Doc. 8632

25 January 2000

The conflict in Chechnya

Opinion1

Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography

Rapporteur: Mr Tadeusz Iwiński, Poland, Socialist Group

I.       Conclusions of the committee

–       Keep all borders open, including into Georgia.

–       Respect UN Guiding principles on internal displacement.

–       Respect international humanitarian law.

–       Step up humanitarian aid and ensure that it gets through.

–       Ensure all IDPs have access to relief and assistance.

–       Allow more humanitarian organisations to work in the region.

–       Need for strong Council of Europe presence to monitor the humanitarian situation of IDPs, including returnees to Chechnya, and. to mediate between IDPs and civilian authorities.

–       No forced returns.

–       Clarify legal status of IDPs.

II.       Explanatory memorandum by Mr.IWIŃSKI

1.       Population displacement

1. The situation is in constant flux. Since armed conflict in Chechnya resumed in August 1999, over a quarter of a million people have been displaced by the fighting.2 Some 259,000 fled to the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia, although anywhere between 45-90,000 have apparently returned to (Russian controlled) Chechnya. At any event, according to Mr Aushev, President of Ingushetia, the number of IDPs remaining in Ingushetia at the time of the Parliamentary Assembly delegation's visit3 was 172,840. Since then the fighting has intensified and the exodus from Chechnya is again gathering pace.

2. According to a UNHCR update of 21 January 2000, about 12,000 displaced persons are reported in Daghestan (more than 5,000 having fled recent fighting, the remainder displaced during the Chechen incursions last summer). An unknown number are displaced within Chechnya itself. Again according to the President of Ingushetia, Mr Aushev, some 45,000 have gone to other areas of the Russian Federation. Apart from these internally displaced persons (IDPs), who have remained within the Russian Federation, there has been some movement out of the country, for example to Georgia (some 6,000), Kazakhstan, Moldova and even to Poland.

3. Despite the limited return movement to Chechnya as Russian forces regained control of territory in the north, many IDPs have left again on account of lack of security or having found their homes in an uninhabitable condition. Thus people are crossing the border in both directions. Concern was expressed by NGOs, notably Human Rights Watch in December, that the return movement was being induced by the Russian authorities through withdrawal of assistance and, indeed, by shunting the railway carriages in which many displaced people are sheltered in Ingushetia back to Chechnya. However, assurances have been given that such incidents will not recur.

4. Further concern has been expressed that Russian guards manning the one frontier post open for Chechens fleeing into Ingushetia (Caucasus 1) demand money for crossing or even to reach the front of the queue that sometimes stretches several kilometres. Similar abuses and worse have reportedly been encountered by those fleeing Grozny along "safe" corridors organised by Russian forces.

5. On 21 January UNHCR reported on the basis of rough estimates that up to 20,000 civilians remained in Grozny, vulnerable to military action, despite earlier attempts by Russian forces to get them to leave, either by such measures as the infamous "leave or die" ultimatum of mid-December, recanted following the outcry from the international community, or through the organisation of "safe" corridors. Their situation remains basically unknown but is undoubtedly the most precarious of all given the renewed intensity of fighting in the city. Most civilians are believed to have been hiding in cellars for weeks, without electricity or adequate food or water.

2.       Population profile

6. Both in Ingushetia and Daghestan, the overwhelming majority of IDPs are women (40%) and children (40%). The remainder are men, often wounded. Considerable concern was expressed by the international community about the order given by the Commander of Russian forces on 11 January, rescinded three days later, forbidding all males between the ages of ten and sixty from entering or leaving Chechnya. It would of course be totally unacceptable to deny safety to those fleeing the fighting and to separate families in this way. The Parliamentary Assembly delegation was not able to substantiate fears that men and boys might be taken to detention or "filtration" camps in order to determine where their loyalties lay. However, what is happening is that thorough screening is carried out at borders and check-points.

