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Helsinki Commission Letter to President Vladimir Putin

His Excellency Vladimir V. Putin
President of the Russian Federation
The Kremlin
Moscow, Russian Federation

Dear Mr. President:

We wish to express our deep concerns about the terrible conflict in Chechnya and respectfully ask that the Russian Government take all possible actions to alleviate the situation for the many innocent victims of the brutal violence that continues in that unfortunate region. In our view, Chechnya has been one of the greatest tragedies that has taken place within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) during the past decade. In addition to the thousands of combatants who have lost their lives, countless more civilians have been killed, seriously injured or driven from their homes. Sadly, many attempts to bring peace to the region have failed to bear fruit.

We fully recognize and respect the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation and greatly appreciate Russia’s and your personal contribution to the war against terrorism. At the same time, we urge you to make a renewed effort to find a political solution to the conflict in Chechnya, as was called for in the final communique of the OSCE’s 1999 Istanbul summit. We ask that all possible steps be taken to reduce the terrible toll of suffering in Chechnya and in surrounding areas. Reports of a high number of civilian casualties suffered during clean up operations (“zachistki”) are particularly disturbing.

In addition, information received from the OSCE’s Assistance Group to Chechnya, as well as other non-governmental organizations, indicate that Russian authorities plan to forcibly return internally displaced persons to Chechnya, and Grozny, in particular. We urge you to ensure that the internally displaced persons seeking refuge in Ingushetia, and elsewhere in the Russian Federation, are not forcibly returned to any location, particularly where the security situation is unstable and proper housing unavailable.

The unstable security situation in Chechnya is widely recognized. In addition, descriptions regarding the physical condition of the Temporary Accommodation Centers in Grozny, where authorities recently relocated individuals from the Znamenskoye camp, are indicative of substandard structures. According to the OSCE Assistance Group, the situation in the Centers is characterized by “overcrowding, not enough beds, no sewers working, no medicine and inadequate medical services.” While individuals from the Znamenskoye camp were not technically forced to leave, the deconstruction of facilities left them with no viable alternative. We would hope that the unhappy fate of the former inhabitants of the Znamenskoye facility not be experienced by the much larger population of internally displaced persons in Ingushetia.

In keeping with the OSCE 1999 Charter for European Security, the Russian Federation agreed to “facilitate the voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons in dignity and safety.” We respectfully ask that you and the Government of Russia take the difficult but needed steps to attain this humanitarian goal.

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