Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Second Report

3  Democracy and human rights

UK policies

40. The promotion of democracy and human rights is a major element in the UK's policy towards Russia. The promotion of "security, prosperity and democracy" in Russia, as one of the EU's neighbouring states, is part of the Government's strategic international priority of "building an effective and globally competitive EU in a secure neighbourhood" (strategic priority 4).[101] The FCO told us that "the UK Government is committed to continue its bilateral and multilateral engagement with the Russian Government, its support for civil society, and its financing of project work, to advance international standards in Russia."[102] According to the FCO, the UK pursues this work because "we believe that an open and democratic Russia will provide better opportunities for Russians and consolidate Russia as a stable and reliable international partner."[103]

41. The UK is pursuing its democracy and human rights promotion policies in Russia in a context in which it espouses a commitment to democracy and human rights in general and is 'mainstreaming' these goals across its international action.[104] Of the UK's strategic international priorities, as updated in 2006, strategic priority 7 consists of "promoting sustainable development and poverty reduction underpinned by human rights, democracy, good governance and protection of the environment".[105] According to the FCO:

    The UK's long-term interests and values are best protected by the spread of democratic values, good governance and respect for human rights, which reduce the likelihood of conflict, combat poverty and support sustainable development across the world. Respect for human rights is important in its own right, but it is also an essential element in building states which are effective and accountable.[106]

42. The UK shares its democracy and human rights promotion goals in Russia with other Western states and organisations. For example, although the EU seeks to focus largely on practical cooperation with Russia, the European Commission's Country Strategy Paper for Russia for 2007-2013 says that "EU cooperation with Russia is conceived in terms of, and is designed to strengthen, a strategic partnership founded on shared interests and common values […] the EU places emphasis on the promotion of democracy, the rule of law and good governance, as well as respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, in line with its development policy."[107]

43. Russia has committed itself to observe a number of international human and political rights standards, by signing up to international regimes and joining relevant international organisations. For example, Russia joined the Council of Europe in 1996 and ratified the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in 1998. The Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) between the EU and Russia, which came into force in 1997, says that "Respect for democratic principles and human rights as defined in particular in the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, underpins the internal and external policies of the Parties and constitutes an essential element of partnership and of this Agreement."[108]

44. One strand of the UK's democracy and human rights promotion policies in Russia consists of support for NGOs, including financial support, and the implementation of projects with both NGOs and official partners. There has been an important recent change in this aspect of the UK's democracy and human rights work in Russia, with the ending of the programme work of the Department for International Development (DFID) and the closure in March 2007 of the devolved DFID office in Moscow. DFID now regards Russia as too wealthy to receive direct project assistance, and plans instead to deal increasingly with Russia as a partner country, on issues such as climate change, energy efficiency, sustainable development and development assistance to third countries.[109]

45. UK financing of human rights and democracy programme and project work in Russia which takes place directly through Government departments now takes place only through FCO instruments, primarily the Global Opportunities Fund and the Bilateral Programme Budget. In addition, some of the cross-departmental Global Conflict Prevention Fund projects in Russia have human rights aspects. The FCO has taken over some projects formerly receiving DFID funding. In financial year 2006-07, the FCO committed around £1,000,000 to projects in Russia in the fields of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.[110] Recent UK funding has supported, for example, the extension of a system of prison inspectors, work on the development of alternatives to—and improved human rights observance in—prison, and work on the development of dedicated procedures and facilities for juvenile offenders;[111] work by the Russian Union of Journalists in defence of journalists' rights, and other work in support of independent media;[112] work by the Britain-Russia Centre and others with law students, young lawyers, judges and other legal professionals;[113] a project on hate speech in the media;[114] and training of professionals in the handling of sexual assaults.[115] During our visit to Moscow in June 2007, we met representatives of several NGOs receiving UK support. In 2006, five FCO ministers, including the then Foreign Secretary, had meetings with Russian NGO representatives.[116]

46. The Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), which is funded by the FCO, has also carried out democracy promotion work in Russia, although neither it nor the UK political parties through which it in part works have projects there at present. In recent years, for example, the WFD has supported a project helping Russian municipalities to develop structures for public consultation, and a project supporting the development of committees for standards in public life in the federal Duma and four regions. The WFD currently receives £4.1 million a year from the FCO.[117]

47. A second strand of the UK's democracy and human rights promotion work consists of diplomatic discussions and representations made in private to the Russian authorities. In addition to the raising of political and human rights concerns as an element in general official contacts, including at ministerial level, there is a regular structured bilateral human rights dialogue between the FCO and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

48. The third strand of UK democracy and human rights promotion work in Russia consists of voicing concerns in public. In this area, there was a shift during the premiership of former Prime Minister Tony Blair. In the earlier part of his premiership, Mr Blair seemed to prefer to raise concerns largely in private, and not to embarrass President Putin in public. By the latter part of his premiership, Mr Blair was openly criticising the quality of Russia's democracy and human rights observance under President Putin's rule. For example, at the June 2007 G8 summit the former Prime Minister told President Putin that "people in the West were 'becoming worried and fearful about what is happening in Russia today'."[118] Before going to the summit, Mr Blair had told the House that:

