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Watch List: November 4, 1999

4 November 1999, Volume 1, Number 41

INGUSH LEADER TELLS MOSCOW TO SEEK POLITICAL SOLUTION FOR CHECHNYA... Ruslan Aushev, the president of the Republic of Ingushetia, said on 1 November that the Russian military had failed to open a sufficiently large corridor for Chechen refugees and that Moscow should seek to resolve the Chechen crisis by political means rather than military ones. "Only an insignificant number of the forcibly displaced persons have been allowed to pass through a checkpoint," he said. "Thousands of people are standing in the rain and snow, day and night. Civilians--elderly men, women, and children--are thus being abused."

ONE-THIRD OF CHECHENS FLEE FROM RUSSIAN BOMBING. Moscow's strategy to avoid combat losses on the Russian side has led to "a massive and indiscriminate artillery and air bombardment of Chechen towns and villages," London's "Independent" reported on 2 November. As a result, one-third of Chechnya's population has fled, the paper said, with some 193,000 in Ingushetia alone. "The same number or even more have fled their homes but cannot get out of Chechnya because of the Russian blockade," Tarja Halonen, the Finnish foreign minister who had just led a European Union delegation to the area, told the paper.

HUMANITARIAN GROUP PLEADS FOR AID TO CHECHNYA. In Grozny, Russian bombing has cut off all electricity, leaving the area without water pumps and hospitals without either power or water, according to a letter published on 1 November in the London "Times" by Guy Willoughby, director of the HALO Trust, described as "the only international aid agency left in Chechnya." Willoughby said "Our own teams and vehicles have switched from our three-year mine-clearance program to installing generators in hospitals and trying to move medical supplies." He further reported that three of his staff members had been killed in a multiple-rocket attack the week before. "The priority is to get the Russians to stop their artillery and allow in humanitarian aid," Willoughby concluded. "Now is the time for Western governments to display the spine they showed against Belgrade and Jakarta."

RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE DISTRIBUTES FILM ON CHECHEN HOSTAGE... On 31 October Russia's domestic security service FSB showed video of French photographer Brice Latieu being held hostage in Chechnya, filmed by his captors who demand ransom money. Shown on Moscow's NTV television, the film has him say, in French, that he is beaten regularly and is "treated like a dog." "The FSB released the film for Russian and foreign journalists to be cautious when going to the North Caucasus," the FSB spokesman explained.

...RUSSIAN FORCES RELEASE TWO JOURNALISTS DETAINED AT THE BORDER. At the same time, the FSB announced that the Russian agency had released Anthony Loyd, a London "Times" reporter, and Tyler Hicks, a New York-based photographer. The FSB had arrested them near the Chechen-Ingush border, ostensibly because their papers were not in order. They were held in a military camp for three nights and questioned about their coverage of the war. "We are physically well," the "Times" quoted Loyd. But he also mentioned "tense moments" during their detention, recalling that the local commander greeted the two each day with: "Morning, spies."

TATARS PROTEST RUSSIA'S WAR. On 2 November, Tatar activists held a rally in Kazan. Tatar-inform cited one of the signs: "Today Chechens, Tomorrow Us." Earlier, Rafail Khakimov, an advisor to Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimiev, told Tatar-Inform that Moscow's use of military force in Chechnya is a mistake. "It is unclear," he said, "what the Russians mean by the word 'victory'--a victory over whom?" Tatar-Inform also reported a statement by the Tatar Public Center, described as a radical nationalist organization, which condemned Russia's leaders for "turning genocide against non-Russian and Muslim peoples into a state policy."

BALLOT-RIGGING AND ATTACKS ON MEDIA MAR UKRAINE VOTE. Election violations such as ballot-stuffing in favor of incumbent Leonid Kuchma marred the Ukrainian presidential elections on 31 October, according to the "Financial Times." "Most of the claims and counter-claims are unlikely to be properly substantiated," the paper said, "but allegations of fraud seemed more credible to international observers after the heavy-handed campaign run by President Kuchma, in which the media has faced heavy pressure and opposition candidates have been harassed." The U.S.-based International Republican Institute called the balloting "disappointing," as "it fell short of previous Ukrainian standards, and well short of the mark set by countries that are members of or are in the process of applying for membership in organizations Ukraine wishes to join." In a 28 October letter to Kuchma, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned his "government's crude attempts to censor" four opposition newspapers. In addition, CPJ wrote, Ukraine officials subjected the paper "Kryvoi Rog Vecherny" to a series of hostile tax audits, the police ransacked the editorial offices and detained an editor, Inna Chyrchenko, for 17 hours because of the paper's ties with presidential candidate Oleksander Moroz.

ALL SIDES COMPLAIN OF PROCEDURAL SHORTCOMINGS IN GEORGIAN VOTE. Both pro-government and opposition figures claimed violations of procedure in the parliamentary elections in Georgia on 31 October. According to Caucasus Press, the alleged violations included restrictions on voting in some constituencies in Adjaria and the region of Lentehki, the theft of a ballot box in Gori, an attempt by an opposition member of the Central Electoral Commission to hack into the commission's computer, and an attempt at ballot stuffing by a commission member who belongs to the ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia.

SERBS FINE LEAFLET PUBLISHER. In Serbia, authorities fined the printing company ABC Grafika, which prints most of the independent papers in the country, $12,500 for printing a daily leaflet opposing Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, the Belgrade daily "Glas" reported. A Belgrade court also fined opposition activist Cedomir Jovanovic the equivalent of more than $10,000 for circulating the leaflet "Promene," which was declared an unregistered periodical and hinting that individual fines will be imposed for each issue. The Association of Independent Electronic Media in Yugoslavia protested and called for the repeal of the "repressive legislation" used by the regime "to silence its political opponents."

