Looking for Accountabilty in Murders of Russian Activists

The international rights community is pressuring Russian authorities to end a bloody campaign against journalists, activists and aid workers in Chechnya, following the grisly discovery of activists Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband Alik Dzhabrailov shot dead in the trunk of a car Tuesday morning in Grozny.

“The international community must wake up to the fact that the systematic and continuing failure of the authorities in the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic to investigate effectively the murders of human rights activists or indeed any other human rights violations that have taken place over the past years is a strong indication that those authorities are at least acquiescent to these crimes,” Nikola Duckworth, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia program director said in a statement. “The international community must take concrete and unified action to put pressure on the Russian authorities to end the impunity,” Duckworth continued.

Sadulayeva was head of the Russian charity Save the Generation, which helps children disabled or orphaned by the violence in Chechnya. She and her husband were reportedly escorted from their offices by five armed and uniformed men. Witnesses have told rights groups the men identified themselves as local security forces personnel.

The double murder came just weeks after prominent human rights campaigner Natalya Estemirova was abducted in broad daylight on a Grozny street. Hours later her body was discovered on the side of the road outside town. While local residents have admitted hearing her scream out that she was being kidnapped, witnesses are apparently too scared to provide detailed testimony. In January, human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova, working on abuses related to Chechnya, were gunned down on a Moscow street.

In response to the murders, Russia’s main opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta announced plans to pull all of its reporters from Chechnya. Memorial, the rights monitoring group Estemirova worked for, shuttered its operations in Chechnya after her murder.

Most campaigners have placed blame directly on Ramzan Kadyrov, the authoritarian Moscow-appointed president of Chechnya, who has publicly mocked the deceased and tolerates little public dissent over his rule — and on Moscow directly for encouraging Kadyrov’s stifling rule and failing to investigate or prosecute the murders. The attacks and other abuses, rights groups charge, have been carried out by security forces under Kadyrov’s command.

“Russian officials need to conduct thorough, effective investigations into these killings, and make sure that all the perpetrators are prosecuted and punished,” Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia Director Holly Cartner said in a press release.

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