Amnesty Internationalin seminaari, Helsinki, 28.2.2003

Does the European Union have a human rights policy with regard to Chechnya

Mr Chairman,

Let me first describe the general thinking of the EU – and of Finland – with regard to the themes of this seminar.

It is fair to say that human rights are today among the key issues in the EU’s foreign policy. Human rights, democracy and the rule of law are part of the very foundations of the European Union, and of Finland too, of course. The issue is: how can we best influence the development of human rights? How can we make a difference with regard to the enjoyment of human rights by men, women and children the world over? Is our voice being heard?

The EU acknowledges that in order to be credible, it must address human rights challenges in all parts of the world according to same standards. Human rights are universal. The realisation of existing rights is not an internal matter for countries but an issue of legitimate interest for the international community. The notion of universality was accepted by global consensus 10 years ago, at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna.

Countries have elaborated existing human rights instruments together, under the auspices of international organisations such as the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the OSCE. These organisations continue to be of utmost importance for the promotion and protection of human rights. The EU attaches great importance to the human rights mechanisms provided by the relevant organisations. But in order for these mechanisms to be efficient, the full cooperation of all Governments is necessary.

The EU has on various occasions emphasized the paramount importance it attaches to bringing those responsible for human rights violations to justice. The culture of impunity must be combated. This is a key issue in paving the way for a more sound global human rights culture. The EU’s engagement at all levels in the promotion of the International Criminal Court is a sign of this conviction, which I personally fully share.

Situation vis-à-vis Chechnya:

Let me now turn more closely to the issue of Chechnya and the serious human rights challenge it poses.

First, I would like to emphasize that the EU is firmly committed to combating terrorism. We have expressed our solidarity with Russia in its fight against international terrorism, for instance in relation to the terrorist incident in a Moscow theatre last autumn. At the same time, the EU expects the fight against terrorism in all countries to be conducted in conformity with the principles of human rights and the rule of law.

Finding a durable solution to the crisis in Chechnya cannot be reduced to combating terrorism only. A political process is necessary in order to safeguard the realisation of human rights for the people living in the area. The EU has emphasized and continues to highlight the importance of finding a political solution to the crisis in Chechnya. While the use of military force can sometimes be necessary and justified, as it clearly was against the Taleban and Al Quaida in Afghanistan, it is never sufficient by itself to bring about a durable and just solution to political conflicts. This is true in Chechnya as well.

This message of seeking a political solution and the essential importance of human rights has been conveyed by the EU to the Government of Russia. For example, the issue was comprehensively raised in the course of the EU-Russia Summit in November. Moreover, at my meeting with my Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, in Moscow at the beginning of the month, I stressed the importance of achieving a political solution in Chechnya as well as the need for the Russian authorities to seriously investigate and act upon all allegations of human rights violations or war crimes. The message remains solid, coherent and clearly stated.

A problem lies in the concept of ”political solution” itself. The EU cannot accept the argument that a referendum alone constitutes a political solution. As I also stated in Moscow, the referendum is a step in the right direction but a long-term solution requires patient, comprehensive and an all-inclusive preparatory process. Regrettably, I can see no quick solution. The EU Commission and the Member States are currently preparing proposals in the Council for action with regard to the conflict in Chechnya.

The humanitarian situation among Chechen civilians, including internally displaced persons, has been of particular concern for the EU. The EU emphasizes that any returns of refugees should take place on a voluntary basis.

The humanitarian situation on the ground is closely linked to the ability of humanitarian organizations to deliver aid where and when it is most needed. The EU has continued to call for proper access for humanitarian organizations as well as for ensuring the security and adequate working conditions of humanitarian personnel. These issues are vital, given that the European Commission has provided more than 90 million euro through ECHO since 1999.

European organisations, such as the OSCE and the Council of Europe, have been key forums for the EU to discuss the situation in Chechnya. The EU regrets that it was not possible to renew the mandate of the OSCE mission to Chechnya (concerning which we have already heard Ambassador Inki earlier today) and hopes that continued discussions could lead to a restored OSCE presence on the ground. Cooperation based on OSCE standards and commitments continues to be important in the context of Chechnya.

It is also important that the Council of Europe experts at the office of President Putin’s representative for Chechnya have been able to operate. The recent visit to Chechnya of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights should also be welcomed.

The forum where the EU position on the human rights situation in Chechnya has probably become most visible in recent years is the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Last April, the EU-led resolution on the human rights situation in Chechnya was for the first time defeated as the result of a vote. However, this should not prevent the EU from weighing the situation again in the forthcoming meeting of the Commission, on the basis of developments in the human rights situation on the ground, or from raising the issue again, when necessary.

Nobody in the European Union disputes the fact that Chechnya is a part of the Russian Federation. The EU’s Common Strategy on Russia sets consolidation of democracy and the rule of law as its principal objective. Accordingly, respect for human rights is an essential element of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the European Union and Russia. The present work-plan on implementation of the strategy affirms that the EU will continue to monitor the situation in Chechnya and explicitly states that respect for human rights and the prosecution of those who commit human rights violations will be among the main topics of the EU-Russia political dialogue.

While the principles guiding EU policies on Chechnya are clear enough, there has never been a sufficiently thoroughgoing discussion on the issue in the EU’s General Affairs Council. Last month, we asked High Representative Javier Solana and Commissioner Chris Patten to present to the council a paper on the EU’s Chechnya policy for discussion and conclusions by the ministers.

Finally, Mr Chairman, is there an EU policy with regard to Chechnya? I believe the answer should be affirmative. The issue has been raised by the EU with the Russian authorities on several occasions both bilaterally and through the medium of the relevant international organisations.

At the same time, it should be stated that the policy has clearly not been fully successful, as the human rights situation in Chechnya continues to be of concern to the EU. Existing reports of incidents – should I say disappearances – are very disturbing. It would seem to be in the interest of the Russian Government, too, that because such allegations by human rights organisations exist, every effort is made to bring those involved to justice and, if they are found guilty of such serious crimes, punished accordingly. Impunity cannot be tolerated in any circumstances. Similarly, it is in the interest of everybody, including the Russian Government, to safeguard good cooperation with relevant international organisations and their human rights mechanisms.

I welcome this seminar as a platform for what I hope will be valuable deliberations on the human rights situation in Chechnya. As human rights are universal, every effort should be made by us all to secure their realization to the highest possible decree in all parts of the world.

Thank you.