In Remembrance of Natalya Estemirova
Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (US Helsinki Commission) introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives to express solidarity with human rights defenders in Chechnya and Russia.
The resolution was introduced following the one-year anniversary of the brutal murder of Chechen human rights activist Natalya Estemirova and commemorates her life and those of her colleagues that work under constant threat in Chechnya and elsewhere in Russia.
On June 20, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings published a statement including the introduction of the resolution, about Natalya Estemirova and current situation in North Caucaus.
Here is the statement:
Alcee L. Hastings
23rd Congressional District Florida
Subcommitte on Legislative and Budget Process Chairman
United States Helsinki Commission Chairman
Florida Delegation Co-Chairman
Senior Democratic Whip
Cogress of the United States
House of Representatives
July 20, 2010
Statement of the Honorable Alcee L. Hastings
Chechnya a Year After the Killing of Natalya Estemirova
Madam Speaker, a year ago this month Natalya Estemirova, the elading human rights defender in Chechnya was abducted near her apartment building in capital of Grozny by unidentified men, transported to the neighbouring Republic of Ingushetia, and brutally killed. She led a courageous life of denouncing corruption, calling for a fair judical system, and standip up for human rights. For that she was cut down. While her killers may ended her life, they will never silence the voice she brought these issues. Ms Estemirova’s work was well known to the Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, and colleague there recall here 2006 visit to discuss the situation in Chechnya. Like Estemirova, all too many her fellow human rights defenders and journalists are targeted because they have the temerity to speak out about human rights abuses.
Today, inspired by Estemirova’s work, I introduce a measure expressing solidarity with human rights defenders in the Russian Federation; urging the Russian authorities to take appropriate steps to end the harassment, persecuation and attacks against activists; and calling for an end to impunity for those responsible for such acts, including through the conduction of timely, transparent and thorough criminal investigation into the unresolved murders of human rights defenders, journalists, and political opposition members and the prosecution of all of those responsible for these crimes.
The Helsinki Commission has been at the forefront of drawing attention to the human rights situation in Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus region of Russia, having held numerous hearing and briefings. Notwithstanding the assertion by the powers that be in Moscow that the situation in Chechnya has returned to the normal, the reality on the ground reveals otherwise. The recently released 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, issued by the Department of State, found that the Russian government’s already poor human rights records in the North Caucasus worsened during the reporting period, with a marked increase in extrajudical killings by both government and rebel forces and politically motivated disappearences in Chechnya as well as in neighboring Ingushetia and Dagestan. The Helsinki Commission remains deeply concerned over ongoing human rights abuses, legal impunity, and the permeating climate of fear in the North Caucasus.
While one cannot discount that terrorist elements are responsible for some of the rights violation in that region, many of the reported abuses are prepared by federal and local security forces in Chechnya, including the private militia of Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadirov, the republic’s Kremlin backed President. While it remains unclear what, if any role Kadirov had in Estemirova’s killing, his contempt for her and other human rights defenders is palpable. Earlier this month Kadirov publicly labeled independent journalists and human rights defenders as “traitors of enemies of the state”. Among those targeted by the Chechen leader is the respected Russian rights organization “Memorial”.
Madam Speaker, as Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission I remain concerned over the deterioration of the human rights situation in the North Caucasus generally, and Chechnya specificially. I am not alone in this regard, as the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly adopted a resolution late last month on the North Caucasus. The measure pointed to a series of specific concerns in Chechnya against the backdrop of what it characterised as “a climate of pervading fear” nurtured by the current authorities: recurrent disappearances of government opponents and human rights defenders still remain widely unpunished; continuing threats and reprisals, including abductions of relatives of person suspected of belonging to illegal armed factions; and ongoing intimadition of the media and civil society, among others.
Ramzan Kadirov’s utter contempt for human rights and fundamental freedoms was again manifested recently in his reaction to paintball gun attacks against women on the streets of Grozny apparently because they were not wearing headscarves. Instead of condemning the assaults, the Chechen president reportedly praised the perpetrators. While Kadirov has largely been given free rein in Chechnya, that does not absolve his backers in Moscow from responsibility for the deteriorating human rights situation in that part of the Russian Federation.
