Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons concludes his visit to the Russian Federation

Francis M. Deng
Francis M. Deng Former Brookings Expert

September 15, 2003

At the invitation of the Government, the Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons, Dr. Francis M. Deng, visited the Russian Federation from 7 to 12 September 2003. The Russian Federation was the first country to extend an invitation to the Representative at the time of the creation of the mandate, and he therefore visited the country in 1992.

The objective of this second official visit was to study and reach a better understanding of the situation of internal displacement in the Russian Federation, in particular with regard to the Northern Caucasus and to conduct a constructive and cooperative dialogue with the Government, international agencies, non-governmental organizations and other relevant actors aimed at ensuring effective responses to internal displacement.

During his mission, the Representative had meetings in Moscow and also travelled to the Republics of Ingushetia and Chechnya. He met with various officials of the Federal Government in Moscow, including officials from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Federal Migration Service. He also had talks with the President of Ingushetia and the Administration in Chechnya. In addition he met with representatives of United Nations agencies and programmes, governmental and non-governmental organizations, the donor community and displaced communities in both Ingushetia and Chechnya.

The Representative expressed his appreciation to the Government for inviting him and for the warm reception and open dialogue with the Federal, Ingush and Chechen authorities. He also expressed his gratitude for the elaborative organizational arrangements put in place to facilitate his mission.

In his various meetings the Representative emphasized the approach he has adopted in his work, which is based on recognizing the problem of internal displacement as falling under the sovereignty of the state. Viewing sovereignty positively as a concept of state responsibility to protect and assist its citizens, he sees the role of the international community as a supplementary one and his own role as a catalyst for promoting international cooperation to work with Governments in discharging their responsibility toward their citizens.

Discussions during the visit focused on issues of protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Ingushetia, Temporary Accommodation Centres (TACs) for returning IDPs in Chechnya and the extent to which they can return in safety and dignity, receive compensation for damaged or lost property as well as other benefits. The Representative was also informed about the situation of the Ingush IDPs from North Ossetia who have remained in displacement camps in Ingushetia without adequate assistance and who wish to return to their homes in North Ossetia.

The Representative was impressed by the positive policy statements made by the authorities which strongly and consistently upheld freedom of movement and the right to choose from options that include voluntary return in safety and dignity, remaining in the area of displacement or seeking alternative settlement in any area of choice within the Russian Federation. The Representative was also pleased to hear from the authorities the importance they attached to the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. (United Nations Document Symbol E/CN.4/1998/53/Add.2)

Without prejudice to the freedom of choice, the authorities encouraged the option of return to Chechnya, asserting that the security situation had considerably improved and that the returnees would be given the necessary humanitarian assistance and compensation for destroyed or lost property in order to rebuild their homes and resume normal life. As arguments for the need to close the tent camps in Ingushetia the authorities emphasized the appalling conditions which they considered unfit as adequate accommodation for the IDPs.

Field visits to the displacement camps in Ingushetia and TACs in Chechnya, as well as extensive discussions with representatives of humanitarian agencies and NGOs revealed significant discrepancies between the positive official policy statements and the perspectives of the displaced. IDPs in camps in Ingushetia were acutely apprehensive that the camps might be closed and that they might be forced to return to a situation in Chechnya which they regarded to be unsafe; they gave accounts of reports from Chechnya to substantiate their concerns.

Returnees in TACs in Grozny confirmed that they had not been forced to return but that they had been promised better conditions than in the tent camps in Ingushetia, compensation for destroyed and lost property, and adequate levels of humanitarian assistance. Some also emphasized the need to ensure their children’s education and, of course, the desire to return home as grounds for their return. However, they asserted that they had not found much of what they had been promised including compensation and adequate humanitarian assistance and that they remained seriously concerned about the security situation and their own safety.

With regard to the activities of the international humanitarian organisations, the Representative found that many complained that they encountered administrative obstacles in their efforts to obtain access to Chechnya, and many were concerned about lack of adequate security and safety conditions for humanitarian workers. The Chechen authorities on the other hand called for the presence of humanitarian agencies and increased levels of assistance inside Chechnya which they saw as a potential incentive for return. Despite the precarious security situation they asserted that they would ensure the necessary security conditions for aid workers.

The current situation of the IDPs in the North Caucasus present the Government of the Russian Federation, the Governments of Ingushetia and Chechnya and the international community with several challenges, including the following:

First, to reaffirm their commitment to the right of the IDPs in Ingushetia to voluntary return in safety and dignity and to make that commitment credibly known to the IDPs themselves.

Second, to provide them with adequate and accurate information about the situation in order for them to make an informed choice between returning, waiting in areas of displacement in dignified circumstances until conditions in Chechnya become convincingly improved, integrating locally or seeking alternative settlement elsewhere in the country.

Third, to ensure to the returnees conditions of greater safety and security.

Fourth, to provide the Government of the Russian Federation and the Governments of Ingushetia and Chechnya with supplementary resources to assist the IDPs with the provision of better temporary shelter in areas of displacement outside Chechnya and in reconstructing destroyed or damaged properties inside Chechnya.

Fifth, to ensure that all persons whose property was damaged or destroyed have equal and fair access to compensation regardless of whether they choose to return or not. The Government assured the Representative that this would indeed be the case, and explained that new legislation was in the process of being drafted to that effect.

Sixth, to assist the Government of Ingushetia with adequate means to provide humanitarian assistance to the Ingush IDPs from North Ossetia whose conditions are no less compelling than those of Chechen IDPs.

Seventh, toward achieving the objective of a comprehensive response, to organise a consultation involving UN agencies, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, the donor community and of course the relevant authorities to seek to identify strategies to help alleviate the plight of IDPs in the Russian Federation and to enhance the coordination among different actors.