Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

Russia’s Supreme Court orders closure emblematic Memorial

December 29, 2021

As feared in November (see blog post below) Russia’s Supreme Court on Tuesday 28 December 2021 ordered the closure of Memorial International, one of the country’s most respected human rights organizations, wiping out three decades of work to expose the abuses and atrocities of the Stalinist era. Memorial is the winner of at least 7 international human rights awards: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/BD12D9CE-37AA-7A35-9A32-F37A0EA8C407

The court ruled that Memorial International had fallen afoul of Russia’s “foreign agent” law. But the group said the real reason for the shutdown was that authorities did not approve of its work.

The ruling is the latest blow to Russia’s hollowed-out civil society organizations, which have gradually fallen victim to Putin’s authoritarian regime.

Videos posted on social media showed Memorial supporters shouting, “Shame, shame!” in the court’s hallways and at the entrance to the building shortly after the ruling. Seven people were detained outside the courthouse following the proceedings, according to independent monitoring group OVD-Info. The organization said three of them are believed to be instigators whose sole aim was to cause havoc, not support Memorial.

Memorial International’s lawyer, Tatiana Glushkova, confirmed the ruling to CNN and said the group would appeal the decision. “The real reason for Memorial’s closure is that the prosecutor’s office doesn’t like Memorial’s work rehabilitating the victims of Soviet terror,” Glushkova told CNN.

The Prosecutor General’s Office of Russia requested Memorial International be liquidated in November. The group was accused of repeatedly breaking the law for failing to mark all its publications with a compulsory “foreign agent” warning. The Justice Ministry had designated the group a foreign agent in 2016, using a law targeting organizations receiving international funding.

Memorial’s representatives argued there were no legal grounds for the group’s closure, and critics say the Russian government targeted Memorial for political reasons.

Oleg Orlov, a member of Memorial International’s board, said the court’s decision was “purely ideological” and “a demonstrative, blatant, illegal decision.”

“Allegedly, we do not assess the Soviet Union and Soviet history the right way. But this is our assessment, we have the right to do it,” Orlov told CNN.

Memorial was founded in the late 1980s to document political repressions carried out under the Soviet Union, building a database of victims of the Great Terror and gulag camps. The Memorial Human Rights Centre, a sister organisation that campaigns for the rights of political prisoners and other causes, is also facing liquidation for “justifying terrorism and extremism”. One of the group’s co-founders was Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov, who went on to be the first honorary chairman of the Memorial Society.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/dec/28/russian-court-memorial-human-rights-group-closure

https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/-erasing-history—russia-closes-top-rights-group–capping-year-of-crackdowns/47222634

Human Rights Watch advises new German Government

December 22, 2021
A man wearing a suit raises his right hand
Germany’s new Chancellor Olaf Scholz (left) and Baerbel Bas, President of the Bundestag, during the swearing-in of the new Federal Government in Berlin, December 8, 2021.  © 2021 Florian Gaertner/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

On 10 December 2021, David Fischer, HRW’s Media Coordinator, Germany published “A Human Rights Roadmap for Germany’s New Government

…The climate crisis threatens catastrophic impacts on human rights, and ambitious climate action by the government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is critical if Germany – the European Union’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter – is to help prevent the worst of those impacts.  The new government’s coalition agreement, a non-binding roadmap for legislative action, calls for elimination of coal energy “ideally” by 2030, promises a roll-back of subsidies for fossil fuels and legislation to deal with climate change adaptation planning. These are positive steps but insufficient to reach Germany’s contribution toward the global goal in the Paris Agreement of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

In addition to the climate crisis, the new coalition between the Social Democrat Party (SPD), the Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens (Die Grünen) will have to tackle challenges to the rule of law within the EU, stand up for human rights against autocrats in China and Russia, and address the many challenges arising from the pandemic.

The coalition agreement makes promising commitments to advance the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, including to change the law on legal gender recognition for transgender people so that it is based on self-determination. The coalition also commits to protecting human rights in supply chains in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights that include the right to a remedy for victims. It proposes to increase the capacity of German courts to prosecute universal jurisdiction cases such as the trial on state-sponsored torture in Syria.

Within Europe, the new government intends to push for judgements of the European Court of Human Rights to have greater impact and “be implemented in all member states”. It supports the use of mechanisms and sanctions to enforce the rule of law in European Union member states. It also calls for shared responsibility for migrants and refugees among member states, an end to pushbacks at EU borders and for the border agency Frontex to respect human rights.

Scholz’s new government will now need to live up to expectations on human rights and prove that what the coalition dubbed “Germany’s responsibility for Europe and the World” is expressed in actions and not just words.

