Report to the 1996 OSCE Review Conference

Vol. 8, No. 16 (D), November 1996



The August 31, 1996 Khasavyurt agreements, which brought a fragile peace to Russia’s breakaway republic of Chechnya, have put at least a temporary end to the most hideous violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed in Russia since the break-up of the Soviet Union. However, the legacy of abuse in Chechnya lingers: more than 1,400 Chechens and 1,900 Russian troops remain missing; mass graves contain unidentified bodies; bartering for individuals continues in spite of an “all for all” prisoner exchange envisaged in the Khasavyurt agreements; land mines pose a constant threat to civilians; and the complete failure especially on the part of Russian forces to hold accountable those responsible for crimes against civilians in the short run deepens an already profound Chechen mistrust of the Russian government, and in the long run will jeopardize a lasting peace. Steps can and must be taken now to guarantee that the new government of Chechnya will respect the basic rights of individuals.

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki submits this report to the 1996 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Review Conference for two principal reasons. First, we wish to draw attention to the failure of both the Russian and Chechen sides to full comply with the provisions of the Code of Military Conduct (hereinafter “Code of Conduct”). We note that the Code was adopted by the OSCE before the war in Chechnya broke out in December 1994. Second, we wish to provide an updated overview of current human rights and humanitarian law violations in Chechnya based on documentation from a joint Human Rights Watch/Helsinki - Memorial field investigation from October 11 to 22, 1996, in which two of our representatives traveled throughout the republic. These fresh findings reinvigorate our call for the OSCE immediately to adopt and implement measures to improve human rights conditions in Chechnya and inspire additional recommendations for action to be taken now and during the December Lisbon summit.

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki takes no position on the question of Chechnya’s independence. Our sole concern lies with the protection of civilians and respect for human rights and humanitarian law. We refer to the area as Chechnya, rather than the Chechen Republic or the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria as a matter of principle to avoid the issue of Chechnya’s sovereignty.

In establishing the Assistance Group in Grozny, the OSCE made an important contribution to seeking an end to human rights violations in Chechnya. In 1995 the Assistance Group worked tirelessly to facilitate negotiations; in 1996, the group spoke out frequently and sharply against abusive conduct in the Chechnya war, including in a valuable March 25 report on human rights violations. Assistance Group head Tim Guldimann, undaunted by repeated calls for his removal by Russian politicians and commanders, publicly raised concerns about such abuse on numerous occasions. To our great disappointment, however, the Permanent Council of the OSCE made no noticeable effort to pressure Russia on accountability for humanitarian law violations, squandering the unique influence the OSCE enjoys as the only intergovernmental organization with a mandate in Chechnya.



Human Rights Watch/Helsinki urges the OSCE Assistance Group to:

assign at least one Assistance Group member exclusively with responsibility for human rights;

condemn the practice of hostage-taking and “bargaining” through the exploitation of detainees; and seek satisfactory responses from the Chechen command on cases as they come to light;

insist that both sides unilaterally release all prisoners and hostages as a matter of principle and not based on reciprocity;

contract a team of international forensic experts to assist Russian state forensic experts in exhuming mass graves and identifying the contents;

as a matter of priority, travel extensively in northern Chechnya to examine claims of political persecution against those who opposed the Dudayev independence movement and the current government;

as a matter of priority, call on the Chechen side to be responsive to the security needs of non-Chechens in Chechnya;

initiate a visit by international mine removal experts to work with the OSCE’s Joint Commission to conduct a comprehensive survey of mines locations; and

produce a mines awareness brochure and distribute it widely throughout Chechnya in Russian and Chechan translation, especially in rural areas.

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki urges the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the OSCE to:

dispatch a mission as soon as possible to facilitate conditions for free and fair elections, including:
  means to register voters;
  possibility for free distribution of information concerning candidates and exchange of views on a range of political issues;
  examination of claims of political persecution against supporters of the Doku Zavgayev government; and
  conduct training seminars for the Chechen Procuracy and Ministry of the Interior (MVD) on :
  police recruitment, focusing on the importance of screening out police recruits who were formerly combatants and who violated humanitarian law;
  civil rights and law enforcement; and
  international human rights instruments (including the Helsinki Final Act, U.N. conventions, European conventions, and their application in post-war Chechnya. Such seminars should envisage in situ follow up by ODIHR or other OSCE bodies.

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki urges the OSCE Permanent Council to:

demand unfettered ICRC access to those forcibly detained throughout Russia, including within Chechnya, in relation to the war in Chechnya (this will require that Chechen investigative organs receive unrestricted access to Russian bases at Khankala and Severnyi) and to remaining Russian bases throughout Chechnya to monitor conditions in detention, search for the missing, and hold abusers legally accountable;

demand compliance with point 12 of the October 3 Chernomyrdin-Yandarbiyev agreement, which allows both sides access to mass graves;

urge the Russian side to facilitate an earnest search throughout the Russian Federation by the criminal justice system for those missing as a result of the war in Chechnya, since past efforts have proven inadequate;

in accordance with paragraphs 30 and 31 of the OSCE Code of Military Conduct, call on the authorities of both sides to hold accountable those who have caused human rights violations in Chechnya. Those guilty of intentionally or indiscriminately killing civilians, illegally detaining and beating civilians or committing other violations of international humanitarian law must be brought to justice;

oppose an amnesty that would apply to human rights violators, as this would contradict OSCE standards on individual accountability;

in accordance with paragraph 38 of the Code of Conduct, request that the Russian government provide a full accounting of the mechanisms available in Russia to implement the accountability required under paragraphs 30 - 31 of the Code of Conduct;

in accordance with paragraph 38 of the Code of Conduct, request from the Russian government a full account of the initiatives it has undertaken to document, investigate, and prosecute violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Chechnya;

appoint a high-ranking international lawyer as its envoy, independent of the Assistance Group, to monitor and report on the progress of Russian and Chechen authorities to bring about individual accountability. The OSCE envoy should be stationed in Moscow and work closely with Russian authorities in documenting violations of human rights and humanitarian law in the Chechen conflict and in overseeing legal and disciplinary measures. He or she should report regularly to the OSCE Permanent Council on the progress of implementing paragraphs 30 and 31 of the Code of Conduct; and

ensure that all trials conducted in relations to the Chechnya war be adjudicated before an independent tribunal and with scrupulous respect for international standards of due process.












Human Rights Watch      November 1996      Vol. 8, No. 16 (D)

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