On January 23, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation upheld a decision to close the Society for Russian-Chechen Friendship, an NGO which used a network of correspondents across the northern Caucasus to monitor human rights violations. In the days preceding the Supreme Court decision, a group of more than a hundred public figures from around the world—including Noam Chomsky, Francis Fukuyama, Andre Glucksmann, and Harold Pinter—sent an open letter addressed to Russian president Vladimir Putin. The full text is included below:
We, the undersigned, are a group of intellectuals and politicians from many countries, representing a wide a range of political beliefs. We are writing to express our dismay at the Russian government’s unjustified efforts to shut down an independent nongovernmental organization, the Society for Russian-Chechen Friendship. The decision to close the Society is rooted in a new Russian law on NGOs which has been widely criticized for the discretion it gives officials to interfere in NGOs’ daily operations. There has been particular concern that the law will be used to harass organizations working on sensitive topics like Chechnya, a concern which in this case seems justified.
On February 3, 2006, a court ruled that Stanislav Dmitrievsky, one of the Society’s leaders, was guilty of inciting racial hatred for publishing a statement by Aslan Maskhadov calling for negotiations to end the Chechen conflict, and another statement by Akhmed Zakaev in which he urged Russian voters not to reelect you. On basis of this conviction, under the new law Mr. Dmitrievsky is now barred from working for an NGO, and any with which he continues to serve may be closed. A court ruled in October 2006 that the Society should be closed down for this reason.
However, neither the act of printing statements by separatist leaders, nor the content of the statements themselves, would be considered extremist in most Western countries, no matter how unpopular the cause [End Page 179] involved. Moreover, the flood of genuinely extremist material that appears almost daily in the Russian media, which has gone without comment from the Russian prosecutor’s office, makes it clear that the law is being selectively applied in order to silence the Society.
The Society has likewise faced accusations of not paying taxes on grants from overseas grantmaking foundations. Such accusations contradict the United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/RES/53/144, commonly referred to as “The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders,” which explicitly calls for human rights defenders to be permitted to solicit and receive funds from abroad.
Finally, several of the Society’s staff have been subjected to slander, assault, illegal detention, torture, and even murder by individuals whose statements and actions mark them as genuine extremists, but who have never been brought to justice. Viewed in the context of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya and ongoing pressure on individuals and groups investigating the situation in Chechnya, efforts to close the Society for Russian-Chechen Friendship seem to reflect a desire to silence all independent commentary on Chechnya, rather than to enforce any rule of law. As a modest symbolic gesture of support, we have elected to accept honorary membership in the Society, and will do our utmost to draw the attention of our countries’ peoples and leaders to the difficulties faced by the Society and its colleagues who are being subjected to this pressure.
On January 23, the Russian Supreme Court is to consider the Society’s appeal of the decision to close it. We fear that a decision to close the Society will have an adverse impact on Russia’s image abroad, on its relationship with the Western democracies, and most importantly on the further development of Russia’s own democracy. With these considerations in mind, we urge you to withdraw your government’s opposition to the Society’s appeal and to allow it to continue its work unhindered.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
In July and October 2006, citizens of the Democratic Republic of the Congo went to the polls in the country’s first multiparty elections since 1965. In the second round of the presidential contest, sitting transitional president Joseph Kabila was elected, defeating Jean-Pierre Bemba by 58 to 42 percent. (For further information, see the article by Herbert F. Weiss on pp. 138–51 of this issue.) On November 16, Kabila acknowledged his victory, delivering the message below. (For a full version of this text, see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6156524.stm.):
My fellow countrymen! The Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) has just announced today the provisional results of the presidential poll second round. It emerges from the results that most of you have decided to entrust my modest person with the hard and noble job of ruling over [End Page 180] our country’s destiny. To that end, I express deep gratitude towards our compatriots, men and women, for trusting me.
It is normal that all Congolese made their own choice differently. Nevertheless, everyone, no matter where they are, can be assured that I intend to remain the president of all without distinction.
My fellow countrymen! I would like to congratulate CEI on your behalf, as well as all other institutions of the republic, on their respective contributions to the success of the electoral process in our country. My congratulations are also addressed to the armed forces, the Congolese national police force, the UN Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the EU Police Force, and the EU Forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who have been efficient in providing security for the material organization and the smoothest running of the free and democratic elections ever held in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
My fellow countrymen! I highly value the responsibility that you have entrusted to me and the extent of the task that awaits us. I am aware of the current difficulties and the emergencies in every field. With your support, we will surely overcome them. All together, we must perfect the national-reconciliation project, create jobs, and put an end to all bad habits, notably xenophobia, tribalism, intolerance, exclusion, incitement to hate, corruption, and all kinds of injustice, to make the Democratic Republic of the Congo a united country, strong and prosperous.
As we share the same destiny, we must all together strive for our country’s reconstruction. All together, we must safeguard our territorial sovereignty and integrity, as well as peace, to break with the Congo of old, synonymous with wars and extreme poverty.
My fellow countrymen! Considering today’s announcement of the provisional results, it is clear that the time of the election campaign, during which hearts are somewhat stirred, is over. Since it is all finished, libelous and licentious statements must end and elegance must now prevail. Therefore, I ask you tonight to remain united and to promote brotherhood and tolerance, because today’s victory is yours.
At the expense of your sacrifices and thanks to your determination to actively appoint your governing authorities, the electoral process has been possible. While expecting the Supreme Court to finally proclaim the results, I call on everyone for calm and discipline in order to show the world that the DRC is a state of law, being irreversibly committed to the way of democracy for its institutions. The police force will keep providing security for people and their goods, and the authorities concerned have been instructed so that peace may prevail throughout the national territory.
Long live democracy! Long live the new Democratic Republic of the Congo! May God bless us all and keep our country safe!