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Lord Avebury: My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, can he say what happened about the postponement of the agreement to station the OSCE mission in Grozny? It was supposed to have been signed on 6th April but was postponed sine die. Can the Minister also say whether the OSCE mission will be permitted to leave Grozny to investigate what is happening in the villages?
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, my understanding is that there are certain administrative matters within the OSCE which need to be finally resolved before the mission can go to Chechnya. However, it would probably be helpful if I were to write to the noble Lord giving him the fullest details that I can.
Her Majesty's Government have consistently, both in public statements and in private meetings with Russian leaders, made known their concern about events in the region. Our message, as was explained earlier today by my noble friend Lady Chalker, remains clear. First, the fighting must end as quickly as possible. The Russian troops have taken control of most of the Chechen strongholds, but the air raids continue and the ground fighting still appears some way from being finished. We realise, however, that an end to the fighting does not lie solely in the gift of the Russians. The Chechen separatists have to share the responsibility for its prolongation.
Secondly, aid must be allowed through to those in need. The situation in this respect is now much improved. After constant lobbying, especially by the European Union, the Russian authorities are allowing the international agencies to carry out their work. Thirdly, any solution which is to last must provide an effective way of enabling the Chechen people to express their identity within the Russian Federation.
One of the most worrying aspects, which I have already mentioned, is the fact that there have been various reports of atrocities being committed by both sides, although not all those reports have been substantiated. We have made known our concern about human rights abuses. They must stop. The presence of a permanent OSCE mission will enable us more closely to monitor the situation. We are particularly concerned about the reports which were first raised in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, concerning the massacre of civilians in the village of Samashki just over a week ago. A number of sources have alleged that Russian forces were responsible, although the full facts remain unclear. What is clear though is that this is a further flagrant example of the violation of basic human rights which we have frequently condemned throughout this conflict.
On 15th April the European Union issued a statement condemning the continuing human rights violations in Chechnya, calling on the Russians to cease all acts of violence against the civilian population. We associate ourselves fully with that statement and further call on the Russian authorities to investigate rigorously the events in Samashki and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The question of self-determination for the Chechens was raised both by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley. In international law the right of self-determination is recognised and specifically in international covenants on civil and political rights and on economic, social and cultural rights, both of which the United Kingdom has ratified. However, the exercise of the right must also take into account questions such as what constitutes a separate people and respect for the principle and territorial integrity of the unitary state. In the case of Chechnya no country has recognised President Dudayev's unilateral declaration of independence, but we have repeatedly called on the Russians to work for a political solution which would allow the Chechen people to express their identity within the framework of the Russian Federation. It is worth remembering in this context that the Russian Federation comprises 89 separate units and that the relationship of their component parts with the centre varies from one unit to another; so there is an inherent flexibility in the constitution which ought to assist in this matter.
We believe, with the other member states of the European Union, that the role of the OSCE, which has been at the forefront of international efforts to reach a solution in Chechnya, is one that should be supported. It is the case that the involvement of the OSCE has been accepted by the Russians. On 11th April agreement was reached on the mandate for a permanent mission to be established in Chechnya. The mission's objective will be to contribute to efforts to secure a cease-fire and a political settlement. We want to see this operation up and running as soon as possible and we hope that it might be in place by the end of this month.
We support the process of political and economic reform in Russia and of dialogue with Russia on the basis of commonly respected principles and standards. These processes are represented by many of the Russians who have been most critical of the events in Chechnya. Both President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin have renewed their broad commitment to reform. We hope that this will be reflected in specific policies. We will continue to watch developments closely and to exchange views with our partners. To isolate Russia now as a result of the Chechen situation would damage the cause of reform and risk giving comfort to those extremist forces in Russia who wish to cut their country off from the West, many of whom are the most vocal advocates of repression in Chechnya.
All our European Union partners share the view that the fighting in Chechnya needs to be brought to an end and negotiations started on a political settlement. The European Union has given its full support to the OSCE's efforts to help find a lasting solution, and its position has been made clear in statements issued by the Foreign Affairs Council and through a number of démarches in Moscow.
Reference was made earlier in the debate, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, to the interim European-Russia trade agreement, which incidentally does contain important provisions on respect for human rights. European Union Foreign Ministers have agreed that it would be inappropriate to sign this agreement until the Chechen situation improves. The Ministers have established four criteria against which we would judge whether to sign it. They are: a permanent OSCE presence; progress towards ending the fighting; discussions leading towards a political settlement; and access for humanitarian aid.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, why the haste? Why could not these matters have been delayed in order to see how the situation in Chechnya might have developed in view of the blandishments which have been offered by the Government? We are talking to the Russians and we are doing this, that and the other, seemingly with little effect.
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the important point here is that the final decision on whether to proceed with the agreement itself, which is, after all, the nuts and bolts of what is under discussion, has not yet been taken. We are waiting to see what occurs. We have shown our position and our preparedness to go forward in appropriate circumstances.
Reference was made earlier in the debate by my noble friend Lord Belhaven and Stenton and by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to the International Monetary Fund's support for Russia. It is true that on 11th April the IMF board agreed a stand-by arrangement worth 6.8 million US dollars. It is designed to help the Russian Government stabilise the economy. In turn, we believe that that will help to provide political stability, and that will be to the advantage of all the Russian people. It will be disbursed over several phases during the course of the year and the IMF will continue to monitor the economic situation closely to ensure that its conditions are met. We do not believe that economic anarchy will offer any help to those whose human rights are being abused.
Reference was also made by the noble Lords, Lord Hylton, and Lord Clinton-Davis, to the possible membership of Russia of the Council of Europe. Following a debate in February, at which a Russian delegation had the opportunity to state its case, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly decided to suspend consideration of Russia's application for membership. The Russians appear to have accepted this. We welcome the fact that dialogue between the Council of Europe and Russia is continuing and we hope that in due course Russia will be able to satisfy the Council of Europe that it meets the conditions for accession. Once that has been achieved, we then would look forward to welcoming Russia as a member.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, made reference to the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, which was signed in 1990 by NATO and the then Warsaw Pact member states. It establishes numerical limits for different types of military equipment in different regions
The Russians fully supported the adoption of the OSCE code of conduct which sets out norms for proper conduct of military forces within a democratic society. We have urged them to act in accordance with the code, particularly Article 36, which links deployment of armed forces on internal security missions to constitutional procedures and asserts the minimum use of force. We and other members of the OSCE have urged the Russians to comply with their commitments. Obviously it is not possible for governments to pick and choose between them. Equally, the Vienna document of 1994 commits members of the OSCE to provide notification of movements of concentrations of military forces involving more than 9,000 troops. Russian deployments in Chechnya exceed those limits. We have reminded the Russians of their obligations and urged them to comply.
In concluding, I must again condemn unequivocally the killings and human rights abuses which continue to take place in Chechnya. But while the Chechnya conflict reveals how far Russia still has to go before it finally shakes off its past, it also shows just how far it has come. Many predicted an authoritarian clampdown in the wake of events in Chechnya. We have not seen that occur. Instead, there has been genuine critical and unfettered debate. The media, far from being muzzled, has been able to bring home in an unprecedented way the true horrors of what has been going on.
A further sign of the changes in Russia is the government's acceptance of an international monitoring mission's presence on their territory. That offers us a real chance of achieving our objectives of a peaceful and lasting settlement. We and the international community at large will put our full weight behind the OSCE mission, and we offer our gratitude to the Hungarians who hold the chairmanship of the OSCE. We must now ensure that the mission receives the support which will enable it to play a full part in helping to bring these tragic events to a conclusion and to re-establish peace, democracy and respect for human rights.
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