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Open Letter to U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell
July 19, 2002
The Honorable Colin L. Powell
Dear Secretary Powell,
On behalf of the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), I am writing to express our deep concern for the future of approximately 180,000 Chechen civilians displaced by the ongoing war in Chechnya and living mostly in Ingushetia, but also in Dagestan and Georgia. MSF is disturbed by recent events that indicate an increase in a trend toward forced repatriation of displaced Chechens to their home areas inside Chechnya. We must reiterate that these civilians are being pressured to return by Russian and Chechen authorities to a territory still effectively in a state of civil war, widely characterized by the enforcement of arbitrary rules, the indiscriminate use of violence against civilians, and the perpetration of massive violations of human rights.
In the past few weeks, MSF publicly condemned the Russian authorities for steps they have undertaken to step up forced repatriation of displaced Chechen civilians:
MSF fears that operations like the one we witnessed in Znamenskoye will be repeated in the coming weeks by Russian authorities in the north Caucasus. MSF wants to strongly reiterate that such operations are clear violations of international humanitarian law, which recognizes that war-affected people have the right to seek safe refuge, and that their return shall be done on a voluntary basis, in safety, and with dignity.
A voluntary return also obliges the authorities maintain viable options for those choosing to remain in areas of refuge. Provisions of the May 29 agreement that are currently being enforced include the closing of all tent camps and the suspension of humanitarian aid in Ingushetia. MSF believes that there is a clear willingness from the authorities to leave no other option to the displaced Chechens than to go back to their war-torn home regions. In February 2002, MSF published a report that documented the deplorable living conditions of displaced Chechens in Ingushetia as a result of a deliberate policy of non-assistance adopted by Ingush and federal authorities.
Testimonies collected from the displaced people identified that this policy has been implemented by the suspension of official registration of the newly arrived Chechen displaced persons, constant psychological pressure on the displaced to return home, and the cessation of critical humanitarian assistance programs by the authorities including food distribution, provision of water and gas to the tented camps, and rehabilitation/construction of shelters.
MSF has been providing medical assistance to displaced Chechens in Ingushetia, Dagestan, and to a limited extent, in Chechnya proper, since the resumption of the war in 1999. Displaced Chechens continue to tell MSF humanitarian workers that they don't want to go back home at this time, given the great insecurity and the human rights violations committed on a daily basis by Russian troops.
Mr. Secretary, a May 9, 2002 statement on the United States policy on Chechnya delivered by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Steven Pifer before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe underlined that, "We have also stressed in our discussions with the Russian Government that the return of the displaced to Chechnya be voluntary," and that, "The danger to civilians in Chechnya remains our greatest concern. The human rights situation is poor, with a history of abuses by all sides and little or no accountability by either."
Taking this statement into account, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) urges you to take the necessary means in your power to:
MSF urges you to give this matter your utmost attention. We would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.
Nicolas de Torrente
cc: Paula Dobriansky, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs
Tags: North Caucasus