APPEAL OF THE MOVEMENT ТO DEFEND KHIMKI FOREST TO EUROPEAN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
On May 23, Russian Presidential Council on Human Rights and Development of Civil Society Institutions discussed the situation with mass human rights violations related to another attempt to construct the controversial Moscow – St. Petersburg toll motorway through the Khimki Forest.
We, the defenders of the Khimki Forest, welcome the very fact that this issue is discussed in the Council, and hope that it would help to resolve the conflict. We are outraged by actions of private security guards and hired thugs who have committed multiple cases of violence against activists and locals. We consider the behavior of police in the conflict as totally unacceptable since they have merely retired from any function of law enforcement, and switched completely to the role of yet another private security structure aimed to defend contractor’s interests. We also request to find and punish those persons who are guilty in the gross breaches of safety regulations during the works which only by chance haven’t led to loss of human lives.
At the same time, certain signs show that the declared discussion can turn into a pure deceit of public opinion – as it has already happened with ‘public and expert discussions’ on the project announced by President Medvedev in the autumn last year.
For example, the head of President’s Council on Human Rights and Development of Civil Society Institutions Mr. Fedotov has already claimed that revision of the existing project of motorway across Khimki Forest can’t be discussed. It is completely unacceptable given the choice of unacceptable route for the road became the first and main cause of the conflict. In comments of several officials, it was said about ‘reconciliation of hostile sides’ – as if they spoke about two fighting armies. In reality, unarmed activists and locals have to oppose a well-organized repression machine which includes hired thugs, private security guards, local police and riot police. This machine is armed by a whole arsenal from knuckle-dusters and rubber clubs to Kalashnikov assault rifles. To speak about ‘reconciliation’ of criminals and their victims means in fact encouraging of further crimes.
We would like to attract your attention to the fact that the initial cause of the conflict has been the systematic breach of human rights: the right to healthy environment and the right to have their opinion taken into consideration when their interests are endangered. Neglecting of citizen’s rights and legal norms was, from the very beginning, a distinctive trait of this project. The private security guards, thugs and the police turned to be just an instrument of this approach which was sanctioned on much higher level.
We are convinced that, for finding out true causes and real culprits of the conflict which has already led to grave consequences, the Russian President’s Council should find the answers to following key questions:
1) Who and why has made the decision to ignore numerous protests of the public, official appeals of a variety of persons and organizations including Moscow City Duma, Russian State Committee of Control of Environmental Condition, leading non-government environmental and human rights organizations? Those protests and appeals have come in abundance since 2007 to the addresses of the President, the Prime Minister, Ministry of Transportation, Moscow District Regional Administration and General Prosecutor’s Office.
2) Why no honest public hearings on the project have been held yet? Hearings of 2005, which have been mentioned in the project documents, had been held on a different project with even another name, with numerous breaches of the procedure, without proper representation of Khimki residents.
3) How it became possible to hold in 2008 a tender to choose a concessionaire on the project, despite the requested work clearly contradicted the actual legislation in thas moment?
4) Who (personally) has made the decision on unilateral halting of public consultations procedure which was started by the tender winner (Northwestern Concession Company) in early 2010?
5) Why the culprits of violent actions during the first ‘hot’ phase of the conflict in the summer 2010 weren’t found and punished? In particular, why wasn’t fired from his office and prosecuted the Acting General Director of Federal State Office ‘Roads of Russia’ A.A. Zhuravlyov, who had surely exceeded his authority when he requested his subcontractor (in an official amendment to the contract for clearing of the forest) to ignore not only civil protests but even legal directives of governmental bodies if they led to halting of the works?
6) Why, contrary to Russian President’s directive to hold open expert and public hearings, the government commission on transport (held on December 14 , 2010) took the decision to build the motorway using the old and much criticized route completely behind the closed doors, without any participation of public representatives and independent experts? Why the clear declaration of the Coalition of leading environmental organizations that no compromise was found in fact together with the results of independent environmental examination have been simply ignored?
We request to find and bring to the court all persons guilty in human rights and law breaches for the sake of the motorway project, irrespective of their rank. We appeal to hold real negotiations with civil society on switching to an alternative route for the motorway.
We hope that human rights defenders of the European Union will play a more active role in this process. There are substantial grounds for it: North-Western Concession Company (the winner of the tender on the project) is 100 % owned by Vinci Concession Russie which is registered in France. It is the concessionaire who is responsible for unilateral ceasing of public consultations process in spring 2010.
When the project was suspended due to the decision of President Medvedev in the autumn 2010, the French side (namely, Chamber for Commerce and Industry of France) made an official declaration about the necessity of the resumption of works in the nearest future – which became, undoubtedly, a comfortable pretext for Russian officials to return to the initial forest-destroying route of the motorway, and to start a new wave of repressions against activists.
In the spring of this year, the concessionaire requested the Russian side to compensate the losses caused by the delay of the project due to environmental protests. It created for Russian officials another good pretext for a forceful removal of any ‘obstacles’ on the project’s route.
Besides, anti-corruption analysis by Bankwatch CEE found a whole network of offshore companies behind Vinci Concession Russie. Those companies are absolutely unknown in the field of road construction. The same time, their affiliation with persons making decisions on the top level of Russian government is practically beyond any doubts. For example, the owner of one of these companies is known Russian oligarch Arkady Rotenberg, a close friend of Putin. We have no doubts that it would be mush easier to reach a compromise on the motorway routing, if there is not the offshore network behind Vinci.
On behalf of the Movement to Defend the Khimki Forest