See also: https://www.justsecurity.org/79618/how-germanys-new-government-might-pursue-its-values-based-foreign-policy-in-europe/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/12/08/human-rights-roadmap-germanys-new-government

The 3 nominees for the 2021 Tulip are known

November 22, 2021

The Netherlands ministry of foreign affairs sponsors since 2008 a human rights award, the Tulip [for more information on this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/D749DB0F-1B84-4BE1-938B-0230D4E22144]

A committee of 5 human rights experts has selected a shortlist of 12 human rights defenders from among the nominees for 2021; since then an independent jury composed of 5 members has select 3 candidates from this shortlist. The Minister of Foreign Affairs will now choose a winner from the three remaining candidates:

Human rights activist and lawyer in Uganda

As a child, he grew up in the epicentre of a brutal war between the Lord Resistance Army and government forces. Today, working as a human rights lawyer, he is being threatened, spied on and shadowed. This is his story.

Nicholas Opiyo
Nicholas Opiyo.

As a human rights lawyer, Ugandan Nicholas Opiyo is not afraid to take on sensitive cases. He challenged the law that gave the police the right to ban public gatherings. He led the campaign for the enactment of a law criminalizing torture and drafted the initial bill that was enacted by parliament in 2012. He, alongside other brave Ugandan activists, successfully challenged Uganda’s anti-gay law in 2014. He has provided legal representation to the gay community in Uganda.

Nicholas is executive director of Chapter Four Uganda, an NGO that works to protect civil liberties and improve universal observance of human rights. He defends human rights activists who are being persecuted in Uganda. He also stands up for people who are in trouble with the government and lack the resources to defend themselves. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/6743A94B-BA1A-AA2A-AC6C-592EBD981EDA

Surviving war

Nicholas grew up on the outskirts of the northern Ugandan city of Gulu. His village was repeatedly attacked by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that used child soldiers. Unlike many young people abducted into the ranks of the rebels, he survived abductions.  The rebels kidnapped his father and sister, who managed to return after several months in captivity. To avoid being kidnapped, Nicholas walked several kilometres every day so he could sleep in the city. It was safer in a church compound or on the pavement in front of shops than in his village.

Government soldiers detained Nicholas’ father as part of an operation to eliminate traitors. The soldiers took all men 18 and older to a stadium where they were held for days without food. Looking through a crack in the stadium wall, Nicholas could see his father being beaten. Nicholas’ father was released after three days because he was innocent. Unable to forget these events, Nicholas decided to become a lawyer. ‘First I wanted to be a journalist so I could speak about [mistreatment],’ he said in an interview met Buzzfeed News. ‘But I thought … I can go to court and change things.’ 

Nicholas’ work often gets him in trouble with the state. He is being threatened, spied on and shadowed. In December 2020, in the run-up to the elections, he was arrested and imprisoned. Although he was charged with money laundering, the government presented no evidence. He spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve in jail. Human rights activists see the charges against Nicholas as a way to hinder his work as a human rights lawyer. Even in jail, he used his time to talk to prisoners who sought advice. In fact, he says, his arrests give him the energy to do even more. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/23/ugandan-human-rights-defender-nicholas-opiyo-arrested-like-a-criminal/]

Nunca Más: they had to flee from Nicaragua, but their struggle continues

Banished from Nicaragua, a target of cyberattacks: despite all these setbacks, the activist collective Nunca Más is continuing to work for human rights in Nicaragua. This is their story.

Nunca Más
Nunca Más.

When Daniel Ortega became president of Nicaragua, his supporters said that there was no longer any reason for us to exist. That human rights work in Nicaragua was a thing of the past. But that can never happen! Anyone who exercises power is capable of abusing it.’ So said human rights defender Gonzalo Carrión Maradiaga in an interview with the Nicaraguan magazine Envío. For 14 years he had been legal adviser of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), which combats impunity and human rights violations.

In December 2018 the Ortega government closed CENIDH by force. The human rights defenders on its staff were expelled from Nicaragua. Gonzalo and his colleagues fled to Costa Rica, where they continued their work and in 2019 founded Nicaragua Nunca Más. Nunca Más reports on torture and other human rights violations in Nicaragua, in the interests of justice and to discourage new violations. They offer legal and psychosocial support to victims and their family members, journalists and human rights defenders, and conduct human rights training courses. They also work at international level on behalf of victims of human rights violations. At the moment, justice cannot be sought through the Nicaraguan legal system, as it is under influence of the president. Nonetheless, gathering evidence is crucial to ensure justice for human rights violation in the future.   

It was not easy to make a fresh start in a new country, but the founders of Nunca Más have managed to recover. Between 2019 and 2021 the group documented over 400 cases of serious human rights violations. The collective has now issued five reports, including information on victims who have been tortured, humiliated and arbitrarily imprisoned. The reports also contain information about extrajudicial executions and denial of the right to organise. Such reports are crucial in the absence of free press.