    We want good relations with Russia, but that can be achieved only on the basis that there are certain shared principles and shared values. If there are not, there is no point in making hollow threats against Russia. The consequence is that people in Europe will want to minimise the business that they do with Russia if that happens. A closer relationship between Europe and Russia is important, but it will be a sustainable relationship only if it is based on those shared values.[119]

Russia's democracy and human rights performance

49. Despite the policies of the UK and other Western states and organisations, the trend overall in Russia in recent years has been towards a less open and plural political environment, combined with continuing serious human rights concerns. In its evidence to us, the FCO admitted that "Russia has not made the democratic progress that optimistic observers in the mid-late 1990s had hoped for."[120] In its Human Rights Annual Report 2006, the FCO classed Russia as a "country of concern" and devoted 12 pages to it, more than to any other country, and twice what Russia had received in the 2005 report.[121] Our witnesses shared the FCO's assessment. For example, Professor Bowring told us bluntly that Russia "is moving in an authoritarian direction".[122] Mr Clark judged that "None of the non-electoral prerequisites of democracy are there"[123] and Ms Gower told us that "The gap between Western concepts of democracy and the practice under President Putin's 'sovereign democracy' has widened significantly in recent years."[124]

50. The Human Rights Annual Report 2006 detailed the FCO's human rights concerns regarding Russia.[125] These concerns included: racism and xenophobia, especially racist attacks and their handling by the authorities; brutality and torture by the police; human rights abuses in the armed forces; limitations on religious freedom, primarily the difficult conditions that exist for several religions not traditional in Russia; a lack of respect for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights, manifested in particular in the denial of permission for pro-LGBT rights parades; and prison conditions, including overcrowding and disease.

51. The FCO's concerns also included the environment for NGOs in Russia. Legal amendments came into effect in April 2006 which imposed new registration and reporting requirements on NGOs. The Britain-Russia Centre reminded us that "The recent legislative changes have a rationale that all governments would recognise—to prevent the creation and activities of organisations with objectives that include terrorism or other criminality."[126] However, when we met NGO representatives in Moscow in June 2007, we heard that the extra administrative burden arising from the new requirements might in itself render smaller NGOs unable to pursue their work effectively.[127] Moreover, the Britain-Russia Centre also pointed to the weakness of the rule of law in Russia and the generally unsympathetic official attitude towards NGOs. Under these circumstances, the new legal regime has—at the least—increased already considerable opportunities for official harassment of NGOs, and the fears of NGOs about their potential vulnerability. According to Amnesty International, "It appears the Russian authorities have attempted on several occasions to use the new provisions in order to interfere in the lawful work of human rights organisations and other civil society activists."[128] Amnesty cited, for example, the case of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, which was closed down by the authorities in January 2007.[129] According to Amnesty International, some Russian human rights organisations are reporting the souring of contacts with officials simply because the latter no longer wish to be seen cooperating with NGOs.[130]

52. The new legal regime for NGOs has in particular increased the concerns of NGOs which are local branches of, or are funded by, foreign organisations or governments. This has direct implications for the UK's own programmes and project partners in Russia. Concerns have increased in this regard owing to language from Russian officials suggesting that NGOs receiving foreign funding are working against Russia, and that foreign funding of such bodies is "political", representing a foreign policy tool aimed at subverting the government in favour of a more pro-Western administration. Official Russian suspicion of foreign-funded NGOs reflects the dominant Russian interpretation of the 'colour revolutions' in other former Soviet states, as the product of Western manipulation, including through NGOs.[131] Dr Marshall told us that the 'revolutions' have served to "increase Russian distrust of the role of Western NGOs in the whole of the former Soviet space".[132]

53. The FCO told us that it was "concerned about the regularity with which Russian official representatives complain that other governments' support of NGOs is part of a subversive or hostile agenda" and that it had "made particular efforts to show that the mechanisms and objectives of all our support for NGOs in Russia are entirely open and transparent."[133] The most prominent incident in connection with NGOs' foreign links occurred in January 2006 and with specific reference to the UK, when the Russian Federal Security Service, the FSB, implied that NGOs receiving funding from the UK's Embassy in Moscow were engaged in espionage for the UK, by accusing the diplomat who had approved the grants of being a spy.[134] When we met representatives of NGOs in receipt of UK funding during our visit to Moscow in June 2007, we heard that this incident made them even more determined to continue to work with the UK.

