Russia, Land of Political Murder with Impunity

In a stunning public blow to the Putin regime, Václav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, joined by host of prominent international human rights leaders including the former presidents of Germany and South Africa, writing for Project Syndicate, condemns the barbarism of the KGB state:

The death of Eduard Chuvashov, a judge killed in cold blood on April 12 in Moscow, is another in a long and growing list of murders perpetrated on those in Russia who try to seek justice for the victims of crimes – an essential task for the future development of the Russian society.

Within the Russian judiciary, Chuvashov was one of the rare judges with the courage to rule against powerful local government officials as well as high-ranking officers of the interior ministry. Indeed, he dared to send a number of them to prison. Recently, Chuvashov defied personal threats made against him and sentenced members of a particularly nasty Moscow neo-Nazi group to prison.

The Western press has, up until now, often portrayed Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s term in office as a time of liberalization, a period when the Russian government is beginning to loosen its authoritarian grip on society. Some even suggest that, with Medvedev, a new era of perestroika is about to be launched.

But the pattern of assassination directed against Russian “troublemakers,” which started several years ago when human rights expert Nikolai Girenko and journalist Anna Politkovskaya were murdered, has not been effectively addressed. In fact, in 2009, Medvedev’s second year in office, a devastating series of such killings occurred.

Stanislav Markelov, Natalya Estemirova, Maksharip Aushev, and Ivan Khutorskoi were all alive at the beginning of 2009, determined to improve Russia’s human rights record and expose the truth about abuses. Markelov, a lawyer, routinely tackled the human rights cases that no one else was willing to take on. These were often cases related to the war and ongoing violence in Chechnya or the growing neo-Nazi terror found on the streets of Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and other Russian cities.

Estemirova, a key activist in Chechnya for the group Memorial, which is determined to inform Russians about the truth of their modern history, investigated abductions and extrajudicial killings. Indeed, she was a crucial source of information about the situation in Chechnya.

Aushev, a leading Ingushetian opposition activist and journalist, ran an influential local news Web site after Magomed Yevloev was shot dead in police custody in 2008. And Khutoskoi, a leading Moscow-based anti-fascist activist, would organize security at anti-fascist concerts, as well as at Markelov’s press conferences.

All of their work was ended by assassins.

We urge the Russian government to break this chain of human tragedy once and for all. In permitting the murder of people whose only purpose is the preservation of human dignity, Russia is losing its hope for a better future. At the very least, the Russian authorities are failing in the central task of any government: to protect the lives and physical safety of all its citizens. Making matters worse, none of these murders has been properly investigated and none of the perpetrators has been brought to justice.

Such impunity creates an atmosphere in which continued attacks are practically invited. The fact that Russian security forces are alleged to have been involved in some of the cases demonstrates the depth of the problem. These charges need to be investigated if President Medvedev’s claims to want a society based on the rule of law are not to ring hollow. The more authorities prove their determination to protect all citizens, the more this will further constructive international cooperation with Russia.

We ask the President of the Russian Federation and urge the Russian government to protect people in danger and to ensure quick and effective investigations into the murders of human rights activists, journalists, and independent-minded jurists. Political leaders must speak up loud and clear against these terrible crimes. They must underline the great danger posed for the health of both Russian society and the state when people who are acting in the public interest are silenced through murder. And the international community must find ways to provide support, protection, and shelter to Russia’s endangered human rights defenders.

This open letter to the Russian government was co-signed by Grigory Yavlinsky, chairman of Yabloko, El Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan, a commissioner on legal empowerment of the poor and chairman of the West Asia-North Africa Forum, Andre Glucksmann, philosopher and essayist, Frederik Willem de Klerk, former president of South Africa, Hans Küng, president of the Foundation for a Global Ethic (Stiftung Weltethos) and professor emeritus of ecumenical theology at the University of Tubingen, Yohei Sasakawa is president of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, Karel Schwarzenberg, a Czech senator and former Czech foreign minister and Richard von Weizsäcker is a former president of the Federal Republic of Germany.

