PACE President Peter Schieder on Chechnya
Date: March 15, 2002
Who is doing what to help ending the war in Chechnya?
Open letter by Peter Schieder, President of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly to Medecins Sans Frontieres (Strasbourg 15.03.2002)
In a statement published in the international press on Monday, 4 March, Medecins Sans Frontieres criticises the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for "shirking its responsibility" with regard to the conflict in Chechnya. MSF quotes the members of the Russian delegation, stating that Chechnya is no longer a matter of priority for the Assembly. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Council of Europe was the first international body to react to the outbreak of the second Chechen conflict two and a half years ago. Today, in the aftermath of 11 September, the Council, and the Assembly within it, is the only international body, which continues to deal with this tragedy as a matter of priority. As an organisation, which was set up by governments to defend human rights on the basis of legally binding international treaties, we can neither engage, nor disengage as a matter of political opportunity.
From the very beginning, the Assembly's efforts in Chechnya have been an up-hill battle. The January debate was typical - the resolution adopted was criticised by everyone. The Russian delegation was upset by the call to Moscow to negotiate with Aslan Maskhadov, while the representatives of Mr Maskhadov expressed their disappointment at the absence of sanctions against Russia because of its conduct in Chechnya. Human rights and humanitarian non-governmental organisations - MSF included - also hoped for a tougher line and stronger condemnation of Russia in Strasbourg.
If the Assembly became involved in the Chechen conflict to please, I would have to admit that we are not doing very well. But we did not get involved to please. What we are doing is trying to help end the human suffering of the Chechen population, to improve the human rights situation and to bring about a political solution to the conflict. In doing so, we are deciding on a course of action, which may not always be liked by the two sides in the conflict, nor by the general public, but it is a course of action that is carefully thought through and for which we are taking full political responsibility.
We are often criticised for not doing enough. Perhaps rightly so. Everyone has their share of responsibility and, in the face of such human tragedy, one always feels that more could have been done to prevent, or stop it. We do not claim to be able to provide immediate comfort to the suffering population. People who have gone through the hell of the past 28 months of war will find little instant consolation from political deliberations two thousand kilometres away. What we can do, and are doing, is working towards a change of attitude within Russia, a change that has already started and should, eventually, lead to the end of violence and human rights abuses.
The Council of Europe is involved in Chechnya through its experts in the Office of the Russian President's Special Envoy for Human Rights. For a year and a half, they represented the only foreign presence in the Chechen Republic. Their work, under very difficult and dangerous conditions, is helping to reveal the truth about the conflict and to justice being done.
For the first time ever, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe invoked Article 52 of the European Convention on Human Rights and requested from the Russian authorities to furnish an explanation of the manner in which the measure sput in place to deal with the situation in Chechnya "ensure the effective implementation of any of the provisions of the Convention". The reply by the Russian authorities is being examined by the Committee of Ministers.
Last July, the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) issued a public statement ? only its second ever ? in which it criticised the Russian authorities' failure to carry out a thorough and independent inquiry into events in the Chernokozovo detention facility as well as to take action to uncover and prosecute cases of ill-treatment of persons deprived of their liberty in the course of the current conflict in Chechnya.
The European Court of Human Rights - the judicial pillar of the Council of Europe's mechanism to uphold human rights in its member states ? has received hundreds of complaints of violations of human rights in Chechnya. Many are likely to be found admissible and will lead to court decisions binding on the Russian government.
The Parliamentary Assembly pursues its efforts to initiate a political process, which is the only way to reach a lasting and peaceful solution. Through the Joint Working Group created by the Assembly and the Russian State Duma, and the beginning of an intra-Chechen dialogue under the Assembly's auspices, we are trying to change the entrenched attitudes, which are keeping the conflict alive.
The focus on a political solution has not affected our unequivocal criticism of continued violations of human rights. Those who doubt our resolve in insisting on full compliance with Russia's obligations as a Council of Europe member state are invited to read carefully the integral text of the Assembly's last resolution on the conflict in Chechnya.