54. In its Human Rights Annual Report 2006, the FCO also listed a concern about corruption and political influence in the Russian judiciary.[135] The key development in this field has been the prosecution and imprisonment for fraud and tax evasion of the 'oligarch' Mikhail Khodorkovsky—founder of the private Yukos oil company—and several of his associates at Yukos, which has been dismantled and effectively taken over by the state.[136] While some of the other Russian 'oligarchs' who emerged in the 1990s had reached an accommodation with the Putin leadership, Khodorkovsky appeared to be preparing to use his wealth to move into anti-Putin politics. According to the FCO, Khodorkovsky's case "highlighted weaknesses in the Russian judicial system and raised serious concerns about the application of law in a non-discriminatory and proportional way."[137] Professor Bowring was blunter, stating that the Yukos cases have "destroyed any hope for independence of the judiciary or a fair trial."[138]

55. In its 2006 report, the FCO also discussed limits to freedom of expression as a further area of human rights concern in Russia. These limits take a number of forms. Recent amendments to the law on extremism have raised fears that the legislation could be used to stifle critical opinion. The FCO also pointed out that, as a result of ownership takeovers and legal actions, there is now no independent national TV station in Russia.[139] The dominance of pro-Kremlin coverage and the state's demonstrated willingness to take action against independent TV broadcasters is creating a climate of self-censorship, especially in the broadcast media, which reaches a larger audience than print. Incidents in which journalists are intimidated, attacked or murdered further contribute to this climate. The EU-Russia Centre reminded us that more than 25 journalists have been murdered in Russia in the last five years.[140] The most well-known incident of this kind came in October 2006, when the journalist Anna Politskovskaya, who had published extensively on the situation in Chechnya, was assassinated.[141] We welcome the arrests made in the Politskovskaya case in August and September 2007.

56. In its evidence, the FCO also drew attention to recent developments regarding political parties' electoral participation and the management of anti-government demonstrations. In March 2007, in four regions the opposition liberal party Yabloko was denied permission to contest regional legislative elections on procedural grounds. Spring 2007 also saw rising activism by the 'Other Russia' opposition movement. While some 'Other Russia' demonstrations were allowed to proceed, others were obstructed, leading in some cases to clashes with police. Amnesty International reported police violence against demonstrators,[142] and said that peaceful demonstrators had sometimes been detained even after fulfilling the legal requirement to inform the authorities of their intention to demonstrate.[143]

57. In addition to the areas of concern identified by the FCO, Amnesty International told us of its worries about the harassment of individuals and organisations promoting ethnic minority rights, such as those of the Mari in the Republic of Mari El.[144]

Policy responses

58. Given the recent deterioration in Russia's human rights and democracy performance, as outlined above, it would appear that UK and Western efforts to promote democracy and human rights in Russia are failing. This raises the question of whether a different approach could have yielded results closer to UK policy goals, and should be adopted in future. Views on this question cover the spectrum, from those who hold that the UK has pressed human rights concerns with Russia too much, to those who hold that it has done so too little. Judgement is complicated by the fact that the UK shifted its stance over time.

59. Several of our witnesses felt that Western criticism and urging of higher democracy and human rights standards were currently making the Russian authorities less likely to try to make improvements in this area. Such witnesses argued that such a Russian reaction would occur primarily because the standards and practices in question were seen as 'Western' and inappropriate to Russia's historical and cultural specificities. Furthermore, under the doctrine of 'sovereign democracy', Russia was now resistant to prescriptions handed to it from outside powers.[145] Finally, several witnesses told us, Western demands for higher human rights standards were frequently undermined by what Russia perceived as Western hypocrisy and double standards, with regard both to Western states' own behaviour—for example in prosecuting the 'war on terror'—and to their treatment of other states with poor human and political rights records.[146] For example, Professor Light told us that "it is increasingly […] counter-productive to try to impose on Russia a set of values or standards".[147] Dr Pravda agreed that:

    Voicing loud public concern about the general direction of Russia's political development only seems to produce more stubborn defiance from the Kremlin. The mood of defiance makes Moscow less prepared to respond constructively to specific Western concerns about violations of human and democratic rights.[148]

60. Other witnesses argued that the West and the UK had not been tough enough in prosecuting their democracy and human rights agenda in Russia. Mr Clark told us that the Russian political elite "feel no consequences" from "rowing back from the democratic standards and the direction of political reform that existed in the 1990s" and urged that this situation should change.[149] Some voices have urged that Russia should be ejected from the G8 because of its failure to observe international democratic and human rights standards.[150] The case that action of this kind might bring about improved Russian observance of international human and political rights standards rests on Russia's declared wish for international status and respect. On this argument, Russia's exclusion from Western 'clubs'—but with the promise of readmission on fulfilment of certain conditions—might encourage it to introduce more democratic and liberal governance.

61. We heard counter-argument against both these opposite views. Witnesses including Professor Light argued that if the UK were to stop pressing democracy and human rights concerns with Russia, it would undermine its credibility as an agent for improved political and human rights standards, both in Russia—with those groups and organisations that look to the UK for support—and elsewhere, including in other former Soviet countries. The UK would risk losing credibility in particular because of Russia's resource-rich status. Professor Light observed that "clearly Britain would be open to considerable criticism if it had a set of standards that it applied to other countries but not to Russia because it was such a strong energy supplier."[151] We heard this suspicion from opposition and NGO figures during our visit to Azerbaijan, who saw the West as having been more supportive of the 'colour revolutions' in Georgia and Ukraine than it had been of the opposition in Azerbaijan and attributed this to the latter country's energy wealth—although it was often recognised that the UK was more engaged on political and human rights concerns in Azerbaijan than most other Western states.

