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Joint NGO Statement on the Beslan School Hostage Tragedy


Memorial Human Rights Center
Moscow Helsinki Group
All-Russia Movement for Human Rights
Amnesty International
Human Rights Watch
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
International League for Human Rights

8 September 2004

A coalition of Russian and international human rights organizations united today to condemn in the strongest terms the taking hostage and killing of hundreds of children, parents and teachers by a group of armed men and women in a school in the city of Beslan, North Ossetia in the North Caucasus region of Russia.

The crisis began on 1 September when armed men and women burst into the school as approximately one thousand children, their parents and teachers had gathered to celebrate the beginning of the academic year. The composition of the group of hostage-takers has not been clarified, however, it has been reported that some of their demands were related to the armed conflict in Chechnya. The armed group held the hostages without food or drinking water for over 48 hours before Russian security forces, at approximately 13:00 on 3 September, stormed the school in circumstances that still remain unclear. It has been reported that over 325 hostages, almost half of them children, were killed; hundreds more were taken to hospital suffering from injuries of varying degrees of severity.

The actions taken by the armed group: taking over 1000 people as hostages, including young children - the most vulnerable members of society; depriving them of food and water for over 48 hours; issuing repeated death threats against them; and the subsequent deliberate killing of many hostages - are all flagrant abuses of international and domestic law.

"This abhorrent and calculated action by an armed group on a school displays a callous disregard for civilian life", the organizations stated. "It is an attack on the most fundamental right - the right to life; our organizations denounce this act unreservedly".

We are also seriously concerned that the authorities have been covering up the extent of the crisis, including by providing misleading data on the number of hostages, and urge the authorities to ensure that the investigation into the full circumstances of the school hostage-taking incident encompasses an investigation into the way in which the authorities released information, both to the public and to the families of the hostages. We call for the findings of the investigation to be made publicly available.

The Beslan attack took place against a backdrop of five years of widespread, persistent and largely unpunished human rights violations by Russian troops against civilians in Chechnya as well as egregious human rights abuses by rebel fighters. The impunity for such abuses has served to perpetuate the conflict and has led to serious human rights atrocities committed by both sides. In our opinion, lasting peace in Chechnya cannot be achieved without justice for all victims of human rights abuses committed in the context of the conflict, and without ensuring the establishment of the rule of law and human rights protection for all. We call on the Russian authorities to take measures to ensure that persons responsible for human rights abuses in Chechnya are brought to justice in an independent and impartial court of law in accordance with international standards, whether they fought on the Russian or rebel side.

We remind the Russian government of its positive obligation to protect civilians at risk of spontaneous reprisal attacks in North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Chechnya and other Russian regions. We similarly urge the authorities to ensure that law-enforcement operations aimed at bringing those responsible for the Beslan attack to justice are conducted in full accordance with international human rights standards.

At this tragic time, we extend our condolences and deepest sympathy to the victims, their relatives and the people of Beslan.

Background

Hostage-taking is universally condemned in a number of international legal documents: in particular the 1979 UN Convention Against the Taking of Hostages, which qualifies these acts as an "offence of grave concern to the international community" and demand that "any person committing an act of hostage taking shall either be prosecuted or extradited". The UN Security Council, in a Presidential Statement of 1 September 2004, condemned the hostage-taking in North Ossetia in the strongest terms and urged States actively to cooperate with the Russian authorities in efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice.

 

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