Chechnya : The On-Going Conflict and its Effects on Human Rights
The ongoing conflict between Chechnya and Russia is infamous for its violence and bloodshed. For hundreds of years Chechnya has struggled to gain and maintain its independence with only short-lived and minimal successes. In recent years, however, we have seen tensions escalate, and new problems arise regarding the situation. One of the most recent episodes was the attack on the Moscow Theatre by Chechen rebels in October of 2002, where over 100 civilian hostages were killed as Russia attempted to diffuse the situation. After this episode, the world began to pay more attention to the situation in Chechnya and began to look even harder for a solution to the problem.
Chechnya and Russia have been at odds for centuries. Russia first finally conquered its smaller southern neighbor in 1859, after which thousands of Chechens were deported to the barren region of Siberia . In 1922, Chechnya was recognized as an autonomous republic within the Soviet Union . Soviet repression continued throughout this period, however. In the 1940's under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, Chechens were accused of collaborating with the German Nazi's and many were either deported or killed in mass executions. In 1957 exiles were allowed to return to Chechnya , but many had not survived the ordeal.
In 1991 a new chapter in the Chechnya-Russian conflict began. As the Soviet Union fell, Chechen president Dzohokhar Dudayev declared Chechen independence from what was left of the nation. However, under Dudayev's presidency, the Chechen economy and government began to rapidly deteriorate. In 1994, the new Russian president Boris Yeltsin sent Russian troops back in to Chechnya to disarm the military. In 1995, the Chechen capital of Grozny was conquered. In 1996 Dudayev was assassinated, allowing Russian forces to solidify their control. Fighting between Russian and Chechen forces resumed until 1997, when a temporary peace agreement was reached. Newly elected Chechen president Mashadov did not succeed in pulling the country out of its economic or political problems and the nation began to fall prey to the influence of radical Islamic fundamentalist groups.
The current round of fighting began in October 1999 when then Russian premier Vladimir Putin ordered a new invasion of Chechnya . Grozny was conquered in February of 2000 and Putin was elected president of Russia one month later. In October 2002, Chechen rebels attacked the Moscow Theater in Russia and held around 800 Russian hostages. In an attempt to disable the rebels Russian troops sprayed an opiate-based gas, which unfortunately led to the death of over 100 hostages. Soon after this incident, a constitution was constructed that allowed Chechnya some autonomy, but included it as part of Russia and therefore subject to Russian law. The voter turnout in Chechnya in favor of the constitution was high, but many Chechens are still for full independence from Russia . In the past year there has been continued fighting, and despite Russian plans to end the war, no solution is in sight.
The implications of the conflict in Chechnya with regards to human rights are many. In addition to seeing the usual human rights problems that come with war, we are seeing unique problems with the situation in Chechnya . This is because the conflict is more like a civil war than a war between two countries. Standard military strategies are not commonly used in this conflict, even by Russian forces. Instead tactics like ambushes, mine explosions and bombings are used, often in civilian areas. Both sides have also been accused of kidnapping, rape, torture, extrajudicial executions, using civilians as shields, looting, and destruction of civilian property. For both Russians and Chechens, their home has become a battleground, oftentimes, unexpectedly. But for most people, especially in the impoverished country of Chechnya , there is no way out. Many are forced to live in the cities that are under siege. Others have been forced to flee to neighboring countries, especially Ingushetia-where the living conditions are nearly as bad as in Chechnya . Often times Chechens are not welcomed into the camps and are pressured by Russian forces to leave and return to Chechnya .
There are a few crucial areas of this topic that need to be explored at the conference. The Commission on Human Rights' main purpose is to help protect the human rights of the people of the world. Therefore, all of the above problems that threaten the human rights of Chechens and Russians in this conflict need to be dealt with, and if possible, solved. It is important to remember, however, that the duty of the CHR is not to trying to end conflicts, or to judge or take action against any involved party. The CHR simply has no jurisdiction in matters dealing with ending wars or judiciary action.
CHR does, however, conduct investigations into human rights violation. This is another are that should be examined at the conference. It will also be important to examine past United Nations and CHR discussions, decisions and actions regarding the conflict in Chechnya , and what has been successful and what has failed.