62. Professor Light also highlighted the dangers of isolating Russia, given that Russia's continued engagement in a variety of bilateral and multilateral fora offered the potential for the West to exercise more effective influence. Professor Light expressed the hope, for example, that "engagement will lead to emulation of […] values and standards."[152]

63. Another key point raised by witnesses was that since Russia no longer necessarily defines itself as 'Western', and has either already joined, or is not seeking membership of, Western organisations which set political and human rights entry standards, the West has less leverage than it did or does over many other former communist states. The CSRC told us that:

    In countries which have set their sights on NATO and/or EU membership, internal affairs have a legitimate place in our discourse, and this is accepted by our official interlocutors in the Western Balkans, Ukraine and Georgia. But in Putin's Russia, where no such goals have been declared, no such legitimacy is conceded, and such discourse arouses resentment.[153]

Similarly, with respect to the EU, Ms Gower told us that:

    It has been rather belatedly recognised in Brussels that because Russia has no current ambitions for accession, and no great need for aid, the EU has far less potential leverage over her domestic political development than has been the case with respect to candidate countries.[154]

64. Rather than abandon its democracy and human rights message, or sanction Russia, the dominant view from our witnesses was that the West should modify its message to Moscow in ways that might make it more effective. In Ms Gower's words, "it is not a matter of giving up on the values but of how best to convey them and develop them in Russia. It is clear that merely giving it long lectures and telling Putin that he has been rather bad is totally counter-productive."[155] With regard to the EU, Ms Gower said similarly that "rather than abandoning the normative agenda, the EU needs to adopt a more effective strategy than ritualistically lecturing the Russian leadership about its democratic failings".[156] Our witnesses' suggested modifications would aim to make the democracy and human rights message less 'Western', and more about interests than values.

65. As regards the language of interests rather than values, for example, Dr Averre told us that "the UK approach and the EU approach should be to push common interests and to speak to Russia's common interests in adhering to […] common European or international rules […] Europe needs to […] speak more to Russia's self-interest rather than pushing the inflated normative agenda all the time."[157] A number of witnesses suggested ways in which improved observance of human rights and the rule of law could be put to Russia as being in its own interests. Dr Allison suggested, for example, that the UK might point out to Russia that:

    it will be difficult for it to have sets of standards about justice and the treatment of companies that diverge radically from those of its near neighbours in Europe. We should continue to [...] remind Russia that the obligations that it undertook in treaties of the 1990s, which it upholds, on the basic issues of the relationship between state and society and human rights, are in the interests of its social and human development.[158]

Dr Pravda suggested that, given its experience as an international economic and financial centre, the UK might be in a particularly strong position to stress the national commercial advantages accruing from operating according to fair, transparent and internationally accepted rules.[159]

66. Russia might respond to this kind of position by saying that it is not for the West to tell it what is in its own or its people's interest. We are also cautious about this kind of language since it might be interpreted by Russia as a threat that Western businesses may become unwilling to deal with the country, as a result of its poor record on human rights and the rule of law. In fact the reality is quite different. We are aware of only a few cases in which UK businesses have withdrawn from Russia, and the Britain-Russia Centre reported to us its impression that "the risk-to-reward ratio is still positive" for UK businesses there.[160] International energy companies, above all, are accustomed to working in countries with poor human rights records, in the interests of potentially huge rewards.

67. Dr Pravda suggested an alternative way of potentially engaging Russia. He proposed that the UK should highlight that the observance of international standards and agreements would be important for Russia "in realising its ambitions to be taken seriously as a responsible global actor".[161]

68. Some of our witnesses suggested that the UK could couch some of its concerns in terms simply of needing clarity on the 'rules of the game' for dealings with Russia—for example, that the rule of law and international commitments will be respected. Dr Pravda advised us that the UK "ought to distinguish very precisely between our way of doing things at home and our cultural and democratic values […] and international rules of the game, which are to do with transparency, predictability and delivering on promises."[162] The Minister for Europe appeared to show sympathy for this approach, telling us that "The issue is not about UK values; it is about international standards."[163] Similarly, the Foreign Secretary told us in October that at a recent meeting with his Russian counterpart he had:

    made it clear to him that I thought it very much in Russia's interests as a big power to develop a rules-based system of international institutions that actually works. That message needs to go not just from Governments and Parliaments […] but also from business, because the positive side of the balance sheet that I talked about depends on a Russian rule of law and Russian business conditions that are of international standard.[164]

69. Dr Pravda argued explicitly that the "'diplomatic' dual approach of public restraint and private complaint" about Russian democratic and human rights standards, such as that which tended to be pursued initially by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, should be rejected. According to Dr Pravda, "The gap between the two positions feeds Moscow's suspicions about the West's instrumental approach to these matters; failure to follow through on private warnings undermines credibility."[165] In Dr Pravda's view, "A consistent commitment […] would impress the Russians much more than the attempt to distinguish between public and private expressions of criticism".[166]

