social and economic rights are not rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. The Russian authorities would do well to keep in mind that their first and foremost duty is to protect the civilians living in Chechnya from attack by the Federal forces, from murder, rape, looting and harassment.

Demand to allow for the unhindered delivery of international humanitarian assistance and for the effective operation of international governmental and non-governmental humanitarian organisations in the region

23.       This demand has been partly met. Humanitarian aid has reached the region, both provided by international governmental organisations (mainly the UN and its agencies) and non-governmental humanitarian organisations such as “Medecins sans frontières” and “Medecins du monde”. However, the Russian authorities have insisted that all aid be channelled through the Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations and the Federal Migration Service, i.e. not allowing organisations to distribute their aid directly. Indeed, until very recently, members of both international governmental organisations and non-governmental humanitarian organisations were barred from entering Chechnya, ostensibly for security reasons. I assume Mr Iwinski will deal with this point in more detail in his opinion for the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography.

Demand to ensure free access by Russian and international media to the region

24.       While an impressive number of journalists have been given the necessary accreditation to cover events in Chechnya (as of 22 March 2000, 875 journalists, of which 460 work for the international media), these journalists are only allowed to go on visits to the North Caucasus organised by the Russian authorities, under constant control of Russian soldiers. Notwithstanding the situation e.g. in Kosovo during the NATO campaign, this restriction on physical access to Chechnya, combined with the ban on contacts with Chechen fighters and occasional threats levelled at too independent-minded media by the Russian authorities (up to the doctoring of a recent interview with President Maskhadov), effectively results in an unacceptable muzzling of the press. I suppose Mr Hegyi will deal with this point in more detail in his opinion for the Committee on Culture and Education.

Other demands

25.        The Russian authorities seem to have complied with the other demands set out in paragraph 16 of Recommendation 1444 (2000). In particular, there seem to have been no restrictions on those wishing to leave Chechnya, nor have there been any further reports about forced repatriations to Chechnya. The Russian authorities have entered into discussions with competent international organisations, especially the Council of Europe and the OSCE, to explore ways in which these can contribute to the peaceful solution of the Chechen conflict, although any offers of mediation have been roundly rejected.

C. Developments in Chechnya since January 2000:

(Non)compliance with Recommendation 1444 (2000) of the Assembly

on the Chechen side

Demand to introduce an immediate and complete cease-fire (paragraph 11):

26.        The Chechen side has not introduced an immediate and complete cease-fire, either. However, it has offered several times to enter into negotiations, offers which have been rejected by the Russian side (see paragraph 5-7). I would like to underline once more that the solution of the Chechen conflict cannot be a military one. A guerrilla war against the Russian side is no answer, either. The Chechen side should reiterate its offer of negotiations, should not set any preconditions, and introduce an immediate and complete cease-fire as a signal of good faith.

Demand for Chechen elected representatives to ensure the release of all hostages, to stop all acts of terrorism and violence emanating from the Chechen side and to bring to justice the authors of these acts (paragraph 11):

27.        The Chechen side has released practically no hostages since the beginning of the second Chechen war. The taking and holding of hostages is a despicable act which has no justification whatsoever. All hostages should immediately be released.

28.       The Chechen side does not seem to have perpetrated any terrorist acts since the recommendation of the Assembly was adopted. However, the Chechen side has continued to violate international law by endangering the lives of civilians by provoking Russian counter-attacks on civilian neighbourhoods. For example, especially during their retreat from Grozny, Chechen fighters apparently often took up positions in areas heavily populated by civilians, fired at Russian aircraft from these positions, and abandoned them. The subsequent bombardment thus provoked then hit only civilian targets. This use of civilians as shields by the Chechen fighters must stop immediately.

D. Conclusions and recommendations

29.        The main demands enumerated in paragraphs 11 and 16 of Recommendation 1444 (2000) on the conflict in Chechnya have not been met. No cease-fire has been introduced, and no negotiations on a political solution of the conflict have started. The Russian authorities bear the greatest share of the blame for the continuation of the war in Chechnya.

30.        Russia has continued indiscriminate and disproportionate military action in Chechnya, including direct attacks on the civilian population. Human rights are violated as a matter of course by the Russian Federal troops. Peaceful civilians have been – and unfortunately continue to be – shot dead, raped, arrested and arbitrarily detained, tortured and ill-treated. Looting and extortion by Russian soldiers is an everyday occurrence. Despite encouraging declarations of intent, investigations by Russian prosecutors have, in the majority of cases, yielded few, if any, concrete results. Most violations of human rights by the Federal troops in Chechnya go unreported, due to restrictions imposed on the free movement of journalists in Chechnya, and the non-admittance of non-governmental human rights organisations, and stay unpunished.

31.       Russia is thus, once again, found to be violating some of her most important obligations under both the European Convention on Human Rights and international humanitarian law, as well as the commitments she entered into upon accession to the Council of Europe, “to settle international as well as internal disputes by peaceful means” and “to respect strictly the provisions of international humanitarian law, including in cases of armed conflict on its territory”. Russia has not fulfilled the most important and elementary demands contained in the operative paragraphs of Recommendation 1444 (2000) on the conflict in Chechnya.

32.       The Chechen side has also continued its violations of international humanitarian law by using civilians as shields and endangering civilian lives by provoking Russian counter-attacks on densely populated civilian areas. Hostages continue to be held. However, it must be said in this context that the scale and number of human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law on the Chechen side cannot be even remotely compared to those on the Russia side, which are of a much greater magnitude, and, due to Russia being a state party to the European Convention on Human Rights and thus bound by the duty to protect the rights she is violating, much more serious.

