Leading representatives of the International Helsinki Federation, who gathered at a conference last week in Moscow, issued, an open letter to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of the two chambers of the Russian parliament on January 31, both in Helsinki and at IHF headquarters in Vienna. Signed by the IHF’s President Lyudmila Alekseyeva, Executive Director Aaron Rhodes and the chairmen of the Helsinki Committees of Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine, the letter notes that “the policies of the Russian Federation to date have actively contributed to a deterioration of the human rights situation in these states.”
With regard to Belarus, the IHF singles out Putin and the Duma’s official blessing to the recent parliamentary elections there as “democratic,” in spite of the “proven, widespread violations” of internationally valid electoral norms and of democracy in general by the Belarusan authorities (see also the Monitor, October 17, November 1, 8, 15, December 5, 2000; January 18, 2001; Fortnight in Review, November 17, December 15, 2000). The IHF urges the Russian leadership, “in view of the existing relationship between Russia and Belarus, to exert influence on Belarus to fulfill the standards and norms of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).”
This and other sections in the letter indirectly expose two seemingly contradictory facets of Moscow’s policy. On the one hand, and in theory, Russia calls for expanding the powers of the OSCE, hoping to turn it into a counterweight to the United States and NATO in Europe. On the other hand, and in practice, Russia opposes the OSCE at every step when the organization seeks the observance of its norms and standards in Belarus or when it urges the withdrawal of Russian troops from such countries as Georgia and Moldova (see also the Monitor, December 5, 2000).
The IHF letter expresses concern over “the support Russia has given to forces responsible for destabilization and interethnic conflict” in Georgia throughout the post-Soviet period. Specifically, “the Russian Federation continues to extend moral, political, financial and military support to the self-proclaimed regimes of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” while Russian troops in Georgia often violate the rights of peaceful residents in conflict zones. The document zeroes in on Russia’s attempts to retain military bases in Georgia, in disregard of the Georgian government’s will and the 1999 OSCE summit decisions. And it points out that “this issue lies behind the recent introduction by Russia of visas requirements for Georgian citizens.” The decision is discriminatory on two counts: first, it singles out Georgia and, second, it exempts Abkhazia and South Ossetia (see also the Monitor, October 24, November 16, December 6, 2000, January 3, 2001; Fortnight in Review, November 3, December 1, 2000).
In Moldova, the Russian government “continues supplying the Transdniester regime with weapons and military personnel, alongside political and economic support,” the IHF observes. The Russian Federation’s policy has helped carved out an area “where European standards and mechanisms of human rights protection cannot be introduced at all.” The conferees expressed concern over the continuing presence of Russian troops in that part of Moldova, “in spite of repeatedly confirmed international obligations to withdraw.” Indeed the Russian government has disregarded a whole series of OSCE documents which urged and, since 1999, required the removal of Russian arsenals and troops from Moldova (see also the Monitor, October 12, December 1, 20, 2000; Fortnight in Review, January 5, 2001).
With regard to Ukraine, the letter singles out “political and financial support Russia has given to separatist and antidemocratic forces in Crimea and [the city of] Sevastopol. Russia stands accused of pursuing ‘imperial policies’ because of its actions” (see also the Monitor, December 19, 2000).
The IHF conferees focused on the correlation between the internal and external conduct of the Russian government, specifically its conduct toward CIS countries. “The foreign policy of the state is a reflection of the situation within the country. The policy of “information security,” the intervention of intelligence services in the country’s political and economic processes, the bloody and senseless war in Chechnya, all testify to the fact that the Russian Federation is acting in violation of human rights, democratic values and legality.”
Beyond its immediate addressees–that is, Russia’s leaders–the IHF letter calls international attention to the destabilizing repercussions of the Russian government’s conduct toward CIS countries. That conduct “will not bring peace, stability and prosperity to Russia, her CIS partners or the global community.” The document urges Russia’s leadership to “be guided in relations with the CIS countries by international law, including the obligations concerning human rights, contained in documents of the Council of Europe, OSCE and CIS” (IHF Open Letter, Moscow/Vienna, January 31).
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