70. Developments in Russia overall contrast with the UK's declared goal of promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law there. We recommend that the UK continue to press its concerns about democratic and human rights standards with the Russian authorities, including in public, ensuring that public and private messages are the same. However, we recommend that the Government make some changes to the terms in which it does so, in order to improve the likely effectiveness of its message. We recommend that the Government stress to a greater extent that the political and human rights standards at issue are often not Western, but international, and that they are not foreign impositions but commitments to which Russia has voluntarily signed up, including under the Helsinki Final Act. We further recommend that the Government couch its wish to see improved democratic and human rights standards in Russia primarily in terms of interests rather than values—specifically, Russia's interest in being taken seriously as an international actor which respects its international commitments, and the UK's interest in the development of a credible international partner likely to generate fewer security risks. We further recommend that the Government be prepared seriously and publicly to address the charges of human rights shortcomings which Russia is likely to make against it in the course of further engagement on human rights issues.

71. The FCO told us that, in the framework of the bilateral UK-Russia human rights dialogue, there has been a mutual discussion of ways to address racially motivated violence, as a human rights issue relevant to both countries.[167] The FCO also reported its success in engaging Russia in support of UN Security Council resolution 1624, a UK initiative against the incitement of terrorism, the targeting of different religions and cultures and the subversion of educational, cultural and religious institutions by terrorists and their supporters.[168] We conclude that mutual discussions—such as those underway between the UK and Russia on racially-motivated violence—are to be welcomed, as potentially a more fruitful approach to human rights issues than a one-way dialogue. We recommend that this approach be extended to a discussion of the protection of human rights in the context of combating terrorism.

72. The debate about the most effective way for the West to press its democracy and human rights concerns with the Russian authorities assumes that such Western policies can influence domestic developments in Russia. There are grounds for scepticism in this regard. Several of our witnesses stressed that the development of secure, pluralistic, democratic political institutions and high human rights standards in Russia, governed by the rule of law, can take place only as a result of largely indigenous developments, and only over a long period. Ms Gower told us that "ultimately the EU has to accept that democratisation can only come from the people of Russia."[169] In this connection, several of our witnesses stressed the importance of Russia's nascent middle and professional classes. Ms Barysch told us that "our best hope now lies with an emerging middle class and the development of civic values",[170] and the Britain-Russia Centre similarly argued that "the development of a middle class in Russia will be a key factor leading to pressures for more democratic government."[171] In the view of the Centre,

    The development of a middle class in Russia combined with the progressive rise of a generation that does not have a deep attachment to the centralised control models of the Soviet era, is likely to be the main motor for change—and certainly more significant than any outside interventions.[172]

73. Given their view of the importance of societal developments in Russia, none of our witnesses suggested that the UK should abandon its programme or project work there, or its engagement with Russian NGOs and civil society. On the contrary, Ms Barysch told us that "Our best hope is in supporting civic society rather than lecturing at the political level."[173] Similarly, Ms Gower said that "we concentrate too much on dealing with the top political level when what is important is engagement at society level […] It is those kinds of contacts that have, at least in the longer term, the possibility of explaining our values and in some ways, of showing what Western society is like."[174]

74. In light of the importance they attributed to the development of a middle class, several of our witnesses stressed the potential value of engaging not only with often small and clearly oppositional NGOs, but also with mid-level professional groups and future professionals.[175] For example, Dr Pravda identified local government officials and those running small and medium-sized businesses as groups with which the UK might usefully engage in order to try to spread good practice.[176] Much FCO work in Russia which is not necessarily branded as democracy and human rights promotion contributes to the engagement of professional groups, such as the UK's work on non-proliferation, anti-terrorism and climate change. We recommend that the Government continue to implement programme and project work in Russia, with NGOs and other groups, in the interests of democracy and human rights promotion. We recommend that the FCO seek new opportunities in particular to work with professional groups. We further recommend that the FCO take care to ensure that no well-functioning DFID projects that address the UK's priorities in Russia come to an end as a result of the closure of DFID's Russian programmes.

North Caucasus

75. The North Caucasus, including Chechnya, has long been the area of greatest concern to the UK as regards human rights standards in Russia. According to the FCO, it remains so: "The North Caucasus remains violent, unstable and vulnerable to human rights violations";[177] "the situation in the region remains one of Europe's most serious human rights issues".[178]

76. The major underlying source of violence and human rights violations in the region continues to be the ongoing conflict between Chechen separatists on the one hand, and the federal authorities and their local agents on the other. Chechnya itself is largely pacified. Compared to the two all-out Chechen wars, a degree of stability has been restored, under the rule of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. However, military attacks and skirmishes continue from both sides.[179] Moreover, Kadyrov's rise to near-absolute control of Chechnya itself gives grounds for concern, since forces under his control are believed to have committed human rights abuses during the pacification of Chechnya under his father, former Chechen President Akhmed Kadyrov.[180] At the same time, Kadyrov's forces also contain large numbers of former Chechen separatist fighters, leading to Russian suspicions that even Kadyrov's forces may not be fully loyal to the federal centre.[181]

