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G-8 Leaders Must Address Jeopardized Democracy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Russia: G-8 Leaders Must Address Jeopardized Democracy

(New York, July 17, 2001)-The decline of democratic freedoms in Russia should be a leading issue at the G-8 meeting this weekend in Genoa, Human Rights Watch said today.

In letters sent to seven heads of state on Friday, Human Rights Watch asked G-8 leaders to press for media freedoms in Russia and an end to continuing atrocities in Chechnya.

Russia's membership in the G-8 has been tied to its embrace of democratic values ever since it joined the group of industrialized democracies in 1997. When Russia joined the G-8, the Denver summit communiqué cited the "bold measures" Russia had taken toward democracy in explaining its deepened participation in the group.

"The policies of Vladimir Putin's government pose the greatest long-term threat to democratic freedoms in Russia since the break-up of the Soviet Union, said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division. "So it's never been more urgent for G-8 leaders to take a strong public stand."

G-8 foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in Genoa on July 18; the G-8 summit will take place July 20-22.

In April, the Russian government took quasi-control over NTV, the country's leading independent television station, and is poised to do the same with Ekho Moskvy, one of the country's most popular radio stations. Meanwhile, troops in Chechnya continue to round up Chechen men for torture and other abuse.

"What's happening in Russia today should raise serious questions about Moscow's continued membership in the G-8," said Andersen. "The attack on media freedoms is part of a broader, creeping authoritarianism we've seen in Russia."

The letter calls on G-8 leaders to ask President Putin to commit to the independence of Ekho Moskvy, and to access for U.N. monitors to investigate abuses in Chechnya.

The texts of the letters sent to G-8 leaders and U.S. President George Bush follow:

---------------


Address the Decline of Democratic Freedoms in Russia at G-8 Summit
Human Rights Watch Letter to G-8 Leaders

July 13, 2001


Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
Government of Italy
Presidenza del Consiglio dei Ministri
Piazza Colonna, 370
00187 Rome
Italy

Dear Prime Minister Berlusconi,

We are writing to ask that at the forthcoming G-8 meeting you address the decline of democratic freedoms in Russia and on-going Russian abuses in Chechnya.

We hope you will make clear that Russia must keep its commitment to respect human rights if it is to build a relationship of trust with its G-8 partners. And we trust that you will emphasize publicly that abuses in Chechnya cannot be justified by the fight against terrorism or what President Putin refers to as "extremism," and that they will not contribute to a Russia that is strong and respected by the world.

The delivery of such a message has never been more urgent, because the policies of Vladimir Putin's government pose the greatest long-term threat to democratic freedoms in Russia since the break-up of the Soviet Union. Russia's only national independent television station (NTV) has now been brought under quasi-government control. Russia's most popular independent radio station, Ekho Moskvy, is at risk of meeting the same fate in coming weeks. Journalists and at least one human rights activist known for their hard-hitting or critical reporting have been harassed. Russian journalists who investigate abusive conduct by federal forces in Chechnya often suffer persecution; several from Eastern Europe have been deported or denied visas. Criminal prosecutions of several journalists and academics on unfounded charges of espionage point to the resurgence of the Federal Security Service (the former KGB) as a tool to curtail civic and political freedoms. A new government decree regulating Russian academics' interactions with foreigners has had a chilling effect on academic freedom. And rampant corruption has laid waste to the public institutions, particularly in law enforcement, crucial to the rule of law.

The most dramatic illustration of Russia's failure to ensure human rights and the rule of law is the appalling conduct of its forces in Chechnya. In just the past month, federal forces on sweep operations in at least seven villages arbitrarily detained, tortured, and ill-treated hundreds of people. Human Rights Watch researchers currently in the region have documented the cases of more than a dozen men tortured by federal forces in these operations. Outraged by the scale of the abuse, several Chechen administrators who had been loyal to Moscow resigned or threatened to do so. Lt. Ge. Vladimir Moltenskoi, acting commander of Russian forces in Chechnya, initially admitted that large-scale abuses had taken place. This was an unprecedented move, but officials backed away from the criticism, acknowledging that only "some violations" had been committed by individual soldiers. They gave no indications that future sweep operations would be conducted in any different manner.

Although Russian prosecutors say they have opened a criminal investigation into some of the recent abuses, there is little hope that the investigation will be meaningful. Earlier this week, the Council of Europe chastised Russia for ignoring its recommendation to investigate a detention center where guards routinely tortured inmates in early 2000. Just yesterday, a Chechen torture victim interviewed by Human Rights Watch called 2000 "the year of impunity." Russia has made no progress toward inviting U.N. monitors who could investigate torture, forced disappearances, and summary executions. And to the best of our knowledge, not a single high-level commander has been called to account for atrocities against civilians since the conflict began nearly two years ago.

Russia's invitation to join the G8 was predicated not simply on the country's size and importance, but on hopes for its democratic development. But Russian democracy has grown weaker, not stronger in recent months. That should raise serious questions among other G8 states about Russia's continued membership. We ask you publicly to raise concern about these trends at the G8 meeting and during your summit meeting. In particular, we ask that you seek assurances from President Putin regarding the independence of radio station Ekho Moskvy. We also ask that you urge President Putin to ensure access to Chechnya for all U.N. monitors mandated by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to investigate abuses there. Finally, we ask that you make clear that the international community requires a detailed accounting of investigations into abuses by Russian federal forces in Chechnya, including into the failure by the high command to stop and prevent abuses.

