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Russia is committing war crimes and genocide

A memorandum of Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker / Society for Threatened Peoples International

Bozen / Bolzano, November 18. 1999


War to initiate an electoral campaign | Sealing of the Chechnyan frontier | Russian carpet bombing | The Grozny market massacre | Bombing of refugees | Warcrimes against civilians | Human rights violations on the chechen side | Recommendation by GfbV/STP

A bombing war to initiate an electoral campaign .: to top :.

On 5 September 1999 Russian armed forces launched a new bombing campaign against the small Caucasian republic of Chechnya. The campaign began three months before elections to the Russian State Duma are due on 19.12.1999. Russia is waging this war on the pretext of combatting alleged "terrorism". The horrific bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk which cost the lives of more than 300 people bear the signs of Chechen involvement, according to the Russian Government's propaganda. No such involvement has so far been proved.

Shortly before the bombings and the renewed Russian onslaught on Chechnya it was learned that the American and Swiss authorities were investigating money-laundering and the misappropriation of international assistance amounting to billions of dollars by the Russian Government. Russian experts and observers have therefore expressed their suspicion that the second Chechnya war has been embarked upon, just like the first was in 1994, in order to distract attention from internal problems. Yelena Bonner, the widow of the Soviet civil rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Andrei Sakharov, accuses the Russian leadership of using the new Chechen war to cover up internal problems.

The Russian government, under the leadership of former KGB officer Vladimir Putin, openly acknowledges that it intends to reoccupy the whole of Chechnya and remove the elected government of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. The former Russian governmental human rights representative Sergei Kovalyov, forced from office by Boris Yeltsin because of his criticism of the first Chechen war, described the Russian bombing war in Chechnya as deliberately targeted racially-motivated "effective ethnic cleansing" on the part of the Putin Government.

Sealing of the Chechnyan frontier in 1999 by Russian forces, obstruction of humanitarian aid .: to top :.

On 5.9.1999 the Russian airforce commenced a new round of bombing attacks on towns and villages in Chechnya. By 1.11.1999 according to various international aid and human rights organisations approximately 200,000 Chechens had fled into neighbouring Ingushetia and southern Russia to escape the Russian bombing. The same number are believed to be on the move inside Chechnya. This brings the total number of refugees to between 350,000 and 400,000, half the population of Chechnya. Between 5.9.1999 and 6.11.1999 the Russian government spent 390 million US dollars on its military operatoin.

On 23.10.1999 the Russian army sealed off the borders of Chechnya. On 31.10.1999 the main road linking Chechnya with Georgia, to the south was bombed and rendered impassable. Earlier some 2,500 refugees - all of them women, children and the very old - had used this route for their escape by dramatic marches on foot lasting many days over the high mountains to Shatili in Georgia. According to the Berlin-based German-Caucasian Society, they were bombed by the Russian air force as they were fleeing.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), at the beginning of November 1999 thousands of refugees were waiting, in snow and rain, in a column stretching 15 kilometres on the Chechen side of the border with Ingushetia to be allowed to leave. On 2.11.1999 the Ingushetian president Ruslan Auschew warned of a further 100,000 refugees arriving if Russian troops stormed the Chechen capital Grozny. On 3.11.1999 the UNHCR told of 150,000 more refugees trying to enter Ingushetia.

For weeks international relief agencies have been unable to gain access to Chechnya. Not once has a doctor or nurse been allowed to cross the frontier. Thousands of the elderly, the weak and infirm and the poor are still inside Chechnya, either because they have insufficient strength to get to the border or because they are unable to find the money needed to pay the levy of over 60 US dollars charged by the Russian border guards in order to allow people through. The Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko has denied that these desperate people were refugees.

Russian carpet bombing .: to top :.

Chechen cities, towns and villages such as Grozny, Gudermes, Shali, Sernovodsk, etc., have been subjected to systematic bombardment on a daily basis by the Russian air force and artillery. The people left behind in Grozny are living in dark, chilly basements, terrified by the unceasing onslaught. They have no drinking water, no electricity, no fuel, no food, and no medical care. Even the hospitals have no running water or electricity. Almost nothing can be done to help the sick and infirm. The 17 pumping stations in Grozny have no electricity and cannot be operated. According to the British aid organisation HALO Trust it is impossible to venture out onto the street because of continuous Russian bombardment. Three of the organisation's workers were killed in a rocket attack. According to the Russian human rights activist Yelena Bonner, dozens of people, mostly women and children, are dying every day from their injuries, exhaustion and the cold.