As a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, it is incumbent upon the Russian authorities to ensure that fundamental freedoms are respected throughout the country, including in the North Caucasus. Turning a blind eye to human rights violations is unacceptable. I urge President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin to take effective measures to stop the harassment, persecution, and attacks against human rights defenders and journalists in the Russian Federation and end the impunity for those responsible for murder of Natalya Estemirova and others. Only then will there be a hope that the situation in Chechnya will return to anything approaching normal.
Here is the resolution:
111th Congress, 2nd Session
20 July 2010
R E S O L U T I O N
Expressing solidarity with human rights defenders in the Russian Federation and for other purposes.
Whereas the Russian Federation is a permanent member of the United Nations of Security Council, a participating state of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a member state of Council of Europe, and a signatory to international legislation has freely commited to uphold and respect international law;
Whereas the Russian Federation, as a party to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights under Article 3 is obligated to ensure “the right to life, liberty and security of person”;
Whereas the Russian Federation, as a signatory to the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights and as a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, is legally obligated to uphold fundamental freedoms and human rights, including right to life, freedom of expression, and freedom of association, among others;
Whereas all OSCE participating states, including the Russian Federation, have recognized the right of individuals to know and set upon human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to contribute actively, individually or in association with others, to their promotion and protection;
Whereas human rights defenders, investigative journalists, and activists addressing human rights abuses and corruption in the Russian Federation are routinely targeted harassment, persecuation and physical attacks;
Whereas human rights defenders, investigative journalists, and activists in the North Caucasus and those reporting on developments in that region of Russian Federation have been systematically targeted for reprisals because of their work;
Whereas Natalya Estemirova, the leading human rights defender in Chechnya, was abducted near by her apartment building in Grozny on July 15, 2009, bu unidentified men, transported to the neighbouring Republic of Ingushetia, and brutally killed;
Whereas several other activists were also slain in 2009 in connection with their professional work in the North Caucasus and others remain at risk;
Whereas Anna Politkovskaya and over dozen other journalists have been killed in Russia since 2000 in retaliation for their work, in cases that remain unsolved;
Whereas the 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, issued by Department of State, found that the Russian Government’s poor human rights record in the North Caucasus worsened, with a marked increase in extrajudical killings by both Government and rebel forces and politically motivated disappearences in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan;
Whereas the ongoing human rights violations, legal impunity, and the permeating climate of fear in North Caucasus remain a concern of human rights defenders and the international community: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the House of Representatives-
(1) express with solidarity with human rights defenders in the Russian Federation;
(2) calls for an end to harassment, persecution, and attacks against human rights activists, including journalists, in the Russian Federation;
(3) condemns the impunity for those responsible for murder of human rights defenders, including journalists, in the Russian Federation;
(4) urges the Russian Federation to:
(4 – A) fully respect in practice the rights and freedoms of all human rights defenders, including the right to life, freedom of expression, and freedom of association,
(4 – B) take appropriate measures to end the harassment, persecution, and attacks against human rights activists, including lawyers and journalists,
(4 – C) ensure that law enforcement officials vigorously and transparantly investigate acts of violence, harassment, and intimidation against members of Russian civil society, as well as make certain that authorities are not complicit in such acts; and
(4 – D) fully and thorougly investigate all unsolved murder cases of human rights defenders, including journalists;
(5) urges the President and Secretary of State to integrate human rights in all components of bilateral relations with the Russian Federation and to continue to raise concerns with Government of the Russian Federation over human rights violations, including the harassment, persecution, and attacks on human rights defenders and journalists; and
(6) urges the Secretary of State to make effective use of meetings of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and other international fore for the purposes of raising these and other human rights abuses in North Caucasus and elsewhere in the Russian Federation.
On the other hand, on the morning of June 21, at Cannon House Office Building, U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), and Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) hold a briefing: “In the Eye of the Storm: Chechnya and the Mounting Violence in the North Caucasus”. Igor Kalyapin, Chair, Committee Against Torture; Elena Milashina, Investigative Reporter, Novaya Gazeta; and Raisa Turlueva, victim whose son was kidnapped in Chechnya by invaders, were the panelists of event. The panelists told that according to Russia and its regional puppets the situation in Chechnya is normal, but there has been a marked increase in extrajudicial killings and politically motivated disappearances in Chechnya as well as in neighboring Ingushetia and Dagestan. After the briefing there was a public screening of “Victims Take the Floor”, a 30-minute documentary by Human Rights Center “Memorial”, featuring testimonies by family members of victims of human rights abuses in Chechnya and neighboring republics in the North Caucasus.