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  • Documents on Democracy


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...


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