The Conflict in Chechnya
Two months after Islamic rebels sowed the seeds of violence in Dagestan, Russia has unleashed a whirlwind of destruction that has swept across the border into Chechnya. Since August 1999, Russian-Chechen relations have further deteriorated as Russia has taken measures to regain control of the Caucasus. In October 1999, Russian forces began air strikes on the capital and have seized over a third of Chechen territory under the pretext of establishing a “security zone” and rooting out Islamic militants believed to be in Chechnya. Russian troops were within 12 miles of the capital; Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has declared martial law and called on religious leaders to proclaim a holy war.
Reisiting foreign domination has deep roots in this part of the world. The Chechens, a distinct Muslim people with a unique language and culture, has survived attacks from numerous would-be conquerors in their 7,000 year history. Over the last 200 years, however, the gravest threat has been from Russia. Both Imperial and Communist Russia successfully annexed the Caucasus, and both met persistent Chechen resistance. After the breakup of the USSR in 1991, Chechnya declared independence from Russia, only to be consumed by war three years later as Russia tried to regain control. The long and bloody war, which resulted in over 70,000 casualties, was finally brought to an end in 1996. But the terms of the peace were indecisive: the belligerents decided to defer a decision about Chechnya’s formal status until 2001. Chechnya considers itself independent. In 1997 it held internationally monitored democratic elections in which Maskhadov won the presidency, and changed the name of its capital from Grozny, a Russian name, to Djohar, a distinctly Chechen one. Despite Chechnya’s de facto autonomy, the international community still considers the area Russian.
Although Russia has been operating under the pretext of fighting terrorists-it has blamed Chechen rebels for a number of bombings in Moscow-its ultimate goals carry far graver implications for independent-minded Chechnya. Since early September, Russian air strikes have systematically destroyed Chechen communications and infrastructure while ground troops pour in from the North indicating that Russia is reasserting its military and political authority in the region. Meanwhile, the Chechen population is paying the price of Russia’s reassertion: 125,000 Chechens have fled since Russian air strikes began.
On December 21, 1999-Human Rights Watch, called on the United Nations Security Council to an independent commission of inquiry to investigate violations of the laws of war by Russian forces operating in Chechnya. In a letter to all fifteen members of the Security Council, the organization said such a commission could “deter at least some of the atrocities and thereby save the lives of innocent civilians,” which the organization said were mounting. A commission of inquiry would also preserve an historical record that could facilitate the future prosecution of those who have already committed serious violations of international humanitarian law. Human Rights Watch research indicates that Russia has shown contempt for international humanitarian law in its military campaign in Chechnya. Attacks on dozens of towns and villages still inhabited by civilians have killed and maimed untold numbers of people. The organization further cited a systematic failure by Russia to respect the rights of displaced Chechens, and the extrajudicial execution of at least seventeen people in the town of Alkhan-Yurt in December 1999. In a separate letter, Human Rights Watch called on the Russian government to abstain from using its veto on any Security Council resolution to establish a commission of inquiry for Chechnya. The organization said that all permanent members of the Council have the duty to refrain from using their veto power for purely parochial interests, especially when doing so would undermine the ability of the Security Council effectively to respond to serious violations of human rights. Human Rights Watch has had a team of researchers interviewing Chechen refugees in Ingushetia since November 1999.
As stated before, Russia sees these attacks by the Chechens as terrorist activity. On September 28, 2001 the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a wide ranging anti-terrorism resolution. Entitled Resolution 1373, in essence it states that, the Council decided that all states should prevent and suppress the financing of terrorism, as well as criminalize the willful provision or collection of funds for such acts. The funds, financial assets and economic resources of those who commit or attempt to commit terrorist acts or participate in or facilitate the commission of terrorist acts and of persons and entities acting on behalf of terrorist should also be frozen without delay.