12 responses to “Russia, Land of Political Murder with Impunity

  1. The co-signers list misses Kasparov, Bukovsky, and Latynina for completeness. And where are the world leaders here? Don’t see any. Some of them are political “jokes” like Glucksmann or Yavlinsky.

    • You are braying jackass. The former PRESIDENTS of GERMANY, SOUTH AFRICA AND CZECH REPUBLIC signed this letter, as did DESMOND TUTU, one of the most well-respected human rights leaders on the planet.

      Your neo-Soviet blindness to the horrific damage inflicted on Russia by this article is totally predicable and totally pathetic.

      • Yes you are right that just three the FORMER presidents signed this letter. Majorly forgotten politicians quite desperately trying to get some attention of the mass media. Where are the CURRENT presidents/prime ministers then? Why don’t they sign such “petitions”, your ideas?

        You also mention Desmond Tutu. Is he not the guy who called Israel’s politics “apartheid”?

        • Current presidents don’t sign open letters to sitting government officials, you witless illiterate gorilla.

          You had better ask where are letters by former presidents condemning the government of the USA. You won’t find them, because the US government is respected and legitimate.

          If you think this letter is something Russia can just laugh off, you are a neo-Soviet ape and no friend to Russia’s future.

          • G.W. Bush got many open letters against him and criminal US politics, see for example, the open Letter to G.W. Bush from Paulo Coelho

            And it is of course very hypocritical to claim that a government is “respected and legitimate” if it encourages torturing its prisoners, and participates in mass murders all around the world.

    • Voice of Reason

      You had better ask where are letters by former presidents condemning the government of the USA. You won’t find them, because the US government is respected and legitimate.

      Jimmy Carter

      In 2002, President Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work “to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights.

      Carter has also criticized the presidency of George W. Bush and the Iraq War. In a May 2007 interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, he said, “I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history,” when it comes to foreign affairs.

      Carter told the BBC that Blair was “apparently subservient” to Bush and criticized him for his “blind support” for the Iraq war.[99] Carter described Blair’s actions as “abominable” and stated that the British Prime Minister’s “almost undeviating support for the ill-advised policies of President Bush in Iraq have been a major tragedy for the world.”

      In 2009 he put weight behind allegations by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, pertaining to United States involvement in the 2002 Venezuelan coup d’état attempt by a civilian-military junta, saying that Washington knew about the coup and may have taken part.[103]

      In a 2008 interview with Amnesty International, Carter stated that the next President should publicly apologize upon his inauguration, and state that the United States will “never again torture prisoners.

      He declares that Israel’s current policies in the Palestinian territories constitute “a system of apartheid, with Israelis totally dominant and suppressing violence by depriving Palestinians of their basic human rights.”[110]


      You are an illiterate ignoramus.

      Not only is that a single American criticizing an American, not a group of foreigners, it is not an open letter published in a newspaper.

      What’s more, we’d just love to hear President Medvedev talk that way about former President Putin. When it happens, be sure to let us know.

      And finally, it was certainly a bad, humiliating thing for Bush to be criticized by Carter, although not at all similar to the situation described in this post because THE WRITERS WERE NOT PUTIN’S POLITICAL RIVALS, you moronic doofus. So we presume you agree with us, and disagree with the other idiot commenter, that this letter is a horrific disaster for the Putin regime and for Russia.

    • Voice of Reason

      as did DESMOND TUTU, one of the most well-respected human rights leaders on the planet.

      “Most well-respected human rights leader”? I am not sure I would rush out share all of Tutu’s views and causes:

      Tutu’s Crusade Against Israel

      Desmond Tutu is today one of the most celebrated supporters of the “Divest from Israel” movement. Particularly widespread on university campuses across America, this movement offers a high-visibility propaganda forum for some of the most rabid, combative anti-Semites of our time.

      The campus divestment movement aims to cripple Israel’s economy by compelling universities to withdraw whatever funds they may have invested in Israeli-based or -affiliated corporations. Tutu praised their “principled stand” against the “injustice of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and violation of Palestinian human rights.” “[I]t is always an inspiration when young people lead the way and speak truth to power,” said Tutu.