3.       Living conditions

7. According to the Ingushetia authorities, some 80% of IDPs are accommodated in private homes. The host families are mostly poor and are unlikely to be in a position to sustain in the medium to long term the hospitality they have offered. They accommodate an average of 14 persons per household. Given this situation, it is extremely important that humanitarian relief should be channelled to these families through the good offices of the local authorities, and indeed that as much economic assistance as possible should be given to the region.

8. The remainder of the IDPs in Ingushetia are living in seven refugee camps or settlements offering shelter in railway carriages, tents or public buildings. The shelters and homes are certainly overcrowded. However, apparently there are no major problems, let alone a humanitarian catastrophe, according to Mr Aushev, the President of Ingushetia. To be sure, the IDPs met by the Parliamentary Assembly delegation at the Karabulak camp were living in uncomfortable but not impossible conditions. They had shelter, food and water, heating, clothing and access to medical care. Nevertheless, the water supply, sanitation and sewage disposal were priorities for improvement.

9. In late November the European Commissioner for Human Rights, Alvaro Gil-Robles, reported that he had visited "people in tents with insufficient heating or in the carriages (chosen at random!) of a long train which formed the basis of the “Severnyi” camp in the republic of Ingushetia (26 000 to 27 000 people!). None of the people I met there complained about the material conditions in which they were housed, since the carriages were dry and had heating, although they were poorly lit, each refugee had a sheet and a blanket and the people I met seemed at first sight to have adequate clothing and footwear and to be receiving enough food to survive. Nevertheless, each compartment of the (135?) carriages seemed to be teeming with people with a bare minimum of luggage; there were no canteens, communal showers or schools for the many children and young people present, and not enough medicine or medical staff – not to mention the total absence of warm clothing supplies for the coming winter."

10. A team of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which in late December spent almost a week in Ingushetia visiting several camps, makeshift settlements and host families, reported that everyone they visited had food, although not necessarily items they preferred. However, availability was not a problem. Heated shelter was also generally available for IDPs in camps as well as in makeshift settlements. Water was generally available, although its quality was sometimes questionable. The team recommended an immediate increase in the supply and distribution of warm clothing and shoes, particularly for vulnerable IDPs. It also urged provision of more medicine and of food for host families. Other needs included more shelter suitable for winter, site preparation and adequate sanitation facilities.

11. Whatever the material conditions in which the IDPs live in Ingushetia, what was striking, at least in the Karabulak camp which the Parliamentary Assembly delegation visited, was the force of pent-up frustration and anger, the almost tangible feeling of grievance and distress among the IDPs. This potentially explosive situation calls for strong support among the IDPs in the form of social assistance and the establishment of channels of communication.

12. In general it may be said that the Russian Federal authorities tend to underestimate the need to be in touch with the feelings of the people and to communicate and explain. There is a desparate need to establish confidence between the authorities and the population and this will not come about through government by decree. This is particularly true in regions which are host to many IDPs.

13. These concerns, among others, argue for the establishment of a strong Council of Europe presence in the North Caucasus, with a view to monitoring the humanitarian situation of IDPs and facilitating and promoting communication and confidence-building between the IDP community and the authorities. As Acting President Putin told the Parliamentary Assembly delegation in Moscow, "security will never be used as a pretext to prevent international monitoring" in the region.

4.       Humanitarian assistance

14. The main responsibility for the humanitarian relief effort lies of course with the Russian Federal Government authorities, primarily the Ministry of Emergencies (Emercom) and the Federal Migration Service but also other agencies such as the Ministry of Health. They have provided the bulk of the relief and carried out many humanitarian programmes to care for the displaced population. Regional administrations are also heavily involved in the relief effort. In addition, an integrated United Nations programme involving several UN agencies is addressing the following needs: food aid, winterisation including shelter, health and nutrition, relief items, and water and sanitation, as well as limited interventions in emergency education. In parallel with such programmes, the UN is conducting advocacy and work with the Government to address various protection issues, such as access to assistance and the legal status of IDPs (see para. 20).

