Russia's war in Chechnya

By Dr. Leopoldo Lovelace
Date: December, 28, 1999



Russia's war in Chechnya entails a serious violation of the international law of self-determination. According to Article 19, of the International Law Commission Draft Articles on State Responsibility [accepted by most Russian international law scholars and implicitly by numerous Russian governmental positions since its adoption by the ILC in 1975, and therefore opposable to Russia], "a serious breach of an international obligation of essential importance for the protection of fundamental interests of the international community, such as the right of self-determination of peoples, [ ] constitutes an international crime". An international crime is one which constitutes an offense erga omnes, an offense against the international community as a whole, and therefore it is no longer a matter under the exclusive internal jurisdiction of the state in question, Russia in this case.


There is compelling, continuous, widespread material and circumstancial evidence as to that the action of Russian armed forces in Chechnya is violating fundamental international obligations provided for in the laws on non-international armed conflicts, especially:

a) Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions (a self- executing norm of an agreement to which Russia is party), concerning armed conflict not of an international character, as to the rights of "persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat", and of persons "wounded and sick", who "shall be collected and cared for".
b) The 1977 Protocol II Additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions (similarly self-executing and opposable to Russia, which is also a perty to Protocol II), which applies to "all armed conflict which are not covered by [Article 1 of Protocol I] and which take place in the territory of a High Contracting Party between its armed forces and dissident armed forces or other organized armed groups". Art. 4(2) of Protocol II. Id. Art. 7 (on the treatment of the wounded and the sick). Id. Art. 13 (on the treatment of the civilian population). Id. Art. 17 (on the displacement of the civilian population and the compelling of civilian population to leave their own territory).


There is also strong material evidence indicating the Russian government and its instrumentations, are violating self- executing provisions of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and of the 1950 European Convention, both in force and binding for Russia, which is a party. There is also circumstancial evidence as to that the Russian government and its instrumentation in Chechnya, especially its security forces, are violating self-executing provisions of the Genocide Convention.


The action of Russian armed forces in Chechnya, with the means with which it is carried out, is in systematic violation of essential obligations under the system of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, including the 1975 and 1992 Helsinki agreements and the 1990 agreement con Conventional Forces in Europe. Recent reports on the use of fuel-air bombs by the Russian armed forces indicate there may also be elements for considering the Russian armed campaign in Chechnya is resorting to means of combat which are prohibited under the different international law regimes on the prohibition of chemical weapons, including the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.


a) Russia's war in Chechnya constitutes a systematic violation of a distinctive line of Resolution of the United Nations General Assembly and of the Council of Europe, which provide evidence of binding international customary law obligations concerning self-determination, the protection of minorities, and the compliance with minimum due process of law standards in situations of emergency, all of which are demandable from Russia. In the sixty year anniversary of the start of World War II, the most direct and comparable precendent of Russia's war in Chechnya are the Nazi nacht und fog decrees against the Jewish people, the Nazi campaign against Poland in 1939, and the Nazi campaign against Russia itself in 1941.
b) Russia's war in Chechnya constitutes a violation of the Russian Constitution, specifically of Arts. 2 and 5(3). Ir is also a violation if Art.15(1), which provides that "the Constitution has supreme legal force and direct force", and that "laws and other legal acts adopted by the Russian Federation may not contravene the Constitution". It is a violation of Art. 17(1), which establishes that "the basic rights and liberties in conformity with the commonly recognized principles and norms of international law shall be guaranteed by the Russian Federation under the Constitution". It is also a violation of Article 19 of the Constitution, according to which "All people shall be equal before the law and ina court of law", and of Art. 20, which provides that "everyone shall have the right to life", and that "capital punishment may, until its abolition, be instituted by federal law as exceptional punishment for especially grave crimes against life, with the accused having the right to have his case considered in a court of law by a jury". Art.47(1) establishes that "no one may be denied the right to having his or her case reviewed by a court of law". Russia's war in Chechnya constitutes therefore an abrogation of the 1993 Constitution, an objective form of coup d'etat.
c) Russia's war in Chechnya constitutes a systematic violation of the Charter of the United Nations, it entails a breach of international peace, and an act of aggression under Chapter VII of the Charter.

Should not Russia be dealt with by the international community like other aggressor governments have been, in the Persian Gulf and in the Balkans? Is the international community not obliged, and indeed entitled to, under imperative rules of international law and world public order to assist immediately the Chechen people?


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