      It is not surprising that Desmond Tutu would support such bellicose rhetoric, given his own long history of condemning and smearing Israel and the Jews. Noting that divestment campaigns helped bring about the end of apartheid in South Africa, Tutu is delighted that a “similar movement” now aims to put “an end to the Israeli occupation” in the Middle East. Tutu refers to Israel as America’s “client state.”

      ” Asserting that “Israel is like Hitler and apartheid,” Tutu has urged Americans to oppose Israeli “injustices” as fervently as they once opposed Nazism and South Africa’s system of racial separation.

      Tutu’s morally inverted worldview is not confined solely to matters involving Israel. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, for instance, he described America’s retaliatory military campaign (against the Taliban and al-Qaeda) as an “utterly reprehensible” exercise in “vengeance” rather than justice. He explained that the hijackers had been “willing to pilot a plane and go to their deaths” because they were making a desperate plea for relief from the “poverty, hunger, and disease” that plagued the people of their homelands. Condemning America’s greed and self-absorption, Tutu suggested that “a minute fraction of [U.S.] defense budgets would ensure that God’s children everywhere would have clean water, enough to eat, a decent home, a proper education, and accessible and affordable health care.” The terrorists, in other words, were trying to strike a blow for charity and social justice, not Islamic jihad.


      What you’ve just proved, you gorilla-like simpleton, is that Tutu has absolute credibility on Russia because he has harshly criticized Israel and America, and yet is STILL appalled by Russia.

      Thanks for making our point even better than we did.

      You just can’t think AT ALL, can you? Maybe it’s the vodka.

      • Voice of Reason

        What you’ve just proved, you gorilla-like simpleton, is that Tutu has absolute credibility on Russia because he has harshly criticized Israel and America, and yet is STILL appalled by Russia.

        Are you saying that Tutu has absolute credibility on Israel and America because he has harshly criticized Russia, and yet is STILL appalled by Israel and America?

        Actually, what I’ve proved is that Tutu’s political judgment is highly suspect.

  2. @Estemirova

    She had few illusions about the Soviet regime, but she did not like the sight of a crowd vandalising a statue of Lenin in Grozny either. “When people started fighting with statues, I knew it would end in tears.” Nationalism of any sort repelled her. Half-Russian and half-Chechen as she was, she was caught in the middle. “I often felt this attitude in Chechnya: ‘Go back to your Russia’ and in Russia, when I visited my mother, ‘Get back to your Chechnya’.”

    Her attitude to independence, like that of most Chechens, changed in 1994 when the Kremlin decided to dislodge Mr Dudayev with tanks and bombs. “[These] actions had no justification and no sense…For me this was a personal tragedy. Now I felt the victim was my motherland.”

    For ordinary Chechens the first war was one of liberation, not separation. “Both the Chechens and the vast majority of the [ethnic] Russian population supported the rebel fighters.” Among those fighters were Ramzan Kadyrov and Ms Estemirova’s husband, who was later killed. When the war ended the next year, “it was a time of complete euphoria. Everyone was falling in love with each other.” But joy was soon replaced by disappointment and desperation. Whatever money was earmarked for Chechnya by the Kremlin was stolen by Chechen and Russian officials before it got anywhere near the ordinary people.

    Ms Estemirova and her two-year-old daughter lived in a half-ruined flat in Grozny. “I was afraid of starvation, terribly afraid. I had everything rationed: the girl had to have one egg, one carrot, perhaps some porridge, so she wouldn’t starve.” She continued to teach while also helping to expose Russia’s “filtration” camps, which were supposed to separate civilians from rebels but, in fact, tortured them.

    In her eyes, however, Russia’s brutality did not absolve the Chechens’ own government of plunging the country into lawlessness. “Chechnya was neither a part of Russia, nor a separate state. It was a hole …A new type of crime flourished: kidnappings. The idea came from the federal forces who traded both in live and dead bodies. It was they who removed the taboo from these types of crimes.”

