Twenty months of war devastated the Russian Federation's republic of Chechnya, killing at least 50,000 civilians -about 5 percent of the republic's pre-war population of 1.1 million. Statistics on the number of deaths of Russian servicemen vary: according to an October report, 3,826 Russian troops were killed, 17,892 were wounded and 1,100 were missing in action.1 A more recent report issued by the Memorial Human Rights Center ("Memorial"), which conducted long-term research compiling lists of the dead and missing, 4,379 Russian servicemen died , 703 were missing or held prisoner, and 705 were reported AWOL.2 In addition, 1,432 Chechens, remain missing.3 From the very beginning, the war was characterized by massive, appalling violations of humanitarian law. The Russian side indiscriminately and disproportionally shelled and bombed civilian areas4; directly attacked civilians during hostilities and during peacetime;5 systematically detained males as they were leaving villages, for "filtering"6 and tortured or otherwise mistreated thesedetainees;7 used civilians as barter in exchange for servicemen; and in isolated incidents used civilians as human shields8. The Chechen side relied on massive hostage-taking as a military strategy, instigated military hostilities in areas full of civilians;9 in isolated reported incidents summarily executed prisoners; and used civilian objects as cover for defensive and offensive positions.

Two previous cease-fire agreements - in July 1995, following the Budyennovsk hostage raid, and in June 1996, on the eve of presidential elections in Russia - collapsed soon after they were signed. The Khasavyurt agreements, signed after intense fighting in Grozny threatened utterly to rout Russian forces, have held and are far more comprehensive than their predecessors. As of this writing, nearly all of the 55,000 Russian troops have withdrawn from Chechnya in time for the January 27 presidential election, a key condition of the agreements. Notably, the agreements also called for an "all for all" exchange of those forcibly detained, provided for joint Russian-Chechen command points (hereinafter, joint kommandaturas, after the Russian word) to carry out law enforcement functions,10 and the establishment of a Russian-Chechen United Commission (hereinafter, the United Commission), a political body charged with resolving a range of socio-economic issues, among them, restoring economic relations between Moscow and Chechnya, fighting crime, and post-war reconstruction.

The Khasavyurt agreements postponed a final decision on the legal status of Chechnya until December 31, 2001. Members of the pro-Moscow government, led by Doku Zavgayev, no longer hold high-level positions in public office, but most personnel in the coalition government's institutions have remained unchanged.

1 According to Gen. Alexander Lebed, Associated Press, October 3, 1996 - 9:26 a.m. EDT.

2 See Memorial Human Rights Center, The Unknown Soldier of the Caucasus War ( Moscow, 1997). Sergei Osipov, head of the Grozny-based United Commission Department for Prisoners of War, Forcibly Detained and Missing, reported that about 1,000 Russian servicemen were being held prisoner, and between 1,100 and 1,900 were missing. As cited on Russia's Independent Television (NTV) daily news program Today (Segodnya), January 9, 1997, 10:00 p.m. broadcast.

3 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki interview with Khussein Khamidov, chair of Victims of War, Grozny, October 17, 1996.

4 See, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, "Russia's War in Chechnya: Victims Speak Out," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 7, no.1, January 1995; "Russia's War in Chechnya, New Report from the Field," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol.7, no. 2, January 1995; "Three Months of War in Chechnya," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 7, no. 3, March 1995; "Russia: Partisan War on the Eve of the WWII Commemoration," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 7, no. 8, May 1995, and "Caught in the Crossfire: Civilians in Gudermes and Pervomaiskoe," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 8, no. 3 (D), March 1996.

5 See, for example, Memorial Human Rights Center, By All Available Means: The Russian Federation Ministry of Internal Affairs Operation in the Village of Samashki: April 7-8, 1995, (Moscow, 1996).

6 Filtering - the process by which Chechen males were detained in order to ascertain whether they were fighters and to gather intelligence on the Chechen military.

7 See, Memorial Human Rights Center, Conditions in Detention in Chechen Republic Conflict Zone. Treatment of Detainees, (Moscow, 1995). Hereinafter referred to as Conditions in Detention.

8 See Memorial Human Rights Center, The Seizure of Hostages and the Use of Civil Population by Federal Troops of Russia as a "Human Shield" During the Armed Conflict in Chechnya, (Moscow, September 1996).

9 Ibid. See also Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, Caught in the Crossfire.

10 These have since been dismantled, with all law enforcement functions transferred to the Chechnya Ministry of Internal Affairs and Procuracy, which investigates and prosecutes most criminal cases and is responsible for legal oversight.