77. Ongoing 'anti-terrorist' operations by federal and local forces are the main source of the human rights concerns in Chechnya and the North Caucasus detailed by the FCO in its Human Rights Annual Report 2006 and by Amnesty International in its submission to our inquiry. Violations detailed by the FCO and Amnesty include abductions, illegal detention, torture and extra-judicial executions. Both the FCO and Amnesty were particularly concerned by the authorities' failure in most cases to pursue complaints against officials. There have been some statements by senior Russian figures about the importance of prosecuting human rights violations allegedly carried out by the authorities.[182] However, according to the FCO, on the whole the Russian authorities "appear to be doing little to tackle the problem" of impunity for official human rights violations in Chechnya.[183] Amnesty told us that "The Russian authorities' record on investigation, prosecution and conviction of state officials for serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law in the North Caucasus […] falls far short of its obligations under international law."[184] According to Amnesty, when prosecutions do take place, their slowness "adds to the perception among the population in the North Caucasus, that their rights can be violated with impunity."[185]

78. Amnesty pointed to one possible institutional reason for the lack of successful prosecutions of officials: the Office of the Public Prosecutor in Russia is

    responsible for the investigation and prosecution of serious crimes, and the supervision of the legality of actions of state officials. This dual role means that investigations into allegations of torture are conducted by the same Public Prosecutor's Office that was responsible for leading the investigation during which the torture allegedly took place.[186]

Amnesty reported that the Russian Government had recently announced its intention to establish an independent investigatory body within the procuracy to address this problem.[187] Amnesty also reported to us its concerns about the lack of local forensic capacities in the North Caucasus to handle mass grave sites in a way that would allow effective human rights investigations and prosecutions.[188]

79. As regards the threat of Chechen terrorism outside Chechnya, Dr Russell told us that there had been "no major terrorist incidents emanating from Chechnya" since the death of Shamil Basayev in July 2006.[189] Dr Russell went on: "Indeed, with the exception of the mass attack on Nalchik (capital of Kabardino-Balkaria) in October 2005, the lifting of the Beslan siege [in 2004] marks the effective end of Chechen-inspired 'international' terror."[190]

80. In the past, foreign Islamist fighters have been present in Chechnya and other parts of the North Caucasus. Now, however, the FCO told us that "external support is largely confined to propaganda messages posted on jihadist websites. The financial, material and human support which was thought to have been provided to separatist groups from individuals in the Middle East has subsided."[191] Dr Russell agreed that "The death of Basayev and of the Jordanian-born Abu Hafs al-Urdani in November 2006 appears to have reduced significantly the influence and threat of the so-called Wahhabist 'Arab' mercenaries in Chechnya".[192] However, Dr Russell was less sanguine than the FCO, warning that "outside funding, training and insurgent activity from this source continue to be a factor."[193]

81. Although the traditional features of the Chechen conflict may have subsided, Dr Russell drew our attention to the potential for the issue to take on new and potentially violent forms. According to Dr Russell, the federal authorities' "deliberate attempt to solve the political question of self-determination in the North Caucasus by military means", the methods used to pacify Chechnya, and the authorities' handling of previous terrorist incidents such as the Beslan siege were leading to "a spread of resistance to Russian rule throughout the North Caucasus and a concomitant spread of Wahhabist ideology, organised mainly through 'djamaats' (originally communal, now religion-based, military organisations)."[194]

82. According to Dr Russell, "The focus of insurgent activity appears to have shifted from Chechnya to, in particular, neighbouring Dagestan and Ingushetia".[195] However, Dr Russell also identified a rise in anti-Russian feeling in the previously pro-Russian regions of Kabardino-Balkaria and North Ossetia.[196] He suggested that such anti-Russian feeling would have considerable potential to be articulated through violence. This would be the case in particular if, as would be most likely, the Russian authorities pursued a hard-line military response. Dr Russell judged that "the spread of jihadist ideas through the North Caucasian 'djamaats' appears to pose as great a terrorist threat as that previously posed by the Wahhabites."[197] Overall, Dr Russell concluded that "The policies of the current administration, far from resolving issues likely to spawn violence, appear to be spreading the potential for insurgent violence in the form of what the administration, although not necessarily outsiders, would identify as terrorism."[198]

83. Any Muslim anti-Russian insurgency in the North Caucasus would have the potential to make itself felt in many of Russia's major cities—through the large Muslim diasporas there—and beyond, including in the UK.[199] Dr Russell reminded us that two of the four London suicide bombers of July 2005 mentioned Chechnya in their farewell messages.[200]

84. The FCO told us that the UK has devoted particular attention to securing funding for projects in the North Caucasus. At a bilateral level, the UK has identified the North Caucasus as a priority area for projects under the Global Conflict Prevention Fund. The Embassy in Moscow also uses a share of its Bilateral Programme Budget in support of activities in the region.[201] For example, the UK is running a £1 million North Caucasus Education Initiative through the Global Conflict Prevention Pool and the Global Opportunities Fund. The initiative aids children including some who were affected by the Beslan school massacre.[202] The Russia/CIS strategy of the Global Conflict Prevention Pool supports the Stichting Russian Justice Initiative, which oversees the later stages of litigation for most Chechen cases at the European Court of Human Rights.[203] Other activities in the region supported by the UK include projects on election monitoring, independent journalism and inter-ethnic tolerance. At the EU level, during its EU Presidency in 2005 the UK secured President Putin's agreement to a €20 million Special Programme for the North Caucasus under the EU's aid programme for the CIS, TACIS.[204] The programme will support health, education and small business initiatives in the region.