    She was in a bus when a Russian rocket exploded next to a maternity hospital. “I saw this huge cloud and I stood in a stupor.” The second and third rockets hit a crowded market and a place near a mosque where people collected water. A man was lying next to her. “We tried to lift him and I couldn’t understand why my arms were wet. It wasn’t raining. I saw that my hands were covered in blood. He was a young man, nothing to do with rebels. I didn’t know what to do, where to run…I got to my school and saw people laughing at me: I was swaying. Perhaps they thought I was drunk.”

    A few days later Ms Estemirova was in Moscow, publicly confronting military officials who claimed that the attack on the market was aimed only at rebels. It was October 1999 and Russia, under the premiership of Vladimir Putin, had begun a second, longer-lasting war against its own republic of Chechnya. The aerial attacks were soon followed by “mopping up” operations, often accompanied by killings, rape and the burning of houses.

    Ms Estemirova joined Memorial and went back to Chechnya, which by then was closed to journalists and outsiders. “I remember going to the village of Aldi on March 20th 2000. It was dead. We counted 47 victims, but of course there were more …A woman was hanging up bloodstained clothes left from her husband, who had been executed…People were in shock and would talk only in whispers…I remember walking over the bridge together with Aldi’s villagers and a boy walking in front of us. And some sniper, bastard, started shooting.”

    When she photographed those bodies, her own daughter was ten years old. “It hurts that I could never love my daughter freely: I am always scared for her, even now. It is bad, because she has now grown. The fact that I became a human-rights defender was also the result of my maternal feeling: I just felt so sorry for these people who went through filtration camps. I was so outraged that this happened.”

    The outrage did not blind her judgment. She was equally angry with “those who speculated with these ideas of independence. They have used their people as a shield. In fact they betrayed the people.” The real heroes of this war, she said, were the women who assumed the burden of saving the nation, who pulled their men out of dungeons and who gave milk and bread to the Russian soldiers who did not try to rape and kill them.

    The end of the war did not reduce her workload. “The regime imposed in Chechnya is authoritarian, criminal and very corrupt.” The republic, which had suffered so acutely under Stalin, had developed its own form of Stalinism under Mr Kadyrov, who was installed by Mr Putin. His cult of personality is sustained by fear and brute force. Before Ms Estemirova died, she was investigating abuses by Chechen security agencies under Mr Kadyrov’s de facto control. He denies any part in her murder.

    Grozny no longer looks like Stalingrad. It has been rebuilt and spruced up. But “the economic gains were in inverse proportion to the moral ones”. The effects of war run deep both in Chechnya and in Russia. “There is more hypocrisy and cowardice. The people who carried the best qualities of their nation have been killed, they are no more.” After her killing, Memorial suspended its operations in Chechnya.

  3. The dictatorship business is getting a little dangerous Putin. I would sleep behind double locked doors if I were you or you might not wake up at all.

    • Rasputin-Dvaputin

      Thanks Ronny,

      I’ve just ordered the second lock to make my door double locked. I’m scared, scared, scared!

  4. Voice of Reason

    What’s more, we’d just love to hear President Medvedev talk that way about former President Putin. When it happens, be sure to let us know.

    Medvedev and Putin belong to the same party. Carter criticized Bush, who is from the opposite party. Do you see the difference?

    Not only is that a single American criticizing an American, not a group of foreigners

    I’ll have to settle for one dignitary at a time:

    Bush is crap, says Prescott

    Deputy PM criticises US handling of Middle East, condemning ‘cowboy’ President at private meeting

    John Prescott has given vent to his private feelings about the Bush presidency, summing up George Bush’s administration in a single word: crap.

    Dead president criticizes Bush

    In an interview with Bob Woodward that was to only be made public after his death, former President Ford said that President Bush made a big mistake by invading Iraq. The war, he said, was not justified, and if he were still in the Oval Office then the US would not be in Iraq.

    You’ve probably seen the pictures of Ford with Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld–as Chief of Staff and Secretary of Defense they were key members of his team. But since then he said he thought Cheney has become “more pugnacious” and caught some kind of a fever to invade Iraq.

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