Chechnya: Back to Hell
There is no conflict in Chechnya: that's what the Russian government, and the Chechen government in place since October 2003, are striving to demonstrate, both in word and in action.
To them, the lack of security in Chechnya is only marginal, and not an obstacle either to the reconstruction of the territory and its institutions, or to the supposedly voluntary return of refugees displaced in Ingushetia since 1999.
As further proof, in 2003 a referendum and presidential elections were held in Chechnya, and the closing of refugee tent camps in Ingushetia began; this process should be completed in the spring of 2004.
But the reality of Chechens' daily life in Ingushetia and in Chechnya, as it was observed by three international humanitarian organizations with operations in Northern Caucasus for several years, denies this so-called return to normality. First, although displaced populations in Ingushetia do not want to return to Chechnya due to lack of security there, they are compelled to do so by all kinds of means: promises of aid in Chechnya and other incentives to return; threats and coercive measures against families wishing to remain in Ingushetia; hurdles created by the authorities to the establishment of assistance programs in arrival sites for displaced persons, even as the humanitarian situation there is deteriorating every day; multiplication of police and military operations in the populated areas; dismantlement of official tent camps without any relocation options offered to those evicted.
Second, back in Chechnya, the civilian population suffers the consequences of a conflict that is happening behind closed doors. Its symptoms are visible in every detail of daily life: destroyed infrastructures, means of production in ruin, family economies left lifeless, drastically reduced access to healthcare, permanence of war injuries, large number of landmines in the territory.
Therefore, Action Against Hunger, Medecins du Monde and Handicap International request that:
- the General Secretary of the United Nations produce a report on the state of human security in Chechnya and Ingushetia,
- the international community put pressure on all participants to the conflict to guarantee the respect of fundamental rights of Chechens in Chechnya and Ingushetia,
- the international community, in concert with the Russian and Chechen authorities, specifically guarantee to Chechen refugees in Ingushetia who do not wish to return to Chechnya access to decent alternatives - access to shelter a humanitarian aid in Ingushetia.
Finally, Action Against Hunger, Medecins du Monde and Handicap International are alerting the international community to the risk that humanitarian aid be used as a tool in the policy of forcing populations to return to conflict zones.
To support their argument, the three NGOs published a report based on facts gathered during their humanitarian interventions onsite and backed by interviews of witnesses whose identity remained undisclosed for security reasons.