Program Leader Oleg Petrovich Orlov
Program Coordinators Mikhail Anatolyevich Zamyatin
Aleksander Viktorovich Sokolov
Aleksander Vladimirovich Cherkasov
Since the end of in the Soviet Union in the 1980's and then in the newly independent states, conflicts -- interethnic, political and otherwise -- repeatedly flared up that developed into armed clashes. In such conflicts, military action usually follows a period of growing tension; after the cessation of armed hostilities, the conflict continues to exist for some time in a smouldering state ready to flare up with renewed strength.
The information/analytical program “Hot Spots” is devoted to investigating human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian norms in areas of mass conflict, which could develop or already have developed into armed conflict. The program's main task is disseminating information to the public, the media, politicians and international organisations.
Objective and complete information about human rights violations in troubled areas directly influences events surrounding a conflict.
A lack of information or incorrect information usually promotes an escalation in the conflict. On the contrary, attracting public and political attention to human rights violations in zones of mass conflict can help prevent a slide into armed conflict.
In those cases where armed clashes have already begun, collecting objective information about human rights violations in the course of the conflict also is
extremely important. First of all, it can avert speculation, which can escalate hostilities. Moreover, such information is imperative to those working to prevent armed conflict or decrease the brutality on both sides.
With the goal of lessening the level of brutality, program coordinators
gather information about captives, hostages, those missing or killed and then pass it on to the relatives and interested parties -- namely organizations involved with exchanging prisoners, freeing hostages and the like.
HOW DO WE WORK?
To investigate the situation in a conflict zone (or hot spot), Memorial’s Human Rights Center dispatches monitors or establishes observation posts near the conflict. In Moscow,
information is collected and analyzed, which includes monitoring the media, continually updating a data bank from various sources, and systematically gathering the monitors' information.
Using the data, reports and papers are prepared for publication while speeches and press releases are written for the media. Press conferences are organized and protest acts are led when required.
In the program's initial stages, we often took it upon ourselves to play the
role expected of journalists. Then it was justified: at the end of the 80's and begining of the 90's, very few correspondents worked in the field of ethno-political conflict and the media didn't devote due attention to the issue. Now it seems the situation has radically changed. A fairly large number of serious journalists work in conflict areas and reports are constantly being received from such places.
Does this mean that non-govermental organizations have nothing to do in areas of ethno-political conflict? As before, we see there is much to be done. We focus on doing work the media is unable to do: preparing detailed reports that include the
history of the conflict, with a methodical description of human rights violations, and naming those guilty of such violations, along with proposals for improving the situation.
Sometimes a report is entirely dedicated to an account of a separate episode in a conflict, for example the report about events in Samashki in April 1995.
We have employed a similar approach time and time again. The point is that in every ethno-political conflict, there is a key word which becomes a symbol, playing a significant role in creating public awareness of a conflict. As a rule, it is the name of a settlement or inhabited region where civilians have been killed during armed conflicts. In this way, the key word for the conflict in Pridnestrove was Benderi; around Nagorno-Karabakh - Sumgait and Khodzhali; in the Chechen war - Samashki and Budennovsk.
Around every incident arise many myths and quite a few people use these myths (even creating rumors) to influence the development of a situation in favor of one side or the other. In such cases, we have to study the situation in the region very carefully, which sometimes takes us months so we can present as complete a picture as possible to the public. For example, to compile a picture of the events in Samashki, we had to send monitors there for five months.
WHERE DO WE WORK?
The first armed conflict where Memorial dispatched monitors was to Nagorno-Karabakh in the summer of 1990. From 1990 to 1995 work was undertaken in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia (including Southern Ossetia), Moldova, (including in Pridnestrove), Tajikistan, and a number of regions in Russia (Krasnodarsk Krai, Kabardino-Balkaria, Moscow, Ingushetia, Northern Ossetia). Particular attention was devoted to the activities of the Russian peacekeeping forces within the territory of the CIS.
For a long time, the war in Chechnya forced us to concentrate our attention on the events in that conflict. Our monitors repeatedly went to the conflict zone. Members of “Memorial” worked in Chechnya as part of a group comprised of Russian human rights representatives. Since March 1995, under the leadership of S.A. Kovalev, observation missions have begun their work of protecting human rights in Chechen conflict zones. Memorial’s Human Rights Center organized this mission.
As a result, reports were written that were widely distributed in Russia and abroad. The report of the General Secretary of the U.N,
"The Situation in the Field of Human Rights in the Chechen Republic of the
Russian Federation" (E/CN.4/1996/13 26th March 1996), contains a number of references to Memorial reports and communiques.
Collected data concerning those serving in the Russian military who have either been taken prisoner, are missing, or have been killed in the course of the Chechen conflict, as well as information concerning missing civilians, has continuously been shared with government agencies engaged in the search for missing civilians and servicemen. Data has been distributed in Moscow as well as in Grozny, with Russians and Chechens, as well as with international organizations.
Currently the program is focusing on the situation in the Ossetian-Ingushetian conflict zone. S. Gannushkina, a member of the Memorial Human Rights Center regularly travels to the area as a member of an international group searching for those missing and held captive in the area of the Karabakh conflict.