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Russia: Summit with Putin Should Address Human Rights

Letter to Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and President Jacques Chirac

In the past year, expansion has brought the European Union ever closer to Russia’s border, but developments in Russia have moved it farther from European values in human rights. We are writing to respectfully urge you to raise these concerns at the highest level during your visit, and to signal that human rights will be a key concern for the European Union in the months leading up to the E.U.-Russia summit.

Press Freedom.
Vladimir Putin’s presidency has been disastrous for press freedom, one of the main human rights achievements of the post-Soviet glasnost era. While in 1999 several national television channels had independent editorial lines that frequently conflicted with the government positions, all major television channels are now under tight government control. In June the last remaining live political discussion show on a major television channel was taken off the air, and lively debate of key policy issues has all but disappeared from Russian television screens. We hope you will express concern about these developments, stress the importance of public debate of policy issues for the proper functioning of any democracy, and encourage the Russian government to allow for the creation of a truly independent television channel.

Academic Freedom.
Criminal cases on espionage charges against a number of Russian scientists are threatening legitimate academic work in Russia. In April 2004 a Moscow court sentenced one of these scientists, Dr. Igor Sutiagin of the U.S.A. and Canada Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, to fifteen years in a strict regime colony—the longest prison term for high treason since Soviet times—following a blatantly unfair trial. We enclose an analysis of the case prepared by Human Rights Watch and several other organizations. On August 17, 2004, Russia’s Supreme Court rejected Dr. Sutiagin’s appeal against the verdict. Another scientist, Valentin Danilov, faces a retrial after Russia’s Supreme Court overturned his earlier acquittal in June 2004. These prosecutions have sown fear among scientists and researchers that in Russia legitimate scientific and policy analysis may be considered a crime. The Supreme Court rulings in these cases are also the clearest indication yet that Russia’s highest court is no longer sufficiently independent to be able to protect Russian citizens against the arbitrary acts of the Federal Security Service. We encourage you to express concern about these prosecutions and their impact on academic freedom. We hope that you will point out that science is of key importance for the development of Russia as an industrial nation. We also encourage you to urge the Russian government to ensure that the final review of Dr. Sutiagin’s appeal will take place without delay and will meet international fair trial standards. We also ask that you encourage the Russian government to facilitate the work of the rapporteur on Dr. Sutiagin’s case appointed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Nongovernmental Organizations.
In May, President Putin lashed out at nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in his state-of-the-nation address, accusing them of failing to defend “people’s real interests” and of “servicing dubious groups and commercial interests.” Since that time, third sector organizations have been in jeopardy: dozens of officials have followed the president in attacking NGOs; police have raided several organizations; and new tax regulations, if adopted, would threaten the independence and possibly the very survival of many NGOs. We encourage you to express your concern to the Russian leadership about these developments, and to stress the vital importance of a vibrant and critical NGO community for the proper functioning of Russian democracy.

Chechnya and the North Caucasus.
As recent events in Ingushetia have made painfully clear, the Chechnya conflict continues unabated. A key reason for Russia’s inability to ensure peace in the region is its failure to establish a meaningful accountability process for crimes committed by Russian soldiers and police forces in the region. The fact that virtually no one has been held accountable for systematic and widespread human rights abuses, including enforced disappearances, summary executions and torture, has grossly undermined trust in Russian state institutions among ordinary Chechens. It has also fostered an atmosphere of impunity among soldiers and police officials. We encourage you to impress on the Russian government that lasting peace in Chechnya is impossible without justice. We also hope you will press the Russian government to lift restrictions on access to the region by the international community, including by issuing the long overdue invitations to the U.N. special rapporteurs on torture and extrajudicial executions to visit Chechnya.

We hope you will raise these important issues during your meetings with President Putin and other top Russian leaders. We thank you for your attention to the concerns in this letter.

Sincerely yours,

Rachel Denber
Acting Executive Director
Europe and Central Asia Division

Lotte Leicht
Brussels Office Director

cc: Dr. Hans-Friedrich von Ploetz, Ambassador of Germany to Russia
Mr. Jean Cadet, Ambassador of France to Russia

Enclosures:
Joint Statement on the case of Igor Sutiagin, June 2004

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