When the Chechen human rights worker Natalia Estemirova was snatched off the streets of Grozny and later deposited in a roadside ditch with a few bullets to the head, the grotesque brutality of the act was hard to swallow. In response, not all the much was done. In Russia, the event was not even a blip on the media radar, and mourners at her memorial were even harassed and arrested. Outside of Russia, Estemirova was given generous and sympathetic treatment (here is a good example), but the sadness and outrage on the editorial pages did not translate into any concrete political action.
The costs of inaction on the renewed violence in Chechnya are very high, as this week we have reports of two activists working for a children’s charity who were kidnapped and killed in the same region. Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband Alik Dzhabrailov worked for a group known as Save the Generation, which worked on rehabilitating orphans and other children who have suffered psychologically and physically from the war. The fact that these two individuals innocuously worked with children, and were not even involved in personal attacks or damaging reports on the Chechen authorities, is particularly outstanding. More than a few people we’ve talked to are already speculating that this murder spree could be part of a campaign to destabilize Ramzan Kadyrov, but it is hard to put any violence past someone with such a record. What’s clear is that Moscow appears to lack the will and ability to put a stop to these killings or guarantee the safety of civil society, journalists, and much less citizens of Chechnya.
Excerpt from the Financial Times coverage after the cut.
Rights campaigners said the latest murders showed that activists inChechnya could no longer operate safely. “I thought there would be somekind of respite after Natalia Estemirova was kidnapped, but it’s nowclear that violence against civil rights campaigners is now the norm,”said Lyudmilla Alexeyeva, the head of the Mosocw Helsinki Group, thehuman rights organisation.
Rights campaigners had pointed thefinger at Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen leader, as running a brutalregime where opposition figures were regularly kidnapped and killed,stoking a wave of violence across Russia’s North Caucasus. But MrKadyrov had denied any connection to Estemirova’s killing and onTuesday he said he was shocked at the latest attack.
Mr Kadyrov instead accused militant leaders of attacking rightsgroups as a new tactic to destabilise the situation in Chechnya, whichhas been rocked by a wave of bomb attacks on police officers in recentweeks. “They are trying to create an atmosphere of total destruction,nervousness and mistrust,” he said.
Armed men seized Sadulayevaand Dzhabrailov on Monday night from the office of Save the Generation,the charity they ran to provide aid and psychological rehabilitation todisabled children, orphans and other groups shook by Russia’s two warsagainst separatist forces there, according to Tatyana Lokshina of HumanRights Watch, which worked with the group. Their bodies were found onTuesday morning in a suburb of Grozny, the Chechen capital. Ms Lokshinacalled the killings a “monstrous crime”.