Under pressure

The Nicaraguan government have not been pleased with Nunca Más’ reports, and are subjecting the organisation to severe pressure. Its website has been the target of repeated cyberattacks. Extra digital security measures have enabled the collective to safeguard personal data and sensitive digital information. Despite these difficult conditions, including being forced to live far from their familiar surroundings, its human rights defenders are persisting bravely with their struggle. Gonzalo has not seen his wife or one of his daughters for 18 months. ‘But the time will come. One day I’ll go back,’ he said resolutely in the interview with Envío.

It was not easy to make a fresh start in a new country, but the founders of Nunca Más have managed to recover. Between 2019 and 2021 the group documented over 400 cases of serious human rights violations. The collective has now issued five reports, including information on victims who have been tortured, humiliated and arbitrarily imprisoned. The reports also contain information about extrajudicial executions and denial of the right to organise. Such reports are crucial in the absence of free press.

Mari Davtyan, lawyer in Russia, opposes domestic violence

The Russian police do not always respond to domestic violence complaints. Sometimes their failure to act has fatal results. Lawyer Mari Davtyan has been working for years now to change this situation. This is her story.

Mari Davtyan
Mari Davtyan.

In December 2017 Margarita Gracheva’s husband chopped her hands off with an axe. She had asked the police for help several times in the preceding months – in vain. Mari Davtyan was Margarita’s lawyer. Now Mari is working on the case of three teenage sisters who killed their father on 28 July 2018, when they could no longer bear his many years of physical and sexual abuse. Their mother had reported the violence to the police, but was ignored. Domestic violence is seen in Russia as a ‘family issue’, and outside interference is viewed as meddling, Mari noted in an interview with Voice of America. Mari’s strong defence for the teenage sisters has sparked a debate in Russian society on domestic violence and conservative family values.

Since 2017 domestic violence is no longer a serious offence in Russia, but a misdemeanour. Perpetrators are fined, have to do community service or are served with a training order. They are only taken to court in cases of repeated violence or serious injuries. This law is meant to preserve the ‘unity of the family’; according to this logic, fathers don’t belong in jail. Mari has been fighting for years now to change this law, ‘because it has been proven dangerous for the safety of thousands of women in Russia’, Mari said in an interview with Marina Pisklakova-Parker of the Anna Center in Moskou. Fighting and winning cases like this has ‘helped the government understand that we are not dealing with violence in the right way,’ said Mari in an interview with the Washington Post. Growing numbers of people are putting pressure on the courts and government to reflect on how they are treating victims.

Mari is also the head and legal expert of the Consortium of Women’s NGOs, which works to protect victims of domestic violence in Russia. The organisation gives courses on women’s rights to lawyers and the police and helps victims with their legal cases. ‘We have more than 100 lawyers working with us today, this year we have more than 150 cases, and I think about 1,000 consultations with individual women,’ said Mari in an interview with the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC). She sees that women are becoming more confident and more often have the courage to seek her out. ‘They are finding the power to ask for help and they’re starting to understand what a healthy relationship should look like,’ she said in her interview with Voice of America.  

https://www.government.nl/topics/human-rights/weblog

https://www.government.nl/topics/human-rights/human-rights-tulip/shortlist-of-candidates-for-human-rights-tulip-2021

It had to happen: Russian Authorities Move to Shut Down Memorial

November 12, 2021
On the night before the infamous “foreign agents” law came into force back in 2012, unknown individuals sprayed graffiti reading, “Foreign Agent! ♥ USA” on the buildings hosting the offices of three prominent NGOs in Moscow, including Memorial. 
On the night before the infamous “foreign agents” law came into force back in 2012, unknown individuals sprayed graffiti reading, “Foreign Agent! ♥ USA” on the buildings hosting the offices of three prominent NGOs in Moscow, including Memorial.  © 2012 Yulia Klimova/Memorial

On 12 November 2021Tanya Lokshina, Associate Director, Europe and Central Asia Division Human RightsWatch, reported that the Russian authorities have moved to shut down Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest and most prominent rights organization, an outrageous assault on the jugular of Russia’s civil society.

Memorial, which defends human rights, works to commemorate victims of Soviet repression, and provides a platform for open debate, has two key entities: Memorial Human Rights Center and International Memorial Society.[ the winners of not less than 7 human rights awards, see : https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/BD12D9CE-37AA-7A35-9A32-F37A0EA8C407]

On November 11, International Memorial received a letter from Russia’s Supreme Court stating that the Prosecutor General’s Office had filed a law suit seeking their liquidation over repeated violations of the country’s legislation on “foreign agents.”

