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Humanitarian catastrophe in Chechnya

Message forwarded by David McReynolds, WRI.

October 18, 1999

Human Rights Center "Memorial" The Committee "Civic Assistance" THE REPORT

on the Observer mission to the zone of the armed conflict, based on the inspection results in Ingushetia and Chechnya

1. Humanitarian catastrophe in Chechen Republic Russian federal force officials say that there are no objective reasons for exodus of more than 150,000 people from Chechnya. They allege that militants chase people from Chechnya to create the illusion of "humanitarian catastrophe". We can claim that inhabitants of Chechen Republic run for their lives and for lives of their families, trying to escape the missile attacks and shelling by federal forces. They run under the threat of assaults and "cleaning-ups"; they flee from the war.

1.1 Chechnya: carpet-bombing of Elistanzhi

The representative of the Human Rights Center "Memorial" A.N. Mironov was in Chechnya from October 9-12, 1999. Visiting the mountain village Elistanzhi, Mironov observed a totally demolished area (90 feet by 24). According to the locals, the damages were a result of high altitude bombing on October 7th, at approximately 12 p.m. The distinctive feature of the damages is intercross overlapping of blast areas of some ammunition items.

34 of the dead were buried on the cemetery in Elistanzhi. Concerning the list compiled by evidences of the locals, these were mostly women and children. Besides, there were dead bodies of the refugees from other villages killed in Elistanzhi (the total amount wasn't known). Relatives carried them out for the funeral on family cemeteries.

The representative of "Memorial" Center was talking with injured (about 20 people) from Elistanzhi in hospitals of Shali and Grozny. There was only one adult man, the others were children and women. The situation in hospitals turned for the worse after cutting Chechnya off the United Power System of Russia. In Elistanzhi and its outskirts our inspector didn't discover any objects, which could have been mistaken for military installation.

1.2. Ingushetia: the profile of the refugee interview From October 9 through October 13, the "Memorial" and "Civic Assistance" representatives L. Gendel, M. Zamyatin and A. Cherkasov were polling the refugees from various districts of Chechnya, who were in Ingushetia in the reception camps (Sunda, Ordzhonikidzevskaya, Karabulak, Kantishevo, Akiyurt): - from the northern Naursky, Shelkovskoy, Nadterechny districts, where federal forces operated in tactical activities; - from the places in plane Chechnya, that are under attack by federal air force since September 22nd (Grozny and the suburbs, Urus-Martan, Gudermes, Argun, Samashki, Serzhenyurt); - from the villages in Vedensky and Nozhajyurt borders with Dagestan, that federal artillery and air forces began to fire and attack during the repulsion of the Basayev troops invasion in Dagestan. All of them said, that they ran to rescue their families. Most of them took to the road after people had died in bombings and shelling. We gathered dozens of evidences. However, we are going to adduce just three episodes here. Several witnesses - the refugees in different camps, confirmed each episode. September 27th, 4 warplanes Sukhoi-25 on their air raid attacked Staraya Sunda, the suburb of Grozny. They bombed the residential quarter, so that two houses were completely demolished, and four houses got severe damages. At least six people were killed in the garage basement: the Temirsultanovs - Ramazan (33 years), his mother Thaus, his daughter and a pregnant woman, a friend of the Temirsultanovs Liza Hadzhinova (21 years), who was there with two children - a girl of 3 and a boy of 1.5. Up to 50 people were touched or wounded. For a few days in the end of September - the beginning of October federal air forces were attempting to destroy the television tower in Grozny. 18 people died as the result of massed hits in the area of "block 56". There were at least 10 children under 7 years among the injured.

According to the refugees from Urus-Martan, Wahhabists occupied the buildings of veterinary hospital, veterinary laboratory and the Military Registration and Enlistment office. No one of these buildings was smashed up in the air raids and shelling in the beginning of October. The school number 7, standing two quarters to one of the buildings, was wiped off. On October 3rd, a bomb hit a basement, where people were sheltering and killed no less than 8 members of the family of a Kerimov. This basement was several hundred feet from the Wahhabists.

The refugees witness that hospitals are overcrowded by wounded, and can not function in an appropriate way. Thus, the 9th municipal hospital in Grozny was is off the electric power, and a generator is developing the current. There is no natural gas and, consequently, no heating. There is also an acute shortage of medicine. The same can be said about any hospital. The hospital in Zavadsky district is simply closed.


During the operation in Dagestan the aviation showed its inability not only to hit not only the pinpoint targets, but to do spot bombing. For instance, near the village Karamakhi up to 40% of the casualties of federal force were sustained by own air strikes; there were recorded several events of the wrong, but aimed bombing.

