Deaths In Chechnya Kill Hope For Russian Rule Of Law

Pallbearers carry the body of slain rights activist Zarema Sadulayeva i i

Pallbearers carry the body of slain rights activist Zarema Sadulayeva for burial in her native village of Shalazhi, south of Grozny, Chechnya Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009. The bullet-riddled bodies of Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband, Alik Dzhabrailov, were found in the trunk of their car Tuesday, a day after they were kidnapped, police and Russian rights groups said. Musa Sadulayev/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Musa Sadulayev/AP
Pallbearers carry the body of slain rights activist Zarema Sadulayeva

Pallbearers carry the body of slain rights activist Zarema Sadulayeva for burial in her native village of Shalazhi, south of Grozny, Chechnya Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009. The bullet-riddled bodies of Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband, Alik Dzhabrailov, were found in the trunk of their car Tuesday, a day after they were kidnapped, police and Russian rights groups said.

Musa Sadulayev/AP

More disturbing news came out of Russia earlier this week. Zarema Sadulayeva, who led a humanitarian organization in Chechnya named Save the Generation, was found murdered along with her husband, Alik Dzhabrailov. Both were in their early 30s and had devoted their lives to helping children who were physically disabled by two cruel wars in Chechnya.

The couple's bodies, riddled with bullets, were found in the trunk of their car on Tuesday afternoon, one day after a group of men had entered their offices in Grozny and asked the couple to come with them.

Save the Generation focuses on young victims of landmines. Working closely with UNICEF, it helps to provide prosthetic limbs and other rehabilitation services to these children in Russia, or by arranging treatment for them in other countries.

Like their friend Natalya Estemirova, the prominent human rights campaigner who was murdered in July, this couple made someone feel uncomfortable. Apparently, the provision of humanitarian aid can be just as provocative as reporting on torture and disappearances.

Four years ago, the offices of Save the Generation were searched, and a computer was taken away. These latest murders come in the wake not only of Estemirova's death, but also the murders in Moscow last January of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and the journalist Anastasia Baburova. He was a close friend and colleague of the famous journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead in Moscow in October of 2006. Politkovskaya had an international reputation for her courageous coverage of the war and ongoing violence in the North Caucasus. But her reputation did not spare her from being killed in the elevator of her apartment building.

Joshua Rubenstein i i

Joshua Rubenstein is the Northeast Regional Director of Amnesty International USA. Courtesy of Joshua Rubenstein hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Joshua Rubenstein
Joshua Rubenstein

Joshua Rubenstein is the Northeast Regional Director of Amnesty International USA.

Courtesy of Joshua Rubenstein

Once upon a time, there were hopes that greater openness to the world would lead to the rule of law in Russia. But these high-profile killings undercut any such dreams. The rule of law requires protection for human rights campaigners. The rule of law requires serious investigations for murder. Tragically, the opposite is happening far more frequently in Russia.

In the former Soviet Union, human rights activists feared arrest, confinement in a labor camp or a psychiatric hospital.

Today, reprisals for speaking out in Russia arrive in more dramatic forms.

In an atmosphere of impunity, where someone is declaring open season on critics of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, Russia's national government has failed to investigate these murders effectively. This is a strong indication that Russian leaders are at least acquiescent to these crimes.

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