MSF Calls for Independent Monitoring Presence in Chechnya

New York/Amsterdam, 12 April 2000 — On the occasion of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) visit to Russia, the international medical relief organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) urges the OSCE to establish a monitoring presence throughout Chechnya. "The fighting is still continuing, and incidents of violence against civilians remain commonplace," stated MSF Head of Mission Rendt Gorter in Chechnya. "Independent monitoring could help to address these incidents and reduce fears."

MSF is concerned about the humanitarian situation inside Chechnya. MSF medical teams have found many health facilities in to be severely damaged. They have also reported a widespread lack of medicine and medical supplies. Initial findings confirm a paramount need for humanitarian assistance, but access into Chechnya by humanitarian organizations remains haphazard.

Access of civilians to the health facilities that are still functioning is limited due to the continuing insecurity--especially during the evenings and nights due to curfews and checkpoints. People report to be scared and hesitant to move around and therefore can not immediately visit a clinic when needed. This presents the patients with complications that could have been avoided.

The health situation in Chechnya remains precarious. Poor living conditions, overcrowding in shelters, and lack of hygiene have resulted in a high number of skin diseases, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal infections, especially amongst children. Also, gunshot wounds amongst civilians, including elderly, women, and children, have been widely reported. Rendt Gorter warns, "Thousands are suffering from preventable diseases. A return of even part of the displaced population will increase the population at risk and put further pressure on a totally inadequate infrastructure." The remaining population on Chechen territory is estimated to be around 350,000.

Health workers still do their work, although in desperate need of drugs and medical materials. "It is impressive to see how hard health staff has been working, trying to maintain their services. There are medical teams working in completely gutted buildings. But it is inspiring to see doctors and nurses pick up hammers and shovels and attempt to repair their damaged health posts," stated Gorter.

MSF will raise its concerns with the OSCE mission during its visit to Russia this week.

MSF distributes basic drugs and medical supplies to 32 health facilities throughout Chechnya. MSF has been working in Chechnya since February this year. Since December 1999, the organization has been working in neighboring Ingushetia and Georgia bringing relief for over 200,000 displaced Chechen civilians.