September 27, 2001
Dear Chancellor Schröder,
We are writing to urge you to clarify German policy toward Russia in light of your public remarks on Tuesday. Your statement that in the new global struggle against terrorism there must be "a more differentiated evaluation in world opinion" about the conflict in Chechnya sent a clear message: Russia's reward for cooperation in anti-terrorism is international silence and inaction on atrocities committed in the Chechnya conflict. This approach seriously questions the credibility of Germany's human rights concerns in the region and indicates tacit approval for the Russian government to continue to employ the brutal methods for which it has been repeatedly censured by the European Union, Council of Europe, the OSCE, and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
There can be no doubt that the September 11 attacks warrant justice. But the search for justice must make distinctions between the guilty and the innocent, between perpetrators and the civilians who may surround them, and between those who commit atrocities and those who simply share their religious or political beliefs, ethnicity, or national origin. Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, speaking on behalf of the E.U. presidency, gave voice to these principles last week in Washington, where he said that "combating terrorism is both about protecting the lives of our citizens from terrorist attacks and about safeguarding the fundamental values of our open democratic and multicultural societies." Now more than ever, Germany should insist that its allies in the fight against terrorism also uphold these standards.
Many governments around the world have exploited the September 11 attacks to justify further crackdowns against those they deem to be "terrorists" and "separatists." The Russian government was among the first to compare the U.S. war on terrorism to its own actions in Chechnya.
One of the hallmarks of Russia's campaign in Chechnya has been its failure to differentiate between suspected rebels and civilians, and its failure to comply with international human rights and humanitarian law. As a member of the E.U., the German government took a principled stand against the indiscriminate bombing, massacres, torture, and forced disappearances committed by Russian forces against civilians in Chechnya, and made clear that Russia's fight against terrorism could never be used to condone these atrocities. Germany supported two E.U.-sponsored resolutions at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights that condemned terrorist attacks related to the Chechnya conflict and breaches of humanitarian law perpetrated by Chechen forces, as well as the methods often used by Russian federal forces in Chechnya. The Council of Europe and the European Union have equally principled records on Chechnya-they have condemned terrorism and urged the Russian government to respect European human rights law and international humanitarian law in the conflict.
European institutions and the U.N. have engaged Russia to ensure access to the conflict zone, exposure of abuses, and accountability for their perpetrators. Even though Russian forces continue to commit many of the same abuses, the international community has achieved a presence in the area and a dialogue with the Russian government on accountability. These serve as an element of restraint. If a "differentiated" approach suggests disengagement-and many in Russia already have chosen to interpret it this way-Russian forces' abuses in Chechnya will worsen and the dialogue on accountability will end.
Softening the stance on Russia's record in Chechnya now cannot but send the message that restraint in counterterrorism to ensure the protection of civilians is valued only when the interests of Germany and its allies are not at stake. This double standard could jeopardize European credibility in pursuing human rights protections throughout the world for years to come.
Clarifying Germany's stance on Chechnya, to the Russian government and the European public, is particularly important in light of the forthcoming E.U.-Russia summit. Under these circumstance we urge you to ensure that Germany's policy toward Russia is in line with European and international institutions, and that it require Russia to comply with its international obligations in Chechnya.
We thank you for your attention to these concerns.
Europe and Central Asia division
Human Rights Watch