The same continued in Ingushetia. On October 7th, two helicopters were shooting a roadblock of Ingush militia "Vostok-44". The shooting went on until the commander of the federal troops, which had been disposed nearby on a neighbour height, called them to say that they were firing the insiders. There were destroyed all the buildings and three cars. Furthermore, there were 7 cases in which a missile hit the localities observed. The accidents can be explained as a coincidence or as a mistake.

All this indicates both unsatisfactory duty of pilots and insufficient work of military intelligence and control. We didn't explore the bombsites on the territory of Chechnya, but the above allows us to assert that the activity of air forces there were as "pinpoint" as in Dagestan, i.e. unselective. And finally, both misses in bombing the "licensed" aims and air attacks on civil objects became inevitable.

Due to Russian air forces and artillery activity, the public mood in Chechnya is such that one would certainly predict more cruel and sanguinary war, than the previous one was. In case of continuation of combat actions and advance of federal forces on Grozny, tens of thousands of forced migrants will surge into Ingushetia.

2. Humanitarian catastrophe in Ingushetia

The relocation of forced migrants within the confines of Chechnya began in September 1999, when people ran from Nozhajyurt and Vedensky districts to the plain foothill. As the tension on the northern board was growing, the exodus of population of Shelkovskoy and Naursky districts to the south over Terek, set in.

In the 20s of September, when federal aviation began bombing of Grozny and other localities, lots of refugees made for the administrative boundary of Chechnya. Dagestan closed its administrative territory for the refuge flow; the border with Stavropol had been already closed for several months.

Ingushetia kept the ways out for refugees shut till September 24th, but on September 25th, President Ruslan Aushev ordered to let the people go. Thereby outgoing of refugees from Chechnya spread only on the territory of Ingushetia.

The number of incoming to the Republic is increasing fast (on September 1st there were 13,468 refugees, on October 1st - 64,631, on October 6th - 118,782, on October 11th - 145,993, and currently - more than 155 thousand). These figures don't count 17 thousand refugees from the Prigorodny district of North Ossetia, who are there since 1992. For most of them it is not the first time they flee from the war, about 5,000 of them are Russians.

There are chiefly women, including the pregnant ones, and children, infants in arms among the number.


The departure of inhabitants of Chechnya from Ingushetia further inside Russia through North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, or Stavropol Territory is impossible. On September 29th, the interior agencies of North Caucasus received the following direction:

To the Interior Minister of Republic of North Ossetia - Alania, major-general of routine duty Dzantiev K.P.


On account of the aggravation of the situation, the commander of the Interior Force troop "Zapad", major-general Shamanov ordered to close the passages between the territory of Chechen Republic and Republics of Ingushetia, North Ossetia and Alania for automobile transportation and civilians via examining posts and roadblocks.

The resolution of the Deputy Interior Minister of Ossetia was: Enforce the strict control. No one car goes through, no one!

People fell into a trap: fires and death are behind, and "no way out" is ahead (Russian "joke".)


The refugees were mainly lodged in the locals' houses. There were families that had sheltered 200 to 400 people. At the time of our mission to Ingushetia, about 8,000 refugees remained in camps, unfit even for temporary habitation, under the tents and shelters. Many other people sleep in the cars and buses they've come from Chechnya.

There is a lack of medicines in the camps, and they are not supplied with means of hygiene. Insufficient sanitary arrangements caused dysentery, scabies, and pediculosis. People fled for safety, so they had no time to fetch warm clothing.

Meantime, night temperature has gone down to 3 degrees. Cold diseases had set in before frosts: bronchitis, antritis, pneumonia, and oophoritis. A flash of tuberculosis was determined. The old, pregnant women and children suffer more than the others. There are some cases of children's death, and sudden infants' death as well. The reason is hypothermia. Adults and children have posttraumatic survivor syndrome. They shiver at the roar of distant guns and explosions, at the drone of jets, and simply at loud sounds. The old people are affected with aggravated chronic illnesses.

As to food, the camps are provided regularly only with bread. All other food is just luck. If a local sticks a ram or a calf, it will be shared among 1,500 people. Recently, stew has been handed out. Each can was divided into five parts. Food is cooked on bonfires; just one camp is supplied with gas and a rolling kitchen. Those, who have been lodged in the houses of locals (in other words, most people), don't receive any relief and depend on their hosts' support.

At the estimate of Ingushetia government, the reserve of food is enough only just for a few weeks. The humanitarian aid presently received doesn't make much difference. By now, the republic can't administer reception, housing and allowance for all inhabitants of Chechnya on its own.

Accordingly, the situation in Ingushetia can be called with certainty a humanitarian catastrophe.

