Speech from Mr Hans-Gert Poettering, Chairman of the EPP-ED Group,

Situation in Chechnya

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President, President in Council, Commissioner Nielson, Ladies and Gentlemen, Colleagues,

„Yesterday we had a very serious debate here in the Parliament on the situation in the Middle-East. I believe that the debate on Chechnya is every bit as serious. It deserves our full support and full attention. This is our running wound in Chechnya within the Russian Federation.

„We in the EPP-ED Group believe that security on the continent in the 21st Century is going to depend on us having a European Union which is based on the rule of law, which can see similar principles applying to the Russian Federation, so that together, the EU and Russia, can work in a spirit of partnership one with the other. This is what we mean by the terms of this strategic partnership. It is important indeed for the future of the whole continent.

„However, we must not be silent on violations of human rights. The Parliament must ensure, that its voice is heard. In Chechnya more people are dying than in the Middle-East. On behalf of our Group, can I say, that the life of a Chechnyan has the same value as the life of a citizen from the United States or a citizen from the European Union. The dignity of a Muslim in Chechnya is the same as that of a Christian, a Jew, a Palestinian, a Hindu, a Buddhist or anyone who does not subscribe to any of these creeds. People across the world, and particularly we as Europeans, must make this point heard; human rights are indivisible.

„With visits from the President of the Russian Federation to Europe and having listened to a statement yesterday on German television I had the opportunity of a meeting with the Ambassador of Russia to the EU, Rigor Ligochev and the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Duma, Dmitry Rogozin, to bring me up-to-date on the situation. I am very happy that because of this debate on Chechnya we have seen a range of contacts involving our Groups.

„Let me make this point crystal clear, of course we must combat terrorism. However, in combating terrorism we must not conduct ourselves in such a way, that our actions are disproportionate, if this means that civilians in Chechnya are prevented from doing their normal daily business. This is a crucial point. On the 4th of March, in a statement from the American Foreign Ministry, they talked about Médecins sans Frontières. This is a body that we very much support. They said, that the Russian troops do not have full respect for human life. I think we must listen to these statements.

„When the Duma representative, the spokesman for Chechnya says that 80% of the aid given to Russia for Chechnya does not go to the people, then this must be a source for concern. When the representative, the Commissioner for Human Rights, when she talks about the social and cultural situation, despite progress which we recognise as well, that situation is bad. I think those words must cause us concern.

„This is simply the truth as described by the spokesmen and by the organisations which know the situation on the ground better than we do. It has therefore come upon us, as the European Parliament, to point a finger when there are massive violations on human rights in Russia, in Chechnya and anywhere else. We must draw attention to them. This is why we want to have a political solution, so that for example the Russian soldiers which lack that respect for the lives of civilians, where there is not that full respect, we must ensure that the politicians in Russia take the responsibility, but also that the people on the ground must know that they are accountable, and that they are going to face a court in event of a violation. We must call therefore on Russia, to open up Chechnya to observers, more than has been the case in the past. They must work together with the agencies, with the Council of Europe, as the Presidents of Council and Commission has reminded us. All of us should be pushing in the same direction.

„We in the European Parliament have a delegation, together with our counterparts in the Duma, we must call on the other side to take a firm position and have this as our text and as our mandate to ensure that in a very practical, concrete way there are efforts made in the direction of Chechnya.

On the 16th of March a delegation from the European Parliament went to Chechnya and to the region. Commissioner, I myself would welcome the fact, if you personally would embark on a visit there in order to talk to the people on the ground. We need close co-ordination with Lord Judd from the Council of Europe, who takes a very close and practical interest in these matters.

„Colleagues, we need a political settlement, a political resolution. Let me say in conclusion that all the Republics of the former Soviet Union have a broad degree of autonomy. For example Tartarstan has a high level of autonomy. Why can’t that also apply to Chechnya? When people from Chechnya come here, they sound as if they have no hope, as if they have no prospect for the future. I think that we have got to make sure that they can go back with the message, that people who want to go about their normal daily business, want to live in peace, can have autonomous status within the Russian Federation. We can stand up for them, and they must know that they have got supporters on the continent and, in particular, here.“

(Translation from the original German)

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