Toronto Star - Message to Yeltsin

November 21, 1999

After much agonizing over Russia's military campaign in Chechnya, Canada and the other Western democracies have just given themselves the right to do more than simply bemoan it.

President Boris Yeltsin played the crusty nationalist at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) summit in Istanbul, clashing with the Americans, Germans and French, and storming out early.

But before he went home to bask in the Russian media's praise, he also played the good European.

Bowing to a new and healthy trend in European history, he quietly gave assent to a document that will make it tougher for countries like his own to abuse their citizens while demanding that everyone else butt out because it's an ``internal'' matter.

The new Charter for European Security signed by Canada, the U.S., Russia and 51 other OSCE countries makes human rights everyone's business.

``Participating states are accountable to their citizens and responsible to each other for their implementation of OSCE commitments'' to peace, democracy and human rights, the charter says. ``We regard these commitments as our common achievement and therefore consider them to be matters of immediate and legitimate concern to all participating states.''

As Prime Minister Jean Chrétien noted, ``we made our point very clearly.'' When European governments renege on those ideals, others now have a legal excuse to get involved.

The OSCE has come down firmly on the side of those who argue that international humanitarian law can legitimately be invoked to override national sovereignty, if regimes oppress whole populations. This reflects lessons learned containing Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic, who endlessly invoked ``national sovereignty'' to oppress minorities, until the North Atlantic Treaty Organization stopped him in Kosovo.

Moscow now acknowledges that ``a political solution is essential,'' not just a military one. And it has agreed to let the OSCE chairman visit Chechnya to promote a political resolution and to marshal aid.

But Chechen lives won't be saved by words on paper alone.

Armed with the new charter, Canada should step up its effort at the U.N. Security Council to stop Moscow from targeting a whole people to root out a few guerrillas. This was immoral from the start. Now it is our business, too. Moscow says so.

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