Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 41

A report released on November 5 by the leading international body monitoring internal displacement worldwide has accused Russia of pressuring Chechen refugees to return home. The report, “Trapped in Displacement: Internally Displaced People in the OSCE Area,” was prepared by the Geneva-based Global IDP Project, which was established by the Norwegian Refugee Council at the request of the United Nations. The report states in its section on Chechnya that displaced Chechens “remained subject to undue pressures from the authorities to return to Chechnya. Security checks in IDP settlements, eviction threats, the removal from humanitarian distribution lists, and the suspension of utilities (gas or electricity) in IDP settlements, contributed to spreading the feeling among IDPs that return was the only solution.”

As for the threats that returnees face upon their arrival back in Chechnya, the report notes that while the number of zachistki decreased significantly in 2004, “cases of disappearances, torture and severe beatings, as well as destruction of property and looting, both perpetrated by local and federal forces or rebel groups, were still reported in high numbers. Memorial, which systematically monitored the situation in approximately one-third of Chechnya’s territory, recorded 194 people ‘disappeared’ in Chechnya in the first half of 2004. Impunity for human rights abuses by federal or pro-Russian forces continued to prevail, as the authorities failed to carry out independent and impartial investigations and bring suspected perpetrators to justice.”

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, some 150,000 Chechens who have fled the past decade’s two conflicts are scattered across Russia. They include 43,000 in neighboring Ingushetia, where authorities closed the last of six tent camps this June. Meanwhile, some 209,000 uprooted people live in precarious conditions within Chechnya itself.

Meanwhile, the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights published an appeal on November 2 calling on European Union member-states “to insist that the Russian government adheres to its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law.” These include the resolution passed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in October urging the Russian government, among other things, “to take additional measures to eliminate the climate of impunity in the Chechen Republic.” Russian authorities “persist in conducting a policy of force in the Republic and seem unwilling to change their approach despite the failure of their actions to bring stability to the region,” the appeal stated.