Toggle navigation menu.
Hastings, Alcee

Chechnya a Year After the Killing of Natalya Estemirova

  • Hon. Alcee L. Hastings
    US












House of Representative

111th Congress, Second Session

Madam Speaker, a year ago this month Natalya Estemirova, the leading human rights defender in Chechnya was abducted near her apartment building in the capital city of Grozny by unidentified men, transported to the neighboring republic of Ingushetia, and brutally killed. She led a courageous life of denouncing corruption, calling for a fair judicial system, and standing up for human rights. For that she was cut down. While her killers may have ended her life, they will never silence the voice she brought to these issues. Ms. Estemirova’s work was well known to the Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, and colleagues there recall her 2006 visit to discuss the situation in Chechnya. Like Estemirova, all too many of 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, persecution and attacks against activists; and calling for an end to impunity for those responsible for such acts, including through the conducting of timely, transparent and thorough criminal investigations 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 hearings and briefings. Notwithstanding the assertions by the powers that be in Moscow that the situation in Chechnya has returned to 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 record in the North Caucasus worsened during the reporting period, with a marked increase in extrajudicial killings by both government and rebel forces and politically motivated disappearances 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 violations in that region, many of the reported abuses are perpetrated by federal and local security forces in Chechnya, including the private militia of Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, the republic’s Kremlin-backed president. While it remains unclear what, if any role Kadyrov had in Estemirova’s killing, his contempt for her and other human rights defenders is palpable. Earlier this month Kadyrov publicly labeled independent journalists and rights activists as “traitors and 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 specifically. 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 characterized 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 persons suspected of belonging to illegal armed factions; and ongoing intimidation of the media and civil society, among others. 

Ramzan Kadyrov’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 Kadyrov 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 activists and journalists in the Russian Federation and to end the impunity for those responsible for the murder of Natalya Estemirova and others. Only then will there be hope that the situation in Chechnya will return to anything approaching normal.

(The related resolution is H.Res. 1539)

Category
Country
Issue
Date
Filter Topics Open Close
Briefings

The Proliferation of Russian-Style Foreign Agents Laws

Jun 20, 2024

In 2012, Russia adopted a foreign agents law which has been used repeatedly to crack down on independent civil society and opposition, closing organizations and jailing dissenters. Over the past several years, there has been a proliferation of Russian-style foreign agents laws in other countries which, while justified as providing transparency for foreign funding and […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

HEARING – Silenced Dissent: The Plight of Poli...

Jun 13, 2024

Rayburn 2212 Stream live here WASHINGTON—Across the globe, individuals continue to be targeted, arrested, and imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of speech, assembly, and association. Persecution on political grounds represents a fundamental violation of human rights and democratic principles. Autocrats and dictators’ unjust detention of political prisoners undermines the rule of law, […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

Silenced Dissent: The Plight of Political Prisoners ...

Jun 13, 2024

WASHINGTON—Across the globe, individuals continue to be targeted, arrested, and imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of speech, assembly, and association. Persecution on political grounds represents a fundamental violation of human rights and democratic principles. Autocrats and dictators’ unjust detention of political prisoners undermines the rule of law, stifles free expression, and erodes […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

BRIEFING – The Proliferation of Russian-Style ...

Jun 13, 2024

Thursday, June 20, 2024 2:00 p.m. Cannon House Office Building Room 210 WASHINGTON—In 2012, Russia adopted a foreign agents law which has been used repeatedly to crack down on independent civil society and opposition, closing organizations and jailing dissenters. Over the past several years, there has been a proliferation of Russian-style foreign agents laws in […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission House Leadership Marks Fourth An...

Jun 06, 2024

WASHINGTON—Today, Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) marked the fourth annual Counter-Kleptocracy Month. The U.S. Helsinki Commission has marked Counter-Kleptocracy month since June 2021 when the Commission helped to launch the Congressional Caucus against Foreign Corruption and Kleptocracy (Counter-Kleptocracy Caucus). The Caucus is also chaired by Reps. Wilson and […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

Supporting Georgia’s Sovereignty and Democracy

Jun 04, 2024

WASHINGTON—The recent adoption of a Russian-style foreign agent law heralds an openly anti-western turn by the ruling Georgian Dream government, and their concomitant alignment with Russia as well as other authoritarian powers such as China. After three decades of a pro-west, democratizing, and Euro-Atlantic-facing strategic agenda, Georgia’s government is clearly and violently breaking faith with […]

screen-reader-text
Briefings

Russian Crimes Against Ukrainian Civilians: Findings...

May 30, 2024

Russia has targeted Ukrainian civilians since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.  Civilians have been arbitrarily detained, transferred, mistreated, tortured, and even killed extrajudicially as an apparent part of Putin’s war strategy.  Thousands have disappeared or are being held without being able to communicate with their families. In February, 45 OSCE states invoked […]

screen-reader-text
Briefings

Ukrainian Culture in Wartime

May 29, 2024

Russia has damaged or destroyed countless Ukrainian museums, libraries, cultural centers, theaters, schools, and sites of religious and historical significance. These physical attacks are accompanied by the Kremlin’s public denigration and even denial of a distinct Ukrainian national identity. This combination of physical destruction and insidious propaganda has by design posed an existential threat to […]

screen-reader-text
In the News

“MEGOBARI Act” Envisages Sanctions for Undermining, ...

May 27, 2024

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Wilson, Cohen, Hudson, Veasey Introduce MEGOBARI Act

May 24, 2024

WASHINGTON—Yesterday, U.S. Helsinki Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Commissioner Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-09), and Commissioner Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33) introduced the bipartisan Mobilizing and Enhancing Georgia’s Options for Building Accountability, Resilience, and Independence (MEGOBARI) Act. This vital legislation aims to bolster democratic practices, human rights, and the rule of […]

screen-reader-text
Statements

Helsinki Commission House Leadership Statement on 80...

May 24, 2024

  Today, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) made the following statement: “We unequivocally condemn the brutal deportation of Crimean Tatars orchestrated by the Soviet regime in 1944. This horrific act, which forcibly uprooted an entire population from their homeland, represents a grave violation of human rights, […]

screen-reader-text
In the News

Rep. Joe Wilson introduces bill to sanction individu...

May 23, 2024

screen-reader-text