Chechnya - Open Letter Concerning the Creation of a Round Table on Chechnya

Open Letter from seven Russian and international human rights NGOs concerning the creation of a Round Table in the framework of the PACE Political Affairs Committee regarding human rights, democracy and the rule of law in the Chechen Republic

Mr. Andreas Gross, Rapporteur on Chechnya for the Political Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Members of the Political Affairs Committee of PACE

Nazran, Moscow, Vienna, Paris, 24 January 2005

Dear Mister Gross,

We value the amount and complexity of the work you have done while preparing your report about the political situation in the Chechen Republic and the corresponding PACE resolution project. We are happy that in the process of this work, you established constructive cooperation with NGOs. We are pleased that the information provided by these NGOs proved useful to you when you prepared the abovementioned documents, and we thank you for mentioning in the resolution the role that human rights organizations play in working for the rule of law and peace in Chechnya. Precisely because we have arrived at such honest and constructive dialogue with you, we feel obliged to share the serious doubts we have about one of the points of Resolution 1402, which was passed by PACE on 7 October 2004 based on the report you prepared. Expressing our doubts is particularly necessary since specific steps have been taken to address this point.

Let us note that we entirely support the main suggestions mentioned in Resolution 1402. We especially agree with this statement: "9. The absence of the rule of law in Chechnya prevents the development of a humane and democratic society. Democratic institutions will remain hollow and fragile where people live in fear and poverty <...>. It should, therefore, be the priority for the political leadership in Chechnya to ensure that the law is enforced and applied throughout the Chechen Republic equally to everybody".

We also agree that "10. For this purpose, the newly elected President of the Chechen Republic should establish publicly a comprehensive conflict assessment indicating the various actors which may have influence regarding the conflict". Discussing the problem on a national level is not enough; Europe´s active participation is essential for conflict resolution in the republic. In connection with this, the most important (in our opinion) point in the project was as follows: "The Assembly decides to remain seized of this issue and to follow-up the progress in the Chechen Republic regarding human rights, democracy and the rule of law. For this purpose, the Assembly instructs its Political Affairs Committee to establish a Round Table for the organization of an exchange of view with political parties and politicians from the Chechen Republic and the federal authorities of Russia..."

We doubted that the Russian authorities are genuinely interested in conducting an encompassing, multi-competent discussion. Based on previous experience, we feared that due the rigidity of their position, such a Round Table would be turned into an empty and purely formal process. Still, to a certain extent we shared your hopes, and viewed this idea in a positive light.

Based on the fact that this point of the resolution names specific participants of the Round Table ("political parties and politicians from the Chechen Republic and the federal authorities of Russia"), and on the fact that organization was entrusted to the Political Affairs Committee, we understood that the discussion at the Round Table should concern specifically political issues. Such a conversation can be constructive only when its participants come from the entire spectrum of the Chechen political powers, often with different or opposing viewpoints.

However, during the debates the Russian delegation suggested, and the Assembly supported, an important correction. Point 24 was amended with the following commentary: the Assembly recognizes that "persons who refuse to recognise the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation and who declare terrorism a method to achieve goals cannot be participants in such an exchange of views".

This correction contains two ideas. One of them - that persons who accept terrorism as a method of political influence should not participate in the discussion - is reasonable, in our opinion. However, the second idea, which concerns separatists, raises doubts. Based on the rules of logic and grammar, we´re speaking about excluding from the discussion only those separatists who accept terrorism as a method. This is the meaning suggested by using "and" - otherwise "or" would be used. But the Russian delegation assumed a different interpretation of the amendment. Based on this interpretation, all separatists should be excluded from the discussion at the Round Table, including those who entirely refuse terrorism as a method of reaching goals. This is what Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Russian delegation to PACE, expressed on January 17 in Moscow.

We are aware that on January 22 the Political Affairs Committee held a meeting for the preparation of the Round Table. In connection with this, we cannot help but ask: which of the approaches has won, who will be present at the Table and what will be discussed, what is its point?

In the last 1.5 years Russia has been creating an illusion of a political process in Chechnya. Russian authorities pretended that the recent referendum and elections testify that progress is taking place. At the same time Europe expressed reasonable doubt. This is apparent in the text of the resolution, paragraph 16, which says that the Assembly is "regretting the circumstances of the presidential elections in the Chechen Republic of 29 August 2004, which did not fulfill basic requirements for democratic elections". You yourself publicly called these elections a farce, pointing to the fact that they don´t reflect a real political process.

It is clear that a certain part of the population of the Chechen Republic today continues to support the idea of Chechnya´s independence. A Round Table that excludes all political activists who manifest this opinion would lead a discussion avoiding one of the most important and sensitive issues.

In this case, based on the current reality in Chechnya and Russia, it is quite certain that the "discussion" at the Table would be conducted between two powers, the federal Moscow and the republican Grozny, possibly with insertion of some nuances by pseudo-independent Chechen politicians.

It is possible that our concerns are without basis. It is possible that the recent Committee meeting produced a solution that will protect the Round Table from becoming a farce.

We would be grateful if your would find it possible to share with us your ideas about how to turn the Round Table into a real factor, positively affecting the unregulated conflict in the Chechen Republic.

With respect and with hopes for further cooperation,

Human Rights Center `Memorial´
Demos Center
The Russian-Chechen Friendship Society
Chechen Committee for National Salvation
Moscow Helsinki Group
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
International Federation for Human Rights