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Reiterated appeal to stop indiscriminate Russian military actions in Chechnya

10 December 1999

Joint letter to His Holiness Alexei II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, 10 December 1999.

Your Holiness,

At this season of Advent, we greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace, the Saviour of the world who came in humility as a homeless child in Bethlehem and who will come in glory as the judge of all the world.

We wish to make known to you again the concerns which we expressed in our letter to you of 15 November 1999 on the conflict in Chechnya, concerns which are widely felt in the member churches of CEC and the WCC. It is above all the plight of the many innocent civilians which is on our hearts, both those trapped inside Chechnya and those who have become refugees.

First, in this context we greatly welcome the forthcoming visit by the President of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Mr Knud Vollabaek, to Chechnya. Our ecumenical organisations have, as you know, been strongly supportive of the OSCE since its inception, believing it to be a crucial instrument for promoting peace, stability and human rights throughout Europe. We deplore the way in which its role was marginalised during the Kosovo crisis. It is our hope that Mr Vollabaek's visit will receive every facility needed for making an objective assessment of the situation inside Chechnya. To this end, we would welcome any opportunity you could take to meet with Mr Vollabaek if and when he passes through Moscow in order to encourage him in his task, and to help ensure that he receives from the Russian authorities every means required to make his visit to Chechnya as wide-ranging and thorough as possible.

We further greatly appreciate the appeal which you made in your statement of 12 November, that the Russian military authorities should not inflict suffering on innocent civilians, and that ‘the army should show an attitude of high responsibility in choosing the means and ways of conducting their military operations and that all the authorities should pay exceptional attention to the needs of the civilians . . .' The many reports which we are receiving on the military actions, however, indicate that this call for discrimination in the use of force is not being heeded. We are particularly concerned at the reports that the Russian military authorities have given notice that total destruction of the city of Grozny will soon be implemented, and that all remaining people in the city will be regarded as military targets. Such an order fails to take into account that, due to the present conditions in the city, many civilians will not have been able to receive this information, and many, especially the weak, the elderly, the sick, the very young and their parents, will not be in a position to leave. This ultimatum, we therefore believe, is contrary to all accepted international conventions and codes of conduct in warfare and is unacceptable to the Christian conscience. We therefore appeal that with all the spiritual authority at your disposal as the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, you speak to the Russian government in the name of just conduct and humanity and in reiteration of your earlier appeal.

We are aware that, as stated in our letter of 15 November, the Russian authorities have been faced with a highly complex and difficult situation in Chechnya, which for so long has been in the grip of terrorist and criminal activity. Experience of dealing with endemic violence in other contexts, however, does not suggest that military action of this kind leads to any genuine solution and in fact, in the longer term, exacerbates it and creates further problems. We are also sensitive to the feelings among the Russian people at large, that external criticism of the military action is invalid, especially in view, for example, of the NATO action on Kosovo. At the same time, we would point out that our two ecumenical organisations first strongly opposed then repeatedly called for a halt to the NATO aerial attacks, and that our reports based on visits to Serbia during the conflict called attention to the sufferings being inflicted on its civilian population by that action. Our appeal to you, and to the Russian government, is motivated by the same fundamental concern.

Mindful of the high and holy responsibilities laid upon you as leader of the great Russian Orthodox Church during these tense and difficult days, and remembering the promise of our Lord, ‘Lo, I am with you always', we assure you of our cordial regard and our heartfelt prayers that you may experience all needed grace, strength and joy in the Lord, and that peace and hope may be brought to the people of Chechnya and the surrounding region.

     With our sincere good wishes,

                                                                                                                             Yours in Christ,

                                                                                                                             Konrad Raiser                       Keith Clements
                                                                                                                            General Secretary                 General Secretary
                                                                                                                            World Council of Churches    Conference of European Churches