24 Feb. - 1 March 2000
Issue No. 470
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Sir-I am writing to you today to express my deep concern over the gross violations of international humanitarian law that Russian forces have committed during their current military operation of the Republic of Chechnya. The Russian government must bring an immediate end to these abuses and those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law must be brought to justice.
Russian and international human rights organisations have reported that they now have substantial evidence of serious violations of international humanitarian law being committed by the Russian forces. These organisations have documented several incidents of disproportionate and indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets, including the apparently deliberate bombing of columns of refugees fleeing Chechnya. Soldiers manning border posts have apparently become notorious for extorting bribes from both those fleeing the conflict and those seeking to return to their homes.
Once Russian forces establish control over population centres, soldiers apparently have carte blanche to strip homes of household goods and valuables; many people have returned briefly to their homes to find them looted and empty.
In the village of Alkhan-Yurt, soldiers who occupied the town went on a rampage, not only looting but also summarily executing at least 14 residents who tried to stop them. Meanwhile, the Russian authorities have grossly neglected the needs of displaced persons in Ingushetia. In December they began pressing them to return to Chechnya by cutting their food rations.
Chechen rebels have also endangered civilians by taking positions in heavily populated areas, from which they have then fired on Russian aircraft. They have also repeatedly beaten and threatened civilians who attempted to spare their villages from Russian bombardment by insisting that the rebels leave.
I feel strongly that the international community must not repeat the mistakes it made during the previous war. At that time, it not only failed to call Russia to account for large-scale and extremely serious abuses but it heaped benefits on Russia to keep then-President Yeltsin in power. The lack of a principled response from the international community during the 1994-'96 war is no doubt one of the reasons why the Russian forces today show the same lack of respect for human rights as they did then.
The Russian government should immediately bring its abusive war effort to an end, investigate all credible allegations of violations of humanitarian law, and prosecute the perpetrators of these violations. The Russian government should know that if it fails to curb abuses and hold those responsible accountable, it will suffer international consequences, including political isolation, restrictions on trade benefits and financial assistance, and international legal challenges to its abusive war in Chechnya.
Our own priorities
Sir- I would like to thank all your staff for doing an excellent job in reporting the news and releasing it online for our reading pleasure. I was rather surprised, however, at your coverage of the violence in Al-Kosheh.
These events occurred in Egypt, but didn't even make front-page news. In contrast, the front page of issue 468 featured a caption titled "Crimes against humanity" -- a reference to events in Lebanon. Although your staff did a wonderful job documenting what had taken place in Al-Kosheh, a crime of that magnitude in any country always makes front-page news.
As Egyptian citizens regardless of our faith, we must give prominence to these issues, and this begins by reporting them on the front page, raising public awareness of such terrible tragedies.