15. To cover the estimated costs of this programme over the three months 1 December 1999 to 29 February 2000, the UN launched a flash appeal to the donor community in November for USD 16.2 million, of which 8.3 million for UNHCR, 5.3 million for the World Food Programme (WFP), 1.1 million for Unicef, 742,000 for WHO, 400,000 for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and 345,000 for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). By mid-January, UNHCR at least had reached its funding target. However, WFP had reached only 56% of its target and WHO 47%. Donors include the European Union (euro 7.4 million provided through the European Community Humanitarian Office – ECHO - since August 1999) and several governments and private humanitarian organisations.

16. Other operational agencies providing relief and protection include the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other international, national and local non-governmental organisations such as Médecins du Monde, Islamic Relief, the Danish Refugee Council and the Russian Red Cross. On 1 November ICRC launched an appeal for over CHF 18 million on behalf of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement for implementation of a combined humanitarian action plan, including distribution of aid to some 150,000 victims of the crisis during the winter months.

5.       Aid delivery

17. According to the United Nations OCHA North Caucasus bulletin of 11 January, 24 UNHCR convoys had been sent as of that date to the North Caucasus since mid-September, most to Ingushetia but some to Daghestan and North Ossetia, from UNHCR's base of operations in Stavropol, southern Russia. UNHCR had thus provided 3,489 tons of food (compared to 4,326 tons provided by the Russian Government) as well as tents, plastic sheeting, bedding, clothing, shoes, jerrycans, kitchen sets, stoves, water tanks and soap/detergent for tens of thousands of IDPs.

18. From October to mid-December the ICRC distributed essential supplies (food and hygiene parcels, blankets, flour, kitchen utensils, jerrycans, etc.) to more than 100,000 people in Ingushetia. Thanks to the oven set up in cooperation with the Ingush committee of the Russian Red Cross, 10,000 loaves of bread are being distributed every day to the displaced. Several reception centres have also been equipped to store the drinking water brought in by tanker trucks.

6.       Health and education

19. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has an established presence in Stavropol. Besides the ICRC and the Russian Red Cross, several NGOs are operational including Médecins du Monde, which has four medical points open, Médecins sans frontières (Netherlands), and German Emergency Doctors. Apart from the poor overall health of the IDP population, a specific problem is a serious threat of tuberculosis which is endemic in the area. No major sanitation problems are reported, although facilities are inadequate and hygiene practices poor. Unicef is seeking to improve the health of women and children in the IDP camps and settlements and to help local authorities ensure the basic education of displaced children by providing essential school supplies.

7.       Protection issues

20. According to UNHCR the main concerns are (i) protection of the civilian population in movement or otherwise; (ii) maintaining open borders; (iii) induced return of IDPs, mainly through manipulation of food rations; and (iv) the unclear legal status of IDPs and absence of necessary documentation, namely identification and travel papers. In Ingushetia and Daghestan, as well as in other parts of the Russian Federation, the legal status of Chechen IDPs has not been established. Despite a relevant provision in Russian law, their documentation and entitlements remain to be defined, according to UNHCR.

8.       Conclusions

21.        See "Conclusions of the Committee" in section I.

*

* *

Reporting committee: Political Affairs Committee (Doc. 8630).

Committee for opinion: Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography.

Reference to committee: Request for urgent debate, Reference No. 2470 of 24 January 2000.

Opinion approved on 25 January 2000.

Secretaries to the committee: Mr Newman, Mrs Nachilo, Mr Adelsbach.


1 Doc. 8630

2 Figures are estimates from various sources, mainly Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on the basis of statistics provided by the authorities of Ingushetia, but sometimes directly from the latter, NGOs, etc. Such estimates are usually very imprecise and apt to change rapidly.

3 Members of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography on the delegation included Mr. Gross, Mr Iwiński, Lord Judd and Mr Laakso. They visited Moscow, Daghestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia on 16-20 January 2000.