The FIDH is concerned about a statement of the British government on the Election in Chechnya

09/12/2005
Press release

Open Letter to UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw

Rt Hon Jack Straw MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
London
SW1A 2AH

Dear Mr. Straw,

We are writing to express our concern about a statement of the British government, in its capacity as Presidency of the European Union, issued on 29 November. The statement “welcomed” the parliamentary elections in the Russian republic of Chechnya of 27 November as “an important step towards broader representation of a range of views in Chechen society.”

The statement ended on a cautiously optimistic note:
The Presidency of the European Union hopes the new parliament will bring increased democratic accountability to Chechen politics. The further strengthening of democratic institutions, as part of an inclusive political process, is essential for the sustainable and peaceful long-term development of Chechnya as well as to peace and stability in the North Caucasus region as a whole.

This statement not only contradicts the evidence assembled by the Russian and international human rights community, including also representatives of intergovernmental organisations, such as the Council of Europe’s Rapporteur on Chechnya, Andreas Gross; but also calls the EU’s commitment to human rights, democracy and rule of law into question. The “political process” in Chechnya (which over the last three years has included a census, a referendum, two presidential elections and the recent parliamentary elections) is a tightly-controlled cosmetic measure that has resulted in the establishment of a brutal local regime in Chechnya, responsible for systematic and grave human rights abuses.

In a joint report published on 23 November, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Center
“Demos”, and “Memorial” Human Rights Center describe the violations of law and human rights principles that have characterized the “political process” from the start. Moreover, the report documents recent crimes in which the alleged perpetrators were servicemen of local or federal authorities, among them extra-judicial executions, disappearances, torture, illegal detention, hostage taking, robbery and extortion. Impunity continues to reign in Chechnya. People are living in a climate of fear and are afraid to speak out regarding abuses against themselves and their families. Thus, it is impossible to estimate the actual number of crimes committed in Chechnya. “Memorial” has documented more than 5000 disappearances since the start of the second war, but this is only an indication of the total number of cases.

The fact that Chechnya today remains the worst human rights crisis in Europe, is inextricably linked to the negative consequences of the “political process”. The loyalist regime established in Chechnya depends on fear and violence to make up for its lack of legitimacy, and consequently does not have an interest in ending impunity, the republic’s foremost problem. Moreover, the Chechen example of regional relations seems to serve as a model for how the federal authorities deal with other republics in the North Caucasus. Over the last two-three years, the security situation has predictably deteriorated across the region, as was last seen in the clashes in Kabardino-Balkaria in October.

By failing to confront the grave and systematic human rights abuses in Northern Caucasus, and “welcoming” the elements of the manipulated and dangerous “political process” contributing to the present crisis in Chechnya, the UK Presidency of the EU doesn’t hold up to its commitments to the human rights standards enshrined in the EU treaty and in the European Convention on Human Rights. This is a very dangerous signal.

At present, an armed conflict is spilling over to the neighboring region. The consequences are predictable: an increase in terror and security threats within Russia and in the wider Caucasus region, increased migration within Russia and abroad, and a further deterioration of the human rights situation in Russia. A policy of white-washing this reality by the EU, would consolidate Chechnya as Europe’s “forgotten conflict”, and ignore the regional security threat posed by the conflict.

Our organizations strongly believe that the international community has to engage Russia in a far more critical manner in order to change the dynamics in the North Caucasus region and to find the ways toward a genuine peace process in the North Caucasus Region.

We would be most grateful for your attention to these concerns.

Sincerely,

Memorial Human Rights Center, Moscow, Nazran, Grozny, Urus-Martan, Sernovodsk,Gudermes
Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Oslo
Demos Center, Moscow
Moscow Helsinki Group, Moscow
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Paris
Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS), Nizhny Novgorod, Grozny
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), Vienna

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