World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Russia - Statement on Chechnya

29 February 2000

Adopted by the Executive Committee, Geneva, 29 February - 3 March 2000.

The roots of the present-day conflict in Chechnya lie deep in the histories of the peoples of the region. Since 1991, however, ethnic and national tensions have been aggravated by the breakdown of authority in Chechenya. Human rights violations and breaches of personal security there have been of concern to the international community. One manifestation of this has been the rampant practice of taking individuals and groups hostage for political or financial gain. Hundreds of people, including Orthodox Christian clergy and Muslim religious leaders, UN personnel, humanitarian workers, journalists, citizens of neighboring territories and numerous Chechens - including children - have been kidnapped, brutalized, and sometimes killed. This lawlessness also led, it is strongly suspected, to acts of terrorism by Chechen militants in the Russian Federation. In late summer 1999 Chechen fighters undertook a violent assault on Daghestan, Chechnya's neighbor in the Russian Federation.

In response to this deteriorating situation, and with considerable popular support, the government of the Russian Federation has once again intervened militarily in Chechnya. While the stated aim of that intervention was to restore law and order, it was undertaken with massive, often indiscriminate force, which has resulted in the deaths and maiming of many non-combatants and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. An undetermined number of young Russian and Chechen soldiers have also been killed. Russian forces have restricted the movement of affected people in Chechnya and the surrounding region, including those voluntarily seeking to return to their homes. International organizations report wide-scale human rights abuses in Russian-controlled areas, including detention camps, and there are serious allegations of involvement of Russian military personnel in criminal acts, including arbitrary killings of civilians.

While the Russian authorities have denied these charges, the fact that they have barred access by the International Committee of the Red Cross to Chechen detainees, and severely restricted access of journalists and other independent observers, puts into question the credibility of their affirmations. Military actions continue on both sides, trapping civilians behind Russian lines and incurring continued loss of human life. Tens of thousands of civilians have extremely limited access to water, food, medical care, and electricity or gas.

This continued suffering must be brought to an end. The pursuit of this war is unlikely to provide the basis for a stable peace. Instead, hatred and desire for revenge as a result of these actions raise the specter of unending war, further acts of terrorism and still more suffering for the population. This war also risks isolating Russia from other European nations and important partners, as shown by the recent action of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly that found Russia to be in violation of international humanitarian law in its conduct of military operations.

The Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, 29 February - 3 March 2000 therefore:

noted with appreciation the appeal by His Holiness Patriarch Alexei II on 12 November 1999 for "common efforts (to) help heal the physical and spiritual wounds of those who suffer" from this situation, and for all concerned to "work together for reconciliation and pray for peace so that the Lord may return it to the divided and embittered people" of Chechnya;

assured the Russian Orthodox Church of its prayers as it seeks to guide the leaders and people of its nation, to ensure merciful treatment of the victims of the war, to offer constructive alternatives to the use of armed violence, and to seek a just, peaceful solution;

called for an immediate end to hostilities and dialogue with Chechen representatives who have the respect of their people in pursuit of a lasting resolution which respects the will of the people, and is set within a democratic framework respecting the rule of law and human rights norms;

urged all parties to avail themselves of the resources available through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to achieve these ends;

welcomed efforts by Russian authorities to investigate reports of human rights abuses in Russian-controlled areas of Chechnya and urges the authorities to allow access to these regions by the competent United Nations bodies and the OSCE;

urged the Government of the Russian Federation to establish firm guarantees for the human rights and humanitarian needs of people affected by the war, including provision of adequate assistance, the establishment of humanitarian corridors so that civilians in conflict zones can leave, and to allow access to the region by responsible international humanitarian agencies; and

called upon the international community to assist the Government of the Russian Federation in the reconstruction of homes and infrastructure in the region, in the provision of adequate assistance for displaced persons who choose to return voluntarily in order that people can begin re-building their lives and communities, and in efforts to seek reconciliation.