Contradicting Russian government claims, Chechen and international human rights groups and journalists report that Russian attacks have been directed against civilians and civilian targets. Artillery, jet fighters and rockets have all been deployed. Refugees have reported Russian helicopter gunships firing at anything that moved. The Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Kazbek Makhashev has accused the Russian air force of using cars and other vehicles as live targets. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Lyndall Sachs has accused the Russian military of using refugees almost as if they were hostages.

As a result of the bombing of industrial plants, the German-Caucasian Society considers that Chechnya is being threatened with serious long-term ecological damage. The Sunzha and the Terek, which flow into the Caspian Sea, are reported to have been polluted as a result of the damage to chemical installations. The possible hazards arising from the bombing of a complex near Grozny that was reportedly used to store atomic waste are incalculable.

The Grozny market massacre .: to top :.

During the late afternoon of 21.10.1999 (at around 5 p.m.) Russian forces fired eight rockets into the crowded central market place of the Chechen capital of Grozny. The Russian television station NTV reported that 188 people had been killed and over 400 injured. According to a report produced by the Chechen human rights activist Z.G. the great majority of the victims were women out doing their shopping. The rockets used in the attack were ground-to-ground missiles. Most of the casualties were caused by the second and third rockets, one of which hit a bus while the other landed in the middle of the crowd.

On 22.10.1999 the Russian Defence Ministry and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin denied any attack on the market place in Grozny had taken place. According to the Russian government's spokesperson Aleksandr Mikhailov, the Chechens exploded a bomb in the market place themselves, in order to bring pressure to bear on the summit meeting taking place between Russia and the European Union. However, according to a report from the news broadcaster NBC, American satellites belonging to the "Defense Support Program (DSP)" had observed the Russian rocket attacks on Grozny.

The President of Chechnya's neighbour, Ingushetia, Ruslan Aushev, also challenged Moscow's account. The Government in Moscow fired tactical missiles of the Tochka-U-Type, Aushev claimed on 25.10.1999. According to Aushev the precision strike had probably been intended to hit the Chechen General Staff, which had been meeting nearby, and had missed the target. According to the testimony of survivors of the massacre questioned by the American human rights organisation Human Rights Watch, the Chechen guerrilla leader Shamil Basayev had apparently set up a major command post in the vicinity of the market place. This would constitute just as serious a violation of the Geneva Conventions as the Russian rocket attack on the crowded market place. In a discussion programme broadcast by the Russian television station NTV on 28.10.1999 the Russian General Shamanov admitted that the rockets involved could only be fired on the orders of the highest authority.

Bombing of vehicles with Red Cross markings .: to top :.

According to the International Red Cross in Geneva, 25 people were killed, including two Red Cross workers and children, on 29.10.1999 when the Russian air force attacked a refugee convoy near the village of Shami-Yurt. 70 people were reportedly injured. The convoy comprised a convoy of 5 vehicles. All the vehicles were clearly marked with the symbol of the Red Cross. The Russian army dismissed the accusation and claimed that the vehicles were troop carriers transporting Chechen fighters. In an official statement issued the same day the ICRC rejected this story. A reporter from AP who subsequently went to examine the site found burned-out civilian vehicles, as well as cookers, refrigerators and other household items.

Shooting of civilians, looting and robbery of refugees by Russian forces in the conquered area of Chechnya .: to top :.

Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) has received a report produced by the Chechen human rights organisation "Women of the North Caucasus" telling how Russian forces have apparently been executing civilians in the areas under their control. In the "Naurski Raion" and "Gorogorski Raion" areas during the last week of October 1999 a "cleansing" operation was carried out, accompanied by house searches and looting. In the "Naurski Raion" area an eyewitness saw 80 men being shot on 28.10.1999. The Chechen human rights organisation also reported that the Russian troops had forced refugees to take all their clothes off and then told them to hand over their valuables. The pretext for this was said to be that the refugees had allegedly been carrying weapons.

STP fears that Russia has been setting up concentration camps in the reconquered area for Chechens of military-service age, as it did before in 1994-1996. Then hundreds of Chechens aged 14 and over were brutally tortured in "filtering camps" and executed. Mass graves such as that located in the notorious Camp PAP-1 in Grozny could not be excavated because the departing Russian armed forces had mined them when they left in 1996.

Violations of international humanitarian law on the Chechen side .: to top :.

STP has however also received the first unconfirmed reports that Chechen paramilitary units have been forcibly preventing men of military-service age from leaving the country and recruiting them under compulsion into the defence forces. If these reports are true, the Chechen commanders must be held accountable for a violation of the Geneva Conventions. STP is also very seriously concerned to learn that Chechen troops may have established military positions and bases next to civilian facilities. That would be a very serious violation of the Geneva Convention prohibiting the abusive use of civilians as human shields.

Recommendations by the Society for Threatened Peoples .: to top :.

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