U.S. HUMANITARIAN AID TO GO TO SERBIA, SANCTIONS TO BE LIFTED. For the first time since the war in Kosova, a high-ranking delegation of Serbia's democratic opposition came to the American capital to gain U.S. support for removing President Slobodan Milosevic, to ensure the flow of humanitarian aid to the cities where the opposition is in power, and, once Milosevic is no longer the leader, to rebuild the country's economy. The seven-member delegation also sought a U.S. commitment to protect the Serbian minority in Kosova. The Clinton administration responded positively and even agreed to lift the economic sanctions on Serbia as soon there is a free election. The opposition group, which calls itself the Alliance for Change, represents a coalition of Serbia's democratic political parties.

UKRAINE SECRET POLICE CHARGES SCIENTISTS WITH TREASON. On 16 October, SBU agents (Ukraine's secret police) raided the homes and offices of Sergey Pyontkovsky, his former wife, Galina, and Yuriy Tokarev, all of them scientists at the Institute of Biology of the Southern Seas (IBSS) in Sevastopol. SBU officers seized scientific papers, computers, money, and passports. According to an urgent appeal to the West by IBSS scientists, the trio has been charged with having criminal links with the West, transfering Soviet-era secret information, and conducting illegal currency operations such as paying the participants in their projects in hard currency. Pyontkovsky, an authority on tropical plankton and the author of some 60 scientific papers, has worked on a long list of joint studies of marine ecosystems funded by the European Union and the United States. On 29 October, the American magazine "Science" said the raid "rekindl[ed] memories of Soviet-era repression." To focus attention on the need to dismiss the charges, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has sent out a "human rights action alert."


By Paul Goble

Having driven more than one-third of all Chechens from their homes as a result of massive high-altitude bombing, the Russian authorities have compounded this humanitarian disaster by mendacious presentations of what has taken place, through violations of their own and international law, and by officially sanctioning ethnic discrimination.

Last month, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported that Chechen radicals rather than Russian forces were responsible for the refugee flows. According to this report, Chechen leaders "decided that after the explosions that had caused so many deaths in Moscow and Volgodonsk, the leaders needed to win over public opinion in Russia and abroad."

To that end, RIA-Novosti said, they decided that the only way they could do that was "by providing the world with a spectacle of the suffering and pain of a huge number of innocent victims. Kosovo was cited as the example to follow. As a result," the news service claimed and cited the Russian intelligence service FSB, "it was decided to create an even more shocking 'humanitarian catastrophe.'"

Still worse, the Russian agency said, the Chechen leaders hoped to attract foreign assistance for these refugees but then divert it in order to raise money for themselves and their fight against Moscow.

Blaming the Chechens for the refugee flow was clearly intended to deflect responsibility from Moscow for what has happened, but suggesting that the Chechen leaders would misuse aid certainly appears intended to convince Western agencies not to send any assistance to the displaced people lest they inadvertently help the Chechen cause.

Moreover, Moscow has dealt with the refugees in ways that violate both Russian legislation and international law. The Russian human rights center Memorial has documented the various ways Russian officials have violated Russian legislation: failing to declare a state of emergency over which the Russian parliament would have a say but imposing regulations that can only flow from such a state of emergency, claiming that there are no laws or limitations on Russian actions as would be the case in a state of war but at the same time insisting that the entire affair is an internal matter, and restricting freedom of movement of Chechens and others within the country.

Such actions, Memorial concludes, constitute "an approach of undeclared, 'creeping' state of emergency, something which threatens democracy, lawfulness, and human rights all over Russia."

At the same time, international human rights organizations have documented a variety of Russian violations of international law. Human Rights Watch, for example, has concluded that by closing borders to Chechens who are fleeing the bombing, Moscow is exposing "them to mortal danger," something that HRW said was "a gross violation of Russian and internaitonal law. Moreover, this group found that Russian officials had done nothing to crack down against local officials who demand bribes from Chechens wanting to flee and had actively conspired to restrict Chechen refugees from moving beyond the hard-pressed Republic of Ingushetia.

But the most serious violations by the Russian government of its own laws and of international principles are its open discrimination against Chechens as a group. Ethnic Russians are allowed to pass through borders, but Chechens are not--a pattern that has permitted Moscow to claim that it has opened borders around Chechnya to refugees when in fact it has not. Ethnic Chechens are restricted in onward movement beyond the immediate areas around where the bombing is taking place. And local officials and even some local people have discriminated against the Chechens in their efforts to gain shelter and even food.

That has created a frightening situation. One journalist titled her story of the Chechen refugee camps "In the borderlands of hell." And a specialist on refugees points out that the density of Chechen refugees now penned up in Ingushetia relative to land area was three to four times greater than that of East Timorese refugees in West Timor or than the density of Kosovar refugees in Albania and Macedonia in May. And those figures were generated a month ago, when the number of Chechen displaced persons was half of what it is now.

There is little food, inadequate shelter, and virtually no medicine or sanitation facilities for these people. Moreover, there is little prospect for the displaced Chechens to be resettled or to find work locally anytime soon. And as the weather gets colder, many are likely to succumb to disease and the elements.

The Russian government and the pro-Moscow media have blamed the Chechens as a group for terrorism, but most of the people who have fled are women and children who simply want to escape the violence between Russian and Chechen forces. Again and again, these displaced people have said that they simply want the chance to live their lives in peace. But many of them have also indicated that Russian behavior toward the Chechens is radicalizing many and that the refugee camps Moscow's policies are creating could become the breeding grounds for more radical groups in the future.