MOSCOW (AP) — Europe’s top human rights court has ruled that Russian authorities failed to conduct an effective investigation into the killing of a prominent human rights activist in the Russian republic of Chechnya.
Tuesday’s ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) related to the July 15, 2009 murder of Natalia Estemirova, a leading rights defender in Chechnya, who was abducted and later found dead with shots to the head and chest.
The ECHR noted that Russian authorities promptly opened a probe into Estemirova’s killing and identified a suspect, but emphasized that Moscow’s failure to provide full materials of the case made the court “unable to conclude that the investigation had been carried out thoroughly.” It noted some contradictions in the expert evidence led it to doubt that the investigation had been effective.
The victim’s sister, Svetlana Estemirova, alleged in her appeal that state agents were behind the killing but the Strasbourg-based court ruled that the evidence didn’t support the claim.
The court required Russia to pay 20,000 euros ($23,600) to Estemirova’s sister and urged Russian authorities to track down and punish the perpetrators of her murder.
Estemirova was a strong critic of Chechnya’s regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has relied on his feared security forces to enforce his rule and quash dissent in the region. International human rights groups have accused Chechen authorities of abductions, torture and killings of their opponents.
The Kremlin, which has relied on Kadyrov to stabilize Chechnya after two separatist wars in the 1990s and the early 2000s, has staunchly backed him despite international criticism.
Amnesty International said the ECHR’s judgment highlighted the “unabated impunity in Russia.”
“The inaction of Russian authorities has effectively given the Chechen leadership a carte-blanche to continue to commit abuses, and to silence anyone who dares to speak out,” said Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia acting director. “In the 12 years since Natalia was killed, not only have they failed to identify and bring the perpetrators to account, but they have also remained silent and complacent as other human rights defenders in Chechnya were exposed to the same perils, attacked, threatened and prosecuted.”
Krivosheev said “the assault on human rights in Chechnya has intensified and civil society has been methodically extinguished by the Chechen authorities,” adding that rights activists “face death threats, arbitrary arrests and jail, and many journalists and activists have been forced into exile.”