Open Letter to the Council of Europe

Member States Must Recognize the State of War in Chechnya and Demand the Application of International Humanitarian Law

January 27, 2000 — For the last six months Chechen civilians have been subjected to relentless indiscriminate bombardments by Russian forces throughout the territory. There is no place in Chechnya today where civilians can be safe either from indiscriminate attacks or the arbitrary rule currently in force in ‘liberated’ zones. Boys over the age of ten are threatened with arrest by the Russian authorities. The nature and scope of military operations prevent all forms of independent humanitarian relief, including the care of wounded, sick and vulnerable people within Chechnya.

The regular and arbitrary closure of escape routes, fear of arrest, the threat of forced repatriation from Ingushetia, as well as the many attacks against refugees and the presence of mines, considerably curtail any possibility of escape for those who wish to leave Chechnya.

Such military operations amount to a collective punishment whereby all civilians are considered suspects. The international community has so far failed to oppose the violence, which Russia claims is justifiable anti-terrorist action. Despite all evidence to the contrary, governments have so far endorsed this fiction, which deprives the population of all rights to protection and assistance.

No government to date has officially recognised the state of war. The UN Security Council has not even discussed the Chechen situation, de facto sanctioning the Russian position.

As the Council of Europe holds its emergency session on Chechnya today, Médecins sans Frontières calls upon Member States to;

  • Officially recognise the state of war in Chechnya and call upon Russia to respect international humanitarian law, which applies in such circumstances.
  • To demand that the UN Security Council discuss the Chechen crisis as a matter of urgency.
  • To commit the case of Chechnya to the International Fact-Finding Commission, which is mandated by governments, including Russia, to investigate war crimes under International Humanitarian Law.
  • To commit the case of Chechnya to the European Court of Human Rights which is mandated to sanction violations of the European Convention of Human Rights.
  • To demand that Russia immediately suspend indiscriminate bombing, to respect the principle of 'non-refoulement' of refugees, to ensure that civilians have free access to humanitarian assistance and to allow the deployment of international observers to the war zone.

We urge you to give these recommendations you most urgent attention.