Floor Speech of Mr. Paul Wellstone

Take concrete action on Chechnya at the G-8 Summit

July 20, 2000

Mr. President, I rise today to once again draw attention to the continuing war in Chechnya. This war has raged for too long. The war in Chechnya from 1994-1996 left over 80,000 civilians dead, and the Foreign Relations Committee has received credible evidence that the current war has again resulted in the death of thousands of innocent civilians and the displacement of well over 250,000 others. The Committee also received credible evidence of widespread looting, summary executions, detentions, denial of safe passage to fleeing civilians, torture and rape, committed by Russian soldiers. Colleagues, regardless of the politics of this war, this kind of behavior is unacceptable. War has rules, and the evidence and testimony the Foreign Relations Committee received raises serious doubts as to whether or not the Russian Federation is playing by those rules. Much of the evidence we received showed clears violations of international humanitarian law, including the well-established Geneva Convention.

Tomorrow is the official opening of Group of Eight Summit in Japan. The President must use this opportunity to relay our serious concerns with the actions of the Russian Government in Chechnya. Let's remember, what was the Group of Seven and became the G-8 with the inclusion of the Russian Federation, is an association of democratic societies with advanced economies. Although Russia is not yet a liberal democracy or an advanced economy, it was invited to take part in this group to encourage its democratic evolution. Today as I watch Russia refuse to initiate a political dialogue with the Chechen people, and continue to deny international humanitarian aid organizations and international human rights monitors access to Chechnya, I must question that evolution.

I am disappointed that the Group of Eight will not include the situation in Chechnya on its formal agenda, but I am hopeful that the President will voice our serious concerns about Russia's conduct in Chechnya and take concrete action to demonstrate our concern, during bilateral talks with President Putin.

The United States should demand that the Russian Federation push for a negotiated, just settlement to this conflict. The conflict will not be resolved by military means and the Russian Federation should initiate immediately a political dialogue with a cross-section of representatives of the Chechen people, including representatives of the democratically elected Chechen authorities. The United States should remind the Russian Federation of the requests the Council of Europe for an immediate cease-fire and initiation of political dialogue, and of Russia's obligation to that institution and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

And colleagues, the President must also remind the Russian Federation government of its accountability to the international community and take steps to demonstrate that its conduct will affect its standing in the world community. This body and the U.N. Human Rights Commission has spoken out demanding the Russian government allow into Chechnya humanitarian agencies and international human rights monitors, including U.N. Special Rapporteurs, yet the Russian government has not done so. This body and the international community has also demanded that the Russian Federation undertake systematic, credible, transparent and exhaustive investigations into allegations of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Chechnya, and to initiate, where appropriate, prosecutions against those accused. But again, the Russian Federation has not done so.

During his meeting with President Putin, the President is expected to discuss economic reform in Russia and regional stability issues. President Clinton must relay to the Russian President that Russia's conduct in Chechnya is not only in violation of international humanitarian law, but that it threatens Russia's ability for economic reform and creates instability in the region. And President Clinton must make clear to President Putin that while the United States fully supports the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, and is fully aware of the evidence of grave human right violations committed by soldiers on both sides of the conflict, we strongly condemn Russia's conduct of the war in Chechnya and will continue to publicly voice our opposition to it. President Clinton should tell President Putin that the United States will take into consideration Russian conduct in Chechnya in any request for further rescheduling of Russia's international debt and U.S. assistance, until it allows full and unimpeded access into Chechnya humanitarian agencies and international human rights monitors, in accordance with international law.

Colleagues, the war in Chechnya has caused enormous suffering for both the Chechen and Russian people, and the reports of the grave human rights violations committed there, on both sides of the conflict, continue daily. We must raise our concerns about the war in Chechnya at every chance and in every forum possible, including the G-8 Summit. I remind you again that the Group of Eight is an association of democratic societies with advanced economies - the Group of Seven invited the Russian Federation to encourage its democratic evolution. It is not yet a liberal democracy or an advanced economy. By not taking concrete steps during this Summit to demonstrate to the Russian Federation that its conduct is unacceptable for a democratic nation, is to condone it. I fear we have already put given human rights a back seat to economic issues by not placing Russian conduct in Chechnya on the formal agenda of the G-8 Summit. I hope that will not be the outcome of our bilateral talks with Russia in Japan. I yield the floor.