Exclusion of nongovernmental organizations a violation of the Helsinki Principles

Originally published
Russian delegation insists on excluding an independent group

Vienna, 13 September 2007. The Russian-Chechen Friendship Society was excluded from a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) concerning "Victims of Terrorism" on 13 September 2007, at the behest of the Russian Federation.

According to information received by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), the exclusion was made possible by a decision of the current Spanish Chairmanship of the OSCE, despite an earlier agreement that NGO participation would follow the organization's 1992 rules. The United Stated Delegation to the OSCE left the meeting in protest, and several others expressed their opposition to the decision.

"The IHF strongly objects to this departure from the OSCE's well-established practice of allowing diverse views - even unpopular ones - to be heard," stated Aaron Rhodes, Executive Director of the IHF. "Civil society participation is what allows the OSCE to be a vivid platform for dialogue about upholding standards and implementing commitments. Some OSCE participating States apparently seek to shield themselves from scrutiny; others acquiesce."

The IHF urges the OSCE participating States to ensure that future meetings, especially the upcoming annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, are organized in accordance with the provisions of the 1992 Helsinki Document. At that time, the participating States committed themselves to opening conferences and seminars to NGOs. Only those advocating violence are to be excluded.

The Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS) is among the most persecuted civil society organizations in the Russian Federation. Critical of Russian policies in Chechnya while delivering vital humanitarian assistance to victims of the violence there, the organization was closed down in January 2007. The decision was an application of the new NGO law, and based on the "failure" of its chair, Stas Dmitrievsky, to resign from his positions within the RCFS after his conviction for an "extremist" crime and the failure of the RCFS to publicly denounce Dmitrievsky after his politically motivated conviction. The charges against him were brought after the RCFS published appeals by the late Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov and his envoy, Akhmed Zakayev, for a peaceful resolution of the Chechen conflict. Many other media have published such statements.

For more information: Aaron Rhodes, IHF Executive Director, +43-676-635-6612, Joachim Frank, IHF Project Coordinator, +43-676-312-2348