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Chechen Refugees Complain West Not Listening to Reports of Russian Abuse

by Sophie Arie

Some forced to declaration saying they are terrorists
(IPS) PARIS -- Chechen refugees in the thousands, camped in appalling conditions in Ingushetia, are increasingly skeptical about telling their horror stories to foreign visitors.

Amandine Regamey, a member of the International Federation of Human Rights' (FIDH) Chechnya investigation team, says this is because so far the West has done nothing but listen.

"Quite a few of the refugees were really angry with foreign organizations like us," Regamey said, fresh back from a mission which collected over 40 witness accounts of human rights abuses in Chechnya.

"They kept saying we're sick of telling you what happens to us, and you doing nothing about it. We keep talking and talking, telling our story, but if it doesn't get the West moving, there's not much point," the human rights campaigner said.

Amandine, an expert on Russia and member of the Chechnya Committee founded in France in October 1999 to lobby for an end to the war, is one of a three-man team who produced a damning and challenging report for the Paris-based FIDH last week after a trip to Ingushetia and Moscow in February.

The report, put together in collaboration with the Russian human rights group Memorial, calls for an ad hoc international war crimes tribunal for Chechnya.

It names as the two most wanted criminals, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his successor Vladimir Putin describing them as the "chief orchestrators" of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Caucasian republic.

The international non-governmental organization, which advises the United Nations, UNESCO and the Council of Europe on human rights, calls on Russia, in its report, to end its military offensive.

It also calls on the international community to move fast to record the crimes and penalize Russia.

The Council of Europe met last week in Strasbourg to decide whether to issue an ultimatum on Russia to improve the situation in Chechnya "substantially, verifiably and fast" by the end of May, or be kicked out of the Council.

The FIDH accuses Russia of breaking almost every human rights rule in the book: luring civilians into "humanitarian corridors" and then bombing them, pillaging homes, extortion, arbitrary arrests, beating, torture and execution.

Each accusation is backed up with harrowing witness accounts and stark legislative evidence concluding that Russian troops, who the refugees bitterly refer to as mercenaries (kontraktniki), are waging war on the whole Chechen population, not just the independence fighters they officially set out to crush.

According to scores of testimonies, thousands of Chechen men are being stopped, stripped to the waist to check for rifle bruising to the shoulder, inspected for traces of gunpowder on their hands and often detained and beaten.

Some are forced to sign a pro-forma declaration saying they are terrorists.

Magomed Davletmourvaev, 26, who was held in the infamous Chernokosovo filtration camp for 15 days, told FIDH: "When you're in there, if they ask you to sign a document saying you'd killed John F. Kennedy, you do it."

Astonishingly, even the Russian official magistrate, Iouri Diomin, sent by Moscow to investigate human rights abuses in the Russian army, told the FIDH that "all men between 25 and 40, who are fit, freshly shaven and/or show signs of having used weapons" are immediately suspected of being terrorists.

"We kept trying to ask him about specific events and facts and he just kept pouring out propaganda against Chechen terrorists," Regamey said, explaining that the well-fed Russian official, surrounded by heavily armed troops, wasn't in the slightest bit ruffled by a few human rights investigators asking awkward questions.

He even accused the International Committee of the Red Cross of collaborating with international terrorism.

One page of the report details atrocities, including the slaughter of captured Russian troops, allegedly committed by Chechen terrorists.

On the sidelines of the war, FIDH calls on the Russian authorities to account for the appalling conditions in which 209,000 Chechen refugees are left to rot across the border in Ingushetia.

"We had a pretty good idea of what we were going to see. It was just the confirmation of all our worst fears," Regamey said.

After six months of war, images of people crammed like cattle into tents or carts and in one case even a chicken coop, knee deep in mud, are becoming all too familiar on western television screens.

What FIDH explains is that Russia is not according these people the status of 'displaced' people, which would oblige the state to provide them with financial aid, full social security services and the chance of a job and a house within six months.

Instead, FIDH says, the refugees are labelled "formula 7" which means they are only temporarily uprooted and gives them the right to food rations, a second class ticket to travel within Russia and the right to request lodging.

The report also alleges that the 50,000 refugees reported to have crossed back into Chechnya to check on family, houses and livestock, include truck loads of people hauled out of the camps against their will in December.

The young Ingush head of migration services, Mr. Guireev -- who has propelled himself unusually fast to the top of the local bureaucratic hierarchy -- denied this charge but was aware of the desperate situation in the refugee camps.

He explained "it all depends on the Russian finance ministry," because Ingushetia has all but run out of money and supplies to support the massive influx of helpless people.

After the IFHR mission politely declined a proposal from the Ingush authorities to accompany the team round the clock "for security reasons," the three human rights investigators had free range in the camps.

They gathered testimonies, mainly from women, who had been forced out of their homes, lost their men and dodged bombs as they queued for miles at the border crossing.

The refugees do not hold the Russian people as responsible for their plight, only the "mercenaries" and the politicians behind them, Regamey said.

"What's really frustrating," Regamey added, "is that we know there are another 100,000 displaced people inside Chechnya, and we cannot get near them. No one can."

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Albion Monitor April 10, 2000 (

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