Mr. Chairman thank you for convening this hearing as part of the ongoing efforts of the Helsinki Commission to draw attention to the human dimension of the conflict in Chechnya. Today's hearing is especially timely given the upcoming meeting between President Bush and President Putin of Russia. The scope of the human rights violations occurring in that region of the Russian Federation warrant that level of discussion, not delicate diplomatic doublespeak.
As I have noted in the past, the continuing war in has resulted in the most egregious violations of international humanitarian law in the OSCE region. Recent film footage shown during a Commission briefing late last week documented the physical, psychological, and personal destruction resulting from four years of conflict in this round of the war. With most journalists prevented from reporting on developments in Chechnya, one gets a limited glimpse into the war, typically surrounding the latest act of terrorism launched by fringe radical elements.
The picture the Kremlin does not want us to see is a wasteland dotted with mass graves, villages depopulated of men--young and old, and unspeakable crimes committed against civilians. Each side should and must be held accountable for its acts of lawlessness and brutality. Extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, and abuse of the non-combatants by elements of the Russian military continue. A representative of the respected human rights group "Memorial" reported at a Commission briefing earlier this year that of 119 persons abducted by Russian forces in Chechnya in the first three months of this year, 9 were killed, 19 were released after severe beatings, and the rest have "disappeared," their whereabouts unknown. A lack a accountability leaves family members with little hope for justice as they search for some clue about the fate a missing son, husband, or father.
The discovery of mass graves--with bodies mutilated to thwart identification--is not uncommon. Russian authorities claim that the bodies are victims of Chechen guerrillas, but on at least one occasion the mass grave was located in close proximity to the major Russian military base outside the capital, Grozny. Even the pro-Moscow Chechen administration in Grozny has criticized the brutality of the Russian military against the Chechen people.
The war in Chechnya has also created tens of thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), about 100,000 of whom of have been living in IDP camps in neighboring regions. There are disturbing and credible reports that the Russian Government is using coercive methods to repatriate these IDPs back into a Chechnya that is not only dangerous, but insufficiently prepared to house them. Repatriation efforts have only intensified, despite pledges by President Putin and other officials that IDPs would not be made to return against their will.
Mr. Chairman, I welcome Ambassador Pifer's unvarnished and candid assessment of developments in Chechnya since he last appeared before the Commission in May 2002. I echo his call upon the Chechen leadership to clearly reject terrorist methods and those who resort to them. At the same time, it is essential to avoid branding all Chechens as terrorists. To do so will only prolong the conflict, adding to the already terrible toll for Chechens and Russians alike.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.