Meanwhile, counting on optimistic estimation of Ingushetia government, if the combat operations in Chechnya finish and most of refugees come home, up to 40 thousand people will have to stay for winter in the republic. They have no place to return: their houses have been destroyed, and they don't have a "place of residence".

The infrastructure of Ingushetia won't withstand such a burden. There are no quarters, workplaces (and in prospect too - 70% of Ingush population are unemployed), no hospitals and doctors.

There is a shortage of medicines. Children have no place to study (the Ingush schools work in three shifts at the time.) Although, no crime with refugee participation is registered yet, the growing of crime seems imminent. All this may lead to social outburst in the republic. The clause 1 of the article 1 of the Law on Forced Migrants says that the citizens, who left their places of residence because of mass peace breaking must be regarded as forced migrants. So, all these people must be acknowledged under the law as forced migrants and supplied by the state with needed aid. Meantime, the Migration Service of Ingushetia records the refugees in camps and regional departments, but it doesn't issue the registration documents. One can get a certificate (application form number 7), that filled with the passport data and the time of arrival.

However, to obtain the certificate one have to spent hours in the queue for the department of Federal Migration Service (FMS) in Nazran. The Migration Service offends against the law and doesn't accept applications for a forced migrant status. The status is not granted as well, which deprives, as a matter of fact, the people, who lost health, houses, and property due to their state fault, of this state's relief, deprives of the possibility to get a subsidy and compensation. According to the head of an administrative department of FMS, additional resources from Federal Center are not bankrolled, because the corresponding president and government's decrees were not signed. The following is absolutely indispensable to change the disastrous situation in Ingushetia:

- federal troops in Chechnya must keep the rules of humanitarian law inviolate; they must immediately stop unselective bombing and missile attacks.

- The refugees from Chechnya, who fled to Ingushetia, must be granted the forced migrant status without delay. They must be supplied with welfare and medical assistance (and with a psychologist's guidance too). They must be lodged in the warm and compensated for damaged houses and lost property, so it is necessary to appropriate money from Federal budget.

- The constitutional liberty of movement must be ensured. The opportunity of going inland as well as free of charge transit and transportation must be provided. The authorities should render aid in settling in.

We appeal to Russian and international organizations, to the subjects of Federation for help. Republic of Ingushetia, that bears all the difficulty of solving the problem of forced migrants from Chechnya at the present time, needs help.

2. The "creeping" state of emergency in Russia

The restrictions on the liberty of movement within the territories and republics of North Caucasus, imposed by general Shamanov on September 29th, would be possible only if a state of emergency was announced, and the general himself was appointed a military commandant of the area. So, this is an approach of undeclared, "creeping" state of emergency. It threatens democracy, lawfulness and human rights all over Russia.

It is not the first time when federal leadership refuses to impose a state of emergency officially in the cases, when the real STATE OF AFFAIRS is already a STATE OF EMERGENCY. In 1994-1996, the state of emergency in Chechnya wasn't proclaimed.

In 1999, V. Putin denied the necessity and even the possibility of declaring a state of emergency in the fringe area of Stavropol Territory and in the area of combat operations in Dagestan, although the constitutional human rights were restricted (which would be legal only if the state of emergency were imposed.) The war in Chechnya blazed up again, but Federal Center avoided proclaiming a state of emergency. The main reason is to exclude the parliamentary and other control over federal forces activity.

Federal authorities called the events of 1994-1996 "the disarmament of lawless band formations", while the current events were entitled "the antiterrorist operation", that goes in defiance of both common sense and the spirit of the Law on fight with terrorism. All this happens so as to eliminate the possibility of negotiations with Chechnya and to bring the actions of federal forces out of the context of humanitarian law, out of the international control. Moreover, it is claimed that there are no laws and limitations, acting in the war.

This is a vital error. In an internal armed conflict it is obligatory to maintain the humanitarian law. War crimes have no statute of limitations. Human rights depend on no bounds. The restrictions of human rights in Chechnya are not the internal affairs of Russia. Furthermore, the Assistant group of CSCE in the conflict zone, that is called to contribute the observance of humanitarian law and arrangements for the negotiations, still has a valid mandate.


We call to the authorities of Russian Federation to respect the federal and international legislation, withdraw any action, which patently leads to the civilians' death, and not to allow the illegal restrictions on human rights.

We appeal to Russian mass media to give up reproducing the official lie.

We call to the international community represented by the UN, CSCE, European Council, and their authorized divisions to pay close attention to the events in Chechnya and neighbour territories, with respect to the norms of humanitarian law and human rights.

We also appeal to the international non-governmental human rights and humanitarian organizations.

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