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Date: Tue, 13 Nov 2001
From: Human Rights Watch Moscow <dlohman@hrw.ru>


For further information, please contact:
In Moscow, Marie Struthers: +7095-764-5938
In New York, Rachel Denber: +1-212-216-1266
In Washington, Tom Malinowski: +1-202-612-4358


(New York, November 12, 2001) -The Bush administration should make human rights protections a central part of the emerging new relationship with Russia, Human Rights Watch said today.

In a letter sent on the eve of the Crawford, Texas summit with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, Human Rights Watch urged President George W. Bush to seek new guarantees on political freedoms and on accountability for abuses commited in the Chechnya conflict. Russia has allowed unprecedented military and intelligence cooperation with the United States in the fight against terrorism, which many believe will fundamentally change the U.S.-Russia relationship.

"The Russian government frequently compares the U.S. war on terrorism with its own efforts in Chechnya," said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division. Russian and international human rights groups continue to document abuses by Russia's forces in Chechnya, including extrajudicial executions, torture and arbitrary arrest.

"President Bush needs to tell President Putin that the U.S. will not be associated with such atrocities," said Andersen. "The war on terrorism is not blanket permission to commit abuses against civilians with impunity."

When the two presidents met last month in Shanghai, President Bush said that the war on terrorism must not become a "war against minorities," and that it must "distinguish between those who pursue legitimate political aspirations and terrorists."

The Human Rights Watch letter also cited other human rights concerns in Russia, including press freedoms and a spate of criminal investigations of journalists and academics on highly questionable espionage charges.

"President Putin wants Russia's integration with a larger democratic community," said Andersen. "But this can succeed only if he and his government uphold the principles of democracy and human rights at home."

A copy of the letter can be found below.

November 10, 2001
President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave
Washington, DC

Dear President Bush,

Russia's unprecedented cooperation with the United States against terrorism may signal the beginning of a new era of constructive relations. But it should not diminish U.S. expectations for democratic change in Russia or U.S. efforts to end atrocities in Chechnya. We hope that as you seize opportunities for a new partnership at your summit with President Vladimir Putin, you will also send two cautionary messages: First, Russia's integration with a larger democratic community can succeed only if it upholds the principles of democracy and human rights at home. Second, Russia's contributions to the campaign against terrorism will be complete only when it ends practices in Chechnya that are at odds with these principles.

Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, U.S. policy toward Russia emphasized democratization and the rule of law because a strong, democratic Russia that respects human rights would serve the Russian people and make Russia a more reliable partner. The military and intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and Russia that would have been unthinkable before September 11 adds a new imperative: avoiding close association with policies that have led to the torture and unjustifiable deaths of thousands of Russia's citizens in Chechnya. These are contrary to the message you articulated when you met President Putin in Shanghai: that war on terrorism must not become a "war against minorities," and that it must "distinguish between those who pursue legitimate political aspirations and terrorists."

In comparing the U.S. war on terrorism to Russia's own actions in Chechnya, the Russian government may have strengthened this association. Human Rights Watch has shared with your administration documentation of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by federal forces in Chechnya throughout the past two years. For example, a Human Rights Watch field mission in July documented that in just one two-week period, Russian forces on sweep operations in several villages committed six extrajudicial executions, tortured dozens of people, "disappeared" several, and arbitrarily arrested hundreds.

After September 11, President Putin raised expectations of a negotiated solution to the Chechnya war. But Russian forces' conduct has not improved since that time. Evidence gathered in October by Memorial, a Russian human rights organization with a permanent field presence in the region, and by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, indicates that the abuses continue unabated. They have documented nine extrajudicial executions, nine "disappearances," and numerous cases of torture and arbitrary arrest during a series of sweep operations between September 17 and October 17, 2001. Memorial reported that during an October sweep operation in a Grozny suburb, Russian forces shot dead four civilians as they were walking to their homes in the evening. In another October incident, it found that a district military commander severely beat a pregnant woman who had approached him to seek information on her detained husband, reportedly causing her to miscarry.

It has become accepted wisdom since September 11 that the U.S. has agreed to mute its criticism of these continuing abuses in Chechnya to gain Russian support against terrorism. Having read your administration's public statements on the subject, we do not share that view. But we believe that your administration has not done enough to counter the very real perception in Russia and around the world that President Putin has obtained a green light. Such a perception can only undermine the important messages you articulated in Shanghai.

Pursuing accountability for abuses should remain a priority, for it would indicate that Russia was committed to making the rule of law an essential component of counterterrorism. But efforts to prosecute perpetrators of these crimes remain as meager as ever. Of the 358 cases under investigation as of May, eleven have been brought to trial, resulting in five active prison sentences. The majority of investigations by the military procuracy, the only agency authorized to investigate abuses by Ministry of Defense servicemen, have been suspended, closed, or referred to ineffectual local law enforcement agencies. Few investigations relate to torture, summary execution, arbitrary detention, and forced disappearance-the main abuses perpetrated in this conflict.

Not a single high-level commander has had to answer for atrocities. The high-profile trial of Yuri Budanov, a former colonel and tank commander charged with abducting and murdering an eighteen-year-old Chechen woman in March 2000, has been an exception, yet recent developments in the case indicate that he too may join the long list of those who continue to enjoy impunity for crimes committed in Chechnya. According to press reports, recent psychiatric exams conducted on Budanov found that he was in an acute state of distress at the time of the murder. This finding makes him eligible for amnesty.

We urge you to ask President Putin to reinvigorate the accountability process for crimes against civilians in Chechnya. We also hope you will ask President Putin to ensure access to Chechnya for all U.N. monitors mandated in April by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to investigate abuses there.

In other areas, President Putin has made encouraging commitments to legal and economic reforms. But the country's fragile political pluralism remains at risk. In April 2001, four pro-presidential parties, Fatherland, Unity, Russia's Regions, and The People's Deputy, formed a coordination council within the Duma, signaling the eventuality of an entire merger and raising the specter of weakened checks on presidential authority. Also, in the past few months freedom of expression has seen important setbacks: the government has imposed restrictions on major television and radio stations; journalists and human rights activists have suffered harassment for critical reporting; and several criminal prosecutions of journalists and academics on unfounded charges of espionage have pointed to the resurgence of the Federal Security Service (the former KGB) as an institution set on curtailing civic and political freedoms.

We urge you to seek guarantees of Russia's commitment to improvement in these areas. We hope you will tell President Putin that progress will enable Russia to graduate fully from the Jackson-Vanick amendment to the Foreign Appropriations Act. But the U.S. should not give up its leverage yet, not until there is evidence that the new atmosphere in its relationship with Russia reflects changing realities as well as renewed hopes.

We wish you a productive summit and thank you for your attention to the concerns raised in this letter.


Elizabeth Andersen
Executive Director
Europe and Central Asia Division
Tom Malinowski
Washington Advocacy Director

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