33.        I would recall at this point that Russia, upon its accession to the Council of Europe, committed itself in writing to observe the principles and standards of the organisation and to fulfil all obligations arising from the Statute of the Council of Europe and its most important conventions. In particular, Russia’s accession, it was assured, would not result in the lowering of the high standards of the organisation. In keeping with these assurances the Assembly has the right to insist on the maintenance and respect of the standards of the Council of Europe, and can only regret that Russia is digressing from these standards through its conduct in Chechnya, and is violating its commitments and obligations in the most serious manner.

34.        Thus I must conclude that substantial grounds for concern exist that the European Convention of Human Rights is being violated by the Russian authorities in Chechnya both gravely and in a systematic manner. The Assembly should thus appeal to the member states of the Council of Europe, as high contracting parties to the Convention, to make use of Article 33 as a matter of urgency and refer to the European Court of Human Rights alleged breaches by Russia of the provisions of the convention and its protocols.

35.       I can only conclude that the conduct of the Russian Federation in Chechnya in the past few months up until the present time constitutes such a grave violation of Article 3 of the Statute of the Council of Europe, that the use of all of the possibilities afforded by the Statute and the Rules of Procedure of the Parliamentary Assembly would be fully justified. Nevertheless, the Assembly intends to try to strengthen and encourage those political forces in Russia which are willing to respect the obligations which arise from membership in the Council of Europe and to return to respect of its standards.

36.        Thus, the Assembly should call for the fulfilment of all demands contained in the operative paragraphs of Recommendation 1444 (2000), in particular the introduction of a complete cease-fire, the start of negotiations without preconditions and the immediate cessation (and investigation) of all human rights violations on both sides. In view of the considerations above, the Committee of Ministers should be asked to consider whether to initiate, in accordance with Article 8 of the Statute, the procedure for the suspension of Russia from its rights of representation in the Council of Europe.

Reporting committee: Political Affairs Committee

Committee for opinion: Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights

Reference to committee: Reference No 2470, Rec. 1444 (2000), Doc 8631

Opinion approved by the committee on 4 April 2000

Secretaries to the committee: Mr Plate, Ms Coin and Ms Kleinsorge


1 See Doc. 8697

2 Including meetings with the Chairman of the State Duma and the Deputy Chairman of the Council of the Federation, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Emergency Situation, Federal Affairs and Nationalities and the Special Assistant to the Acting President and his Special Representative on Human Rights and Freedoms in the Chechen Republic.

3 Meeting with Chairman of the Dagestan Republic.

4 Meeting with the President of the Republic of Dagestan and the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Russian Federation.

5 Meeting with the President of the Republic of Ingushetia.

6 Doc. 8631.

7 President Maskhadov has been put on the list of wanted criminals by the Russian government. Branded as a “terrorist”, the media are no longer allowed to make contact with him (or put forward his point of view) in accordance – it is claimed – with Russian anti-terrorist legislation.

8 The Russian authorities first refused to negotiate with President Maskhadov without preconditions, setting the (very unrealistic) conditions that he first free all hostages and deliver all “terrorists and bandits” to the Russian side. Lately, the Russian authorities refuse to negotiate with President Maskhadov at all, denying his legitimacy, and arguing that President Maskhadov aided and abetted the Chechen terrorists (indeed, most recently they have taken to calling him personally a terrorist, as well), and stating that he has no control over the Chechen fighters.

9 It is, however, also true that the Russian authorities did nothing to help President Maskhadov’s moderate camp before this intervention, which had difficulty in asserting its authority mainly also because of the legacy of the first Chechen war (a ruined economy awash with arms and young, experienced, and jobless, fighters).

10 However, the military campaign has already been waging for more than half a year, longer than the Russian military establishment seems to have expected.

11 In reports by reputable non-governmental organisations, reference is made, for example, to the villages of Shaami-Yurt (February 2000: intensive bombardment), Gekhi-Chu (February 2000) and Komsomolskoye (March 2000: siege and intensive bombardment, trapping of civilians in an open field).

12 The Federal command has announced that this figure is to be reduced to 50.000 permanently stationed troops soon.

13 “Civilian killings in Staropromyslovski district of Grozny”, Human Rights Watch Vol. 12, No. 2, February 2000; “Testimony on “Purging” (“Scraping”) Grozny, Memorandum of Memorial, 10 February 2000.

14

“Poselok Novye Aldi, 5 February 2000: Prednamerennye ybistva grajdanskikh lits”, Memorial Memorandum, 22 March 2000, and “More than sixty civilians murdered in Chechen capital: "Pattern" of summary executions emerging”, Human Rights Watch Memorandum, 23 February 2000.

.

15 “Violations of the rights of peaceful citizens and Federal soldiers in the course of the military operation in the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria during the period autumn 1999 to February 2000”, Soldiers Mothers St. Petersburg, 31 March 2000, p. 2.

16 While the Speaker of the State Duma in September 1999 called for the use of vacuum bombs in Grozny, the Federal authorities have to this date always denied their use. President Putin assured the ad hoc delegation of the Bureau in January that such bombs had not and would not be used.

17 One crime admitted to by the Russian authorities is the rape and killing of a young woman by a Russian colonel (Mr Juriy Budanov), who is currently being prosecuted and is reportedly soon to stand trial.

18 Doc. 8686, memorandum of the Delegation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe concerning the implementation of Recommendation 1444 (2000), p. 9.

19 Doc 8127, paragraph 37: “… Despite the fact that human rights violations committed in the last years (many of them following Russia's accession to the Council of Europe, in the first half-year of 1996) against the Chechen civilian population - extortion, robbery, looting, arson, rape, torture, and even murder - are widely documented […], also by our own Sub-Committee on Human Rights, the Russian and the Chechen authorities seem to be doing very little, if anything, to bring those responsible to justice.”