Transcript of Remarks by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov at Meeting with Representatives of Russian NGOs Associated with Foreign Policy Activities
Moscow, February 3, 2006
Foreign Minister Lavrov: Esteemed colleagues, I am glad to welcome you - the representatives of leading non-governmental organizations. I am glad that we have been regularly meeting since 2004. This is already our third meeting. I hope that they will be annual, and that in between such large gatherings we shall arrange more specific engagement in addition to the informal contacts we already have with many of you.
Our cooperation has a great significance for us - to be more precise, for you - I hope. And regarding the fact that this is truly essential, there is probably no need to speak much, because where the Foreign Ministry is concerned, for our work this has a special significance, as the real role of the influence of our country today on the international scene is determined not only by our resource base, not only by our military, economic and intellectual potential, not only by the growing integration of the Russian Federation into world politics and economy, but also by the ever increasing broad social consensus on our foreign policy priorities, because an effective foreign policy without the people's support can hardly be imagined.
Non-governmental organizations are becoming actively involved in efforts to raise the "governability" of world processes and to ensure that these processes ultimately produce a result for specific people. And all of this is required to make the international situation more stable, more just and more secure and to shape a man-oriented system of international relations.
We have already spoken much about the law passed by the State Duma, which specifies the regulations for the activities of non-governmental organizations or noncommercial organizations, as they are also called in the Russian Federation. Therefore I shall not dwell on it in detail. I did so publicly in an open letter to a number of human rights activists.
In my reply I stressed that along with the fact that our law has taken into consideration many wishes of NGOs themselves and of the Public Chamber, Ella Alexandrovna Pamfilova had submitted her own proposals, which were largely backed up. As a result - the law as a whole goes in the mainstream of the very same rules which exist with respect to NGO activities in many states which it is customary to consider advanced democracies, including the United States, France, Israel and a number of other countries, including the European Union nations.
In my reply I especially stressed that it is necessary that enforcement practice with regard to this law should also be put under public control, a point made by the President of the Russian Federation. This is very important. So that I assure you that where the Foreign Ministry and the Government of the Russian Federation are concerned, special attention will be devoted to this aspect in the course of the preparation of the relevant documents on law enforcement. I know that the Public Chamber also holds these matters in its field of closest attention, and, certainly, this Chamber in accordance with its purview, in the case of the origination of controversial issues, can and should act as an expert.
Having mentioned the Public Chamber, I shall say that the Foreign Ministry is keen on developing engagement with it. I know that a number of its members intend to give attention to foreign policy issues. We shall be ready for such cooperation, just as we shall be ready for cooperation with the Public Chamber on the problem of non-governmental organizations. It is equally important that the Public Chamber will be involved in determining the social projects and initiatives to which governmental financial support will be rendered, and you know that resources for these purposes are set into this year's budget as a separate item for the first time. This gives us special pleasure, because the Foreign Ministry had repeatedly suggested deciding the question of resource provision for the Russian community of non-governmental organizations and for, among other things, its activities in the foreign policy sector. We are interested in a possibly fuller disclosure of the potential of civil society in tackling the tasks before us; in the first place - it's a search for effective answers to new threats and challenges, such as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, organized crime, and drug trafficking.
Other important areas of application of our joint efforts, as we see them, are the strengthening of the positions of the Russian language, the improvement of the conditions for the participation of Russian citizens in cultural and humanitarian exchanges, the protection of compatriots' rights abroad and assistance to an objective perception of our country in the world. Furthermore, the post-Soviet space remains the geographical priority for us.
In Kazan at the CIS summit last August a very important document was adopted - the Agreement on Humanitarian Cooperation Among the CIS Countries, laying the foundation for consolidating the common humanitarian space, which exists objectively and to lose which would be unforgivable. We are satisfied that NGOs are already beginning to actively participate in the implementation of the areas of cooperation which are set forth in this agreement.
In November in St. Petersburg, as many of you know, the Congress of Non-Governmental Organizations of the CIS and Baltic States on cooperation in the fields of science, education and culture took place. The joint work at this forum has shown that there are quite good possibilities for the expansion of the contacts of domestic NGOs with their foreign partners, and prospects for arriving at specific cooperation programs. We note that there grows the number of Russian NGOs which take root in the domain of international life, although it is not yet great. Only a few of Russia's NGOs are truly known abroad. The Foreign Ministry will continue helping to change this situation. In the last few years, with our backing, more than 50 NGOs have got status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council or the United Nations Department of Public Information. We are actively carrying out this work. Please apply. We're ready to provide consultative assistance, help to complete the documents, and then support your applications.
