EU/ Russia Summit

Open Letter
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Dear Ministers of Foreign Affairs

You will be meeting the Russian President during the EU-Russia Summit on 31 May 2003.

The summit is taking place as Russia celebrates the tricentenary of the founding of Saint Petersburg and seeks to reaffirm its place on the European continent and its cooperation with the member countries of the soon-to-be-enlarged European Union.

The International Federation for Human Rights would first like to draw your attention to the restrictions on freedom of movement accompanying the festivities: a system of movement-restricting passes for residents of Saint Petersburg; the expulsion of refugees, homeless people and displaced persons from the city centre; and the implicit encouragement of residents to leave town.

Secondly, it is imperative that the human rights situation in Chechnya be on the agenda of this summit. This topic is carefully avoided by the Russian government, other than when it condemns "international terrorism" in concert with Western countries. European leaders must take a firm stance with regard to the continuing, serious, massive violations that have been committed with complete impunity for three years now. There has been no tangible improvement on the ground. The civilian population suffers abduction, arbitrary arrest and torture at the hands of the Russian forces. This situation is compounded by suicide attacks, which heighten the climate of terror affecting the population.
The member states of the European Union cannot continue to be taken in by the Russian authorities’ rhetoric of "normalisation", which is simply a farce.

The recent referendum is a pertinent example. The ballot, which already lacked legitimacy, has been widely found to have been rigged. The draft amnesty proposed by President Putin obeys the same logic. The text provides for an amnesty for Chechen combatants and Russian forces that committed crimes in Chechnya between 12 December 1993 and 1 August 2003, with the notable exception of the following acts: murder, hostage taking, terrorism, weapons theft, sabotage, attacks on soldiers or representatives of the armed forces or police. Those crimes are mostly attributed to those fighting against the Russian forces, who will thus be excluded from the amnesty process. Conversely, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of genocide, which mainly implicate the Russian forces, do not fall within the category of crimes covered by amnesty. Without justice for the victims of the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Chechnya, there can be no viable political solution.

The authorities’ current strategy pursues the aim declared from the outset of the war: the elimination of those who resist military occupation. The referendum and the constitution adopted as a consequence attest to the authorities’ refusal to envisage a negotiated, peaceful, political solution.

By persisting in offering increasingly overt support for the Russian authorities’ "anti-terrorist" policy, the international community carries a heavy responsibility for prolonging the conflict and allowing human rights violations to continue.

It would be unacceptable for the Russian authorities to ban any reference to Chechnya from the summit discussions and to dictate to the States of the European Union their line of conduct. Silence on Chechnya would be particularly inadmissible as the Russian authorities are committed to respecting human rights and humanitarian law within the framework of the EU-Russia Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation.

Moreover, at this historic moment of the enlargement of the EU-for the first time, the ten future members will attend the summit-silence on Chechnya would send a worrying signal as to the implementation of the EU’s strategy towards its future neighbours. Defined in the Commission’s Wider Europe-Neighbourhood Communication, the strategy is intended to involve "greater efforts to promote human rights".

The EU cannot genuinely hope to establish relations of cooperation with Russia while allowing an extremely violent conflict to continue. On the contrary, the EU must put all its weight behind a negotiation mechanism to achieve a durable resolution of this conflict. This is vital to Europe’s future and its own security. It is also crucial to the political future of the EU, its capacity to influence the course of events in Europe and the wider world, and its commitment to upholding respect of human rights as a pillar of democratic societies.

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