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Hostage Taking in Moscow Condemned
(Moscow, October 24, 2002) The massive hostage taking at a Moscow theater by Chechen forces is an egregious violation of the Geneva Conventions, Human Rights Watch said today.

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"This is a revolting, unjustifiable act. Chechen forces have the same obligation as Russian federal forces to uphold the Geneva Conventions."

Elizabeth Andersen
Executive Director
Europe and Central Asia Division

According to news reports, about 40 armed men in masks took about 700 people hostage yesterday during a performance of a musical play, “Nord Ost.” The gunmen are demanding an end to the war in Chechnya, immediate negotiations with Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov, and withdrawal of Russia’s troops from Chechnya.

“This is a revolting, unjustifiable act,” said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division. “Chechen forces have the same obligation as Russian federal forces to uphold the Geneva Conventions.”

During the 1994-1996 Chechen war, Chechen forces twice conducted massive hostage-taking operations to force the Russian government into peace negotiations and to draw attention to their plight.

“Chechen civilians have suffered terrible human rights violations in this war,” said Andersen. “But taking civilians hostage in response is utterly unjustifiable and can inspire only revulsion. The hostages must be released immediately.”

Human Rights Watch urged Maskhadov to condemn the hostage-taking and call for the immediate release of all hostages.

Human Rights Watch also called on Russian forces to make maximum efforts to spare civilians harm in the coming days.

The taking of hostages is a violation of article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, which applies during internal armed conflicts.