We hope you and other G-8 heads of state and government will agree at this meeting that significant financial assistance, including debt relief and restructuring, to Russia must be linked to progress on basic democratic freedoms and accountability. That is the only way to stay true to the founding premise of the G-8 - that Russia's future is important to the world and that respect for democratic freedoms is vital to Russia's future.

Please accept our best wishes for a productive summit.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth Andersen
Executive Director
Europe and Central Asia division

Lotte Leicht
Director
Brussels Office


-----------------


Press Russia for Media Freedoms and an End to Atrocities in Chechnya at G-8 Summit
Human Rights Watch Letter to U.S. President George Bush

July 13, 2001


President George W. Bush
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500


Dear President Bush,

We are writing to ask that you address the decline of democratic freedoms in Russia at the forthcoming G-8 meeting and during your summit meeting with President Vladimir Putin.

We fear that your June summit meeting with President Putin conveyed insufficient concern to the Russian government and the international community about attacks on democratic freedoms and continuing atrocities against civilians in that country. We recognize that you raised some of these issues privately in your meeting with President Putin. But what you say publicly is in many ways more important in conveying that the United States has an interest in what kind of country Russia is becoming. At the coming summit, we hope you will make clear that Russia must keep its commitment to respect human rights if it is to build a relationship of trust with the United States. We hope you will say that abuses in Chechnya cannot be justified by the fight against terrorism or what President Putin refers to as "extremism," and that they will not contribute to a Russia that is strong and respected by the world.

The delivery of such a message has never been more urgent, because the policies of Vladimir Putin's government pose the greatest long-term threat to democratic freedoms in Russia since the break-up of the Soviet Union. Russia's only national independent television station (NTV) has now been brought under quasi-government control. Russia's most popular independent radio station, Ekho Moskvy, is at risk of meeting the same fate in coming weeks. Journalists and at least one human rights activist known for their hard-hitting or critical reporting have been harassed. Russian journalists who investigate abusive conduct by federal forces in Chechnya often suffer persecution; several from Eastern Europe have been deported or denied visas. Criminal prosecutions of several journalists and academics on unfounded charges of espionage point to the resurgence of the Federal Security Service (the former KGB) as a tool to curtail civic and political freedoms. A new government decree regulating Russian academics' interactions with foreigners has had a chilling effect on academic freedom. And rampant corruption has laid waste to the public institutions, particularly in law enforcement, crucial to the rule of law.

The most dramatic illustration of Russia's failure to ensure human rights and the rule of law is the appalling conduct of its forces in Chechnya. In the four weeks since your summit with President Putin, federal forces on sweep operations in at least seven villages arbitrarily detained, tortured, and ill-treated hundreds of people. Human Rights Watch researchers currently in the region have documented the cases of more than a dozen men tortured by federal forces in these operations. Outraged by the scale of the abuse, several Chechen administrators who had been loyal to Moscow resigned or threatened to do so. Lt. Gen. Vladimir Moltenskoi, acting commander of Russian forces in Chechnya, initially admitted that large-scale abuses had taken place. This was an unprecedented move, but officials backed away from the criticism, acknowledging that only "some violations" had been committed by individual soldiers. They gave no indications that the sweep operations would be conducted in any different manner.

Although Russian prosecutors say they have opened a criminal investigation into some of the recent abuses, there is little hope that the investigation will be meaningful. Earlier this week, the Council of Europe chastised Russia for ignoring its recommendation to investigate a detention center where guards routinely tortured inmates in early 2000. Just yesterday, a Chechen torture victim interviewed by Human Rights Watch called 2000 "the year of impunity." In the month since your summit meeting, Russia has made no progress toward inviting U.N. monitors who could investigate torture, forced disappearances, and summary executions. And to the best of our knowledge, not a single high-level commander has been called to account for atrocities against civilians since the conflict began nearly two years ago.

Russia's invitation to join the G-8 was predicated not simply on the country's size and importance, but on hopes for its democratic development. But Russian democracy has grown weaker, not stronger in recent months. That should raise serious questions among other G-8 states about Russia's continued membership. We ask you publicly to raise concern about these trends at the G-8 meeting and during your summit meeting. In particular, we ask that you seek assurances from President Putin regarding the independence of radio station Ekho Moskvy. We also ask that you urge President Putin to ensure access to Chechnya for all U.N. monitors mandated by the April United Nations Commission on Human Rights to investigate abuses there. Finally, we ask that you make clear that the international community requires a detailed accounting of investigations into abuses by Russian federal forces in Chechnya, including into the failure by the high command to stop and prevent abuses.

We hope you and other G-8 heads of state and government will agree at this meeting that significant financial assistance, including debt relief and restructuring, to Russia must be linked to progress on basic democratic freedoms and accountability. That is the only way to stay true to the founding premise of the G-8 - that Russia's future is important to the world and that respect for democratic freedoms is vital to Russia's future.

Please accept our best wishes for a productive summit.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth Andersen
Executive Director
Europe and Central Asia division

Tom Malinowski
Washington Advocacy Director


-------------------

For more Human Rights Watch coverage of Chechnya, visit

http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/russia/chechnya

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