Our cooperation is evolving in the context of Council of Europe activities too. The possibilities for the participation of Russian NGOs in the appropriate programs and projects of this organization have broadened since on Russia's initiative a resolution of the Council of Europe on the CE's partnership with national non-governmental organizations was adopted a couple of years ago. In Russia, in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Rostov-on-Don, and Irkutsk, a number of regional conferences were held under the auspices of the Council of Europe. For the period of Russia's Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe from May to November of this year we are also planning a number of events; in particular, a European NGO Conference, with the active participation of the CE, is being planned in Russia in July of this year. The Public Chamber will be actively involved in the preparation for it and in its conduct, which we likewise consider a substantial plus. By and large the creation of the Public Chamber and the appropriation of budgetary resources for the promotion of democracy, including NGO activities in the foreign policy field, must help to change the situation with the representations of our NGOs at the international level.
When I at the beginning of my remarks said that apart from annual meetings we would like to make our everyday contacts more effective, I meant the initiative which was put forward by some of our partners present in this hall to the effect that something like a specialized pool of non-governmental organizations which are partners of the Ministry should be formed. It will be coordination and advisory structures designed to help promote dialogue and engagement between bodies of state authority and civil society. They exist in many countries of the world. As far as the Foreign Ministry is concerned, we would be ready to create such an instrument, if you deem it useful. Of course, not an overbureaucratized, but a flexible, informal instrument.
The main focus of the agenda for our cooperation this year from the Ministry's point of view is questions linked to our G8 Presidency. Russia has occupied this position for the first time, and as the President will be determining the main areas of work of this authoritative international forum in the current year. You, probably, have heard about the main themes. They are international security, combating infectious diseases and developing education. In our view, they are relevant not only for the G8 nations, but for the entire world community as well. I am convinced that they present a straightforward interest for non-governmental organizations too.
In the field of energy security we suggest working out a coordinated strategy of action in the interest of all states, to provide a reliable supply to the world economy and population of various kinds of energy at acceptable prices with minimum damage for the environment, and ideally - without such damage. We mean to envisage measures for increasing the stability and predictability of international energy markets, measures designed to build up investment in the main sectors of the world power industry and in the development of alternative energy sources so as to reinforce the security of world energy supply. As to the initiative on infectious diseases, there is no need to speak how acutely is the problem of the spread of bird flu now being perceived, let alone atypical pneumonia, AIDS, malaria and poliomyelitis. So that the central area of work in this regard is to strengthen the global information and analysis network of WHO for monitoring infectious diseases, including those newly arising. We shall suggest adopting a Plan of Action to Combat Bird Flu and Prevent a New Pandemic of Human Influenza, as well as developing a complex of measures to prevent the epidemiological consequences of natural disasters, which is also a relatively new problem on an international scale. About the role of education, I probably shall not specifically talk. This is a major driving force behind the formation of the new economy, a post-industrial economy based on knowledge. Our proposals for the Group of Eight will be directed at the coordination of measures for improving the quality of higher, secondary and vocational education and educational programs for labor migrants for the purpose of their more effective social and cultural adaptation.
Along with this the G8 will continue working on the themes which are traditionally on its agenda. They are the combating of international terrorism and of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the settlement of regional conflicts and crises.
So that I count on engagement with you on all these issues during the preparation for the G8 summit. The Group of Eight devotes ever greater attention to the dialogue with civil society institutions. The results of public discussions on the themes submitted for G8 summits are traditionally conveyed to its President and other Group members. We expect that such, indeed, will be the case this year too. Anyway, we are interested in this and invite you to make your contribution. This will give you a possibility to be additionally heard, and to us as G8 members, at the government and state level, it gives a possibility to rely upon the opinion and, hopefully, support of the public in translating into practice the appropriate recommendations which take into account our views. Organizing the dialogue in their environment is the responsibility of the civil society structures themselves, of course, with government support. I am glad that the coordinator of engagement with NGOs as part of the Russian G8 Presidency is Ella Alexandrovna Pamfilova, an eminent public figure and Chair of the Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights. The Foreign Ministry will do all we can to ensure that this mission of Pamfilova is successful.
Society, as Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stressed, requires non-governmental organizations so that full-fledged control of state activities is arranged and the state itself tackle human rights, and generally humanitarian tasks more effectively. Therefore you can always count on the Foreign Ministry's support in efforts directed at solving international, foreign policy tasks which are required to make the situation in the world arena more stable, more favorable for the development of Russia and to create conditions more favorable both for economic growth and for the continuation of the democratic changes now being pursued in our country and for ultimately improving the life of people.