Letter to Condoleeza Rice

Date: February 16, 2001

The Honorable Condoleeza Rice
Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500


Dear Ms. Rice:

We write to seek your leadership to pressure the government of the Russian Federation to stop its forces' pervasive and severe violations of the human rights of civilians in Chechnya. There is a tremendous opportunity for American leadership to stop the abuses and for President Bush to fulfill the commitment he made in the Republican Party Platform to act decisively to protect human rights in Chechnya.

Recent reports issued by Physicians for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, and the U.S. Committee for Refugees have documented how Russian forces continue to terrorize civilians in Chechnya. They regularly engage in arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions, torture, summary executions, disappearances, extortion, violations of medical neutrality, and the shelling of population centers. Corruption and lack of discipline and accountability among the troops remain pervasive. Human rights abuses have also been committed on the Chechen side, but the magnitude and pervasiveness of the violations by Russian forces demand your immediate attention.

The humanitarian situation remains in crisis as well. A third of Chechnya's population - more than 260,000 people - is displaced within Chechnya and another 170,000 are living in difficult circumstances in neighboring Ingushetia. Humanitarian organizations cannot operate effectively in Chechnya because of the climate of insecurity. As you know, many aid organizations suspended operations after the kidnapping of Kenny Gluck of Medecins sans Frontieres. Even if some return now that he has been released, the very restrictive conditions under which these organizations are forced to operate place thousands of people in jeopardy.

American leadership has been lacking. Last April, the State Department declined to label some of the worse atrocities perpetrated by Russian forces as war crimes. The United States supported a resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Commission (Resolution 2000/58) requiring Russia to conduct an investigation of human rights abuses by its forces and to allow designated UN human rights investigators and rapporteurs to monitor human rights on the ground. But there was no follow-up when Russia spurned compliance even with those minimal demands.

Indeed, Russia permits no international human rights non-governmental organizations to operate freely inside Chechnya. While three Council of Europe staff are permitted to work in the office of the Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation in Chechnya, Vladimir Kalamanov, other intergovernmental bodies are barred from the region. This includes not only UN investigators covered by the resolution, but also the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Assistance Group to Chechnya, which has remained in Moscow despite Russia's pledge at the Istanbul Summit in November 1999 to permit the group to return. Private international NGOs and journalists also have severely restricted access to the region, so that information about Russian conduct is not widely available.

We therefore urge:

1. That President Bush communicate directly with President Vladimir Putin that the United States expects Russia to a) control its forces, b) cease its violations of human rights c) hold perpetrators of abuses accountable and d) permit immediate access by OSCE monitors and UN special rapporteurs and representatives.

2. That the United States actively support a new resolution on Chechnya at the session of the UN Human Rights Commission that begins on March 19. American leadership is essential to support those European countries willing to press for Russian compliance with human rights obligations. The resolution should

a. Condemn Russia's failure to comply with Resolution 2000/58.
b. Provide for an international commission of inquiry to investigate allegations and report publicly on atrocities committed in Chechnya.
c. Provide for access for all UN thematic special rapporteurs, representatives and working groups to the North Caucasus with freedom of operation and movement.
d. Support the deployment of the OSCE Assistance Group to Chechnya.
e. Provide for a report to the Commission in its next session.

3. That the United States carry out the commitment contained in the Republican Platform that "when the Russian government attacks civilians in Chechnya-killing innocents without discrimination or accountability, neglecting orphans and refugees-it can no longer expect aid from international lending institutions." In the Bretton Woods institutions, the U.S. should oppose loan disbursements and the agreement of any new loans until the Russian Federation controls its forces, assures accountability for human rights violations, and ends its obstruction of human rights monitoring. In particular, no IMF program nor Paris Club rescheduling should be agreed to until the OSCE Assistance Group to Chechnya is deployed in the Northern Caucasus.

4. That the State Department disburse the $10 million appropriated by Congress for aid to Chechnya both to U.S.-based and to foreign organizations providing or capable of providing assistance in the region.

Forceful public and private condemnation of Russia's conduct from the Bush Administration would send an important signal to Russia: the United States will not ignore the carnage in Chechnya.

We would be pleased to meet with you about these concerns.

Leonard S. Rubenstein
Executive Director
Physicians for Human Rights

Nina Bang-Jensen
Executive Director
Coalition for International Justice

Holly Cartner
Executive Director
Europe and Central Asia Division Human Rights Watch

Glen Howard
Executive Director
The American Committee for Peace in Chechnya

Catherine Fitzpatrick
Executive Director International League for Human Rights

Irena Lasota and Eric Chenoweth, Co-Directors
Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe

Lynn Thomas
Executive Director
Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights

Bill Frelick
Policy Director
U.S. Committee for Refugees


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