85. We conclude that the FCO is correct to identify the North Caucasus as a region of serious human rights and security concerns. There is potential for a violent anti-Russian insurgency across the region which could have security implications beyond it. We recommend that the FCO continue to fund work in the region aimed at ending impunity, improving human rights and governance standards and encouraging inter-ethnic understanding, and that it updates us on its projects in the region in its response to this Report. We further recommend that the FCO continue to impress on Russia the importance of meeting its human rights obligations in the region.

European Court of Human Rights

86. The growing impact of Russia's accession to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) has been one of the main developments regarding human rights in Russia since our predecessor Committee's Report on the country in 2000. Russia ratified the ECHR in 1998, giving its citizens access to the European Court of Human Rights.

87. Russian citizens have been turning to the European Court of Human Rights in large and increasing numbers. The number of new applications to the Court from Russian citizens each year rose from just over 4,000 in 2002 to over 10,000 in 2006. As shares of new applications to the Court, applications from Russian citizens accounted for 13.7% in 2002, 15.6% in 2003, 17.8% in 2004, 21.2% in 2005 and 22.1% in 2006.[205] The total number of applications from Russian citizens between 2002 and 2006 was 36,043.[206] Of the over 10,000 new complaints made against Russia in 2006, only 151 were found to be admissible.[207] In 2006, 21,773 of the accumulated applications against Russia were struck off and a further 353 were declared inadmissible.[208] Nevertheless, of the over 80,000 applications before the Court as of 1 July 2007, 22,150 (22.6%) were from Russia.[209]

88. Of 1,498 judgements which the Court handed down in 2006, 102 were against Russia.[210] In viewing these figures it is nevertheless important, for balance, to have regard for the geographical scale of Russia, its numerous nationalities and its total population, compared with the majority of European states. In several cases, European Court judgements have now been handed down against Russia in highly sensitive areas. These include the case of the 'oligarch' Gusinsky, in which Russia was judged to have used the criminal justice system in order to secure a commercial deal, in connection with the takeover of Gusinsky's television station; a case in which Russia was judged to be rendering support to the breakaway region of Transnistria in Moldova; and, above all, cases brought by Chechens against Russia on human rights grounds.[211]

89. In the wake of judgements which have gone against Russia, Russian politicians have criticised the European Court. In January 2007, President Putin accused the Court of bringing "a purely political decision" in one such case.[212] Professor Bowring reported to us that Russia had an "increasingly tense" relationship with the Court,[213] and that "Russia is now systematically refusing to give the Strasbourg Court access to the prosecution files in the cases before the Court, […] a gross violation of Russia's obligations on accession to the ECHR."[214] Amnesty International also drew our attention to the fact that "Russia is yet to fully implement those decisions of the European Court of Human Rights finding serious human rights violations in the context of the conflict in Chechnya."[215]

90. The increase in the number of Russian citizens submitting applications to the European Court of Human Rights has also had a practical impact on the Court's operation. The increase in Russian cases forms part of the massive increase in the Court's workload following the post-Cold War expansion of the Council of Europe. Protocol 14 to the ECHR, agreed in 2004, is designed to alleviate some of the pressure on the European Court of Human Rights by reducing the number of judges who sit for each case, thereby allowing the Court to deliver speedier judgements. The Court currently takes 5-6 years to rule in 'fast-track' cases and up to 12 years for other cases.[216] All 46 member states of the Council of Europe have signed Protocol 14. However, the Protocol can come into effect only when all Council of Europe member states have ratified it. In December 2006, the Russian Duma voted to reject ratification, reportedly on the orders of the Kremlin and apparently as a response to the cases which Russia had recently lost.[217] Russian ratification of Protocol 14 before the December 2007 Duma elections now appears unlikely.

91. The FCO told us that Protocol 14 to the ECHR was "a key mechanism to improve the Court's effectiveness"[218] and that the UK had been urging Russia to ratify, including at the January 2007 bilateral human rights dialogue. We urge the Government to do all it can to secure Russian ratification of Protocol 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights as soon as possible. We recommend that the Government impress on Moscow that the UK will regard its cooperation with the European Court of Human Rights as a key indicator of Russia's willingness to work as a responsible member of the international community.

