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European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood
Mr President, Honourable Members
I am most grateful for this opportunity to give the Commission’s view on the future of Chechnya after the elections. It is positive that the elections took place without violence even if one cannot ignore deficiencies in the process. Three parties received sufficient support to be represented in the new Parliament with the pro-Kremlin United Russia far outweighing the others. We hope that this will be a step in the process of further progress towards greater political representation, stability and eventually to peaceful democracy there.
Neither the OSCE nor the Council of Europe sent a full-fledged observer mission, since conditions on the ground did not permit that, although the latter did send an 8-member fact-finding mission. We therefore do not have official reports but we are aware of statements from members of the latter mission and from other organisations drawing attention to deficiencies in the process and we would expect that such allegations will be properly investigated.
While we welcome the Russian federal authorities’ commitment to allocate significant funds for reconstruction, if these elections are to be a step towards peace and democracy, a number of other actions need to be taken. Although there appears to have been an improvement in the security situation in Chechnya, a culture of impunity remains. Reported cases of disappearances and torture should be fully investigated and the perpetrators, including members of the law enforcement authorities, brought to justice.
We note that Russia has expressed its willingness to cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms including the High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour. These assurances should be put into practice and there should be cooperation with the UN Special Rapporteurs. It is also important that the local ombudsman in Chechnya is seen to be carrying out his duties impartially and effectively.
The European Commission is playing its part in the region. We have agreed a €20 Million programme for socio-economic recovery in the North Caucasus – in addition to the humanitarian assistance where we are already the biggest donor through ECHO - a clear indication of our willingness to be actively involved in the process of strengthening democracy and stability in the region. Our programme will help support much needed rehabilitation of the health and education sectors and assist in job creation/income generation activities. It is also our intention to open an office in the North Caucasus, possibly in Vladikavkaz, which would help us to monitor the implementation of the programme and allow us to be better informed of the situation on the ground.
I should however express our concern at the evidence of continuing difficulties that NGOs have to face including those receiving support from the EC such as the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society in Nizhny Novgorod. This also affects NGOs delivering humanitarian assistance under the ECHO programme.
In that context I should draw attention to the recent amendments to Russian legislation on NGOs. The Commission expressed its concern about the effect of the legislation on NGO’s financed under ECHO in the North Caucasus, under EIDHR and TACIS programmes to the Chairwoman of the presidential Council on the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights. I myself discussed the matter with Foreign Minister Lavrov when we met December 7th who assured me that there would be changes to the proposal in the second reading of the Duma. Although the text of the legislation finally approved by the Duma finally does take some account of the concerns expressed by the EU and Council of Europe, which we welcome, we remain concerned that some of the provisions remain too far-reaching - for example the scope for denying registration to local NGOs and the controls to be exerted on both local and foreign NGOs. We shall be taking careful note of the way in which these provisions are implemented and shall take all appropriate occasions to make the Russian authorities aware of our concerns. Our regular political dialogue with Russia and the next round of EU/Russia human rights consultations set for March will give us a chance to do so.