101   FCO, Active Diplomacy for a Changing World: The UK's International Priorities, Cm 6762, March 2006, p 32 Back

102   Ev 82-83 Back

103   Ev 83 Back

104   FCO, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, Cm 6916, October 2006 Back

105   FCO, Active Diplomacy for a Changing World: The UK's International Priorities, Cm 6762, March 2006, and updated highlights, June 2006, via Back

106   FCO, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, p 14 Back

107   Section 2, text via Back

108   Article 2, text via Back

109   Ev 88 [FCO] Back

110   Ev 83 [FCO] Back

111   Ev 83 [FCO]; FCO, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, p97, 186 Back

112   Ev 83 [FCO]; FCO, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, p 97 Back

113   Ev 117 [Britain-Russia Centre] Back

114   FCO, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, p 255 Back

115   FCO, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, p 97 Back

116   Ev 83 [FCO] Back

117 Back

118   "Cordial but still icy: Blair and Putin fail to bridge the gap", The Times, 9 June 2007 Back

119   HC Deb, 6 June 2007, col 253 Back

120   Ev 82 Back

121   FCO, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, pp 86-98 Back

122   Q 91 Back

123   Q 91 Back

124   Ev 23 Back

125   FCO, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, pp 86-96 Back

126   Ev 115 Back

127   See also evidence from Amnesty International at Ev 143. Back

128   Ev 143 Back

129   Ev 143 Back

130   Ev 143 Back

131   This interpretation was outlined in Chapter 2. Back

132   Ev 136 Back

133   Ev 83 Back

134   FCO, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, p 92 Back

135   FCO, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, p 94 Back

136   The Khodorkovsky case links into the arguments between Russia and the UK over extradition, discussed in Chapter 4, and developments in the Russian energy sector, discussed in Chapter 5. Back

137   FCO, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, p 94 Back

138   Ev 53 Back

139   FCO, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, p 94 Back

140   Ev 161; see also evidence from the BBC World Service at Ev 163. Back

141   See Ev 146 [Amnesty Internationl]. Back

142   Ev 144 Back

143   Ev 144 Back

144   Ev 143 Back

145   The notion of 'sovereign democracy' was outlined in Chapter 2. Back

146   See, for example, Professor Light at Q 11. Back

147   Q 9 Back

148   Ev 21 Back

149   Q 92 Back

150   "Kick the Russians out", The Daily Telegraph, 4 June 2007 Back

151   Q 8 Back

152   Q 9 Back

153   Ev 27 Back

154   Ev 23  Back

155   Q 35 Back

156   Ev 23 Back

157   Q 30 Back

158   Q 11; see also Dr Pravda at Q 21 and the EU-Russia Centre at Ev 161. Back

159   Ev 21 Back

160   Ev 118 Back

161   Ev 21 Back

162   Q 11; see also Dr Pravda at Q 10. Back

163   Q 120 Back

164   Uncorrected transcript of oral evidence taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee on 10 October 2007, HC (2006-07) 166-iv, Q 391 Back

165   Ev 21 Back

166   Q 10 Back

167   Ev 83 Back

168   Ev 85  Back

169   Ev 23; on this point see also Ev 137, 140 [Dr Marshall]. Back

170   Q 38 Back

171   Ev 116  Back

172   Ev 117 Back

173   Q 38 Back

174   Q 38 Back

175   See, for example, Ev 117-118 [Britain-Russia Centre], 161-162 [EU-Russia Centre]. Back

176   Q 21  Back

177   FCO, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, p 87 Back

178   FCO, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, p 87 Back

179   Ev 158 [Dr Russell] Back

180   Ev 157 [Dr Russell] Back

181   Ev 157 [Dr Russell]  Back

182   FCO, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, p 88 Back

183   FCO, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, p 87 Back

184   Ev 142 Back

185   Ev 142 Back

186   Ev 142 Back

187   Ev 142 Back

188   Ev 142-143 Back

189   Ev 156 Back

190   Ev 156-157 Back

191   Ev 84 Back

192   Ev 157 Back

193   Ev 157 Back

194   Ev 157 Back

195   Ev 158 Back

196   Ev 158 Back

197   Ev 160 Back

198   Ev 159 Back

199   Ev 158 Back

200   Ev 160 Back

201   Ev 87 [FCO] Back

202   Ev 84 [FCO]; FCO, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, p 91 Back

203   FCO, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, p 203 Back

204   Ev 83 [FCO] Back

205   Ev 104 [Minister for Europe] Back

206   Calculated from Ev 104 [Minister for Europe] Back

207   Ev 54 [Professor Bowring] Back

208   Ev 54 [Professor Bowring] Back

209   Ev 104 [Minister for Europe]; see also Ev 54 [Professor Bowring]. Back

210   Ev 54 [Professor Bowring] Back

211   Ev 54 [Professor Bowring] Back

212   Quoted in Ev 55 [Professor Bowring] Back

213   Ev 56 Back

214   Ev 52 Back

215   Ev 143 Back

216   Ev 55 [Professor Bowring]; on Protocol 14, see Joint Committee on Human Rights, First Report of Session 2004-05, Protocol No. 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights, HL 8/HC 106. Back

217   Ev 55 [Professor Bowring]. The UK ratified Protocol 14 in 2005; see FCO, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, p 159. Back

218   Ev 83 Back

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