A court date to hear the prosecutor’s case is set for November 25. According to Memorial, the alleged violations pertain to repeated fines against the organization for failure to mark some of its materials — including event announcements and social media posts — with the toxic and false “foreign agent” label, one of the pernicious requirements of the “foreign agents” law.

On November 12, Memorial Human Rights Center received information from the Moscow City Court that the Moscow City Prosecutor’s Office filed a similar suit against them and a court hearing was pending.  

For nearly a decade, Russian authorities have used the repressive legislation on “foreign agents” to restrict space for civic activity and penalize critics, including human rights groups. Last year parliament adopted new laws harshening the “foreign agent” law and expanding it in ways that could apply to just about any public critic or activist. The amendments were but a fraction of a slew of repressive laws adopted in the past year aimed at shutting down criticism and debate. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/foreign-agent-law/

The number of groups and individuals authorities have designated as “foreign agents” has soared in recent months. This week the Justice Ministry included on the foreign agent registry the Russian LGBT Network, one of Russia’s leading lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights groups, which had worked to evacuate dozens of LGBT people from Chechnya. The ministry also listed Ivan Pavlov, a leading human rights lawyer, and four of his colleagues, as “foreign agent-foreign media.” See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/11/10/ngo-lgbt-network-and-5-human-rights-lawyers-branded-foreign-agents-in-russia/

Even against this backdrop, to shut down Memorial, one of Russia’s human rights giants, is a new Rubicon crossed in the government’s campaign to stifle independent voices.

This move against Memorial is a political act of retaliation against human rights defenders. Russian authorities should withdraw the suits against Memorial immediately, and heed a long-standing call to repeal the legislation on “foreign agents” and end their crackdown on independent groups and activists.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/11/12/russian-authorities-move-shut-down-human-rights-giant#

https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2021/11/17/memory-and-memorial-will-prevail-a75588

NGO ‘LGBT-Network’ and 5 human rights lawyers branded “foreign agents” in Russia

November 10, 2021

Reacting to the news that LGBT-Network, a prominent Russian group defending the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, and five human rights lawyers from Komanda 29 have been added by the Ministry of Justice to its list of “foreign agents”, Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director, said:

“Beyond shameful, the justice ministry’s decision reveals that committed, principled lawyers defending the rights of people targeted in politically motivated cases and frontline LGBTI rights defenders are unwelcome and “foreign” in Putin’s Russia.

“LGBT-Network has exposed heinous crimes against gay men in Chechnya and helped evacuate people at risk to safety where they can speak about these atrocities. Now LGBT-Network is, itself, a victim of the persecution that is being increasingly targeted at all human rights defenders – openly, viciously and cynically.

“The authorities cite the need to protect “national interests” and resist “foreign influence” in their incessant destruction of Russia’s civil society. But what’s really in the national interest is to protect, uphold and respect all human rights for everyone. These reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society organizations must stop, and the ‘foreign agents’ and ‘undesirable organizations’ laws must be repealed immediately.”

Late on 8 November, the Russian Ministry of Justice included the LGBT-Network and five lawyers from the recently dissolved human rights group, Komanda 29 (Team 29), including its founder Ivan Pavlov, a prominent lawyer, on the list of “foreign agents.” Ivan Pavlov and his colleagues have courageously provided help to civil society and political activists and groups that have been targeted by the authorities, including Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/19/russias-foreign-agents-bill-goes-in-overdrive/

The Russian LGBT-Network played a crucial role in the exposure of a brutal “anti-gay” campaign in Chechnya during which dozens of men were abducted, tortured and several believed to have been killed for their real or perceived sexual orientation. The group also provided shelter for victims of homophobic attacks from Chechnya and elsewhere around the country, and helped with their relocation to safer locations within and outside Russia.

Alexei Navalny wins EU’s Sakharov Prize

October 21, 2021

Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been awarded with the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The award winner was selected by the leaders of the political parties represented in the European Parliament during a plenary session in Strasbourg on Wednesday 20 October 2021. [For more on this and other awards in the name of Sakharov, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/BDE3E41A-8706-42F1-A6C5-ECBBC4CDB449]

Navalny, the most prominent foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was nominated alongside Afghan women, whose plight has taken centre stage after the Taliban takeover, and Jeanine Áñez, a Bolivian politician who became interim president in 2019 after alleged electoral fraud by Evo Morales. Áñez was later arrested for allegedly plotting coup d’état against Morales. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/29/the-nominees-for-the-eus-sakharov-prize-2021/]

The award is supposed to be presented during a European Parliament session in Strasbourg on December 15, although this seems unlikely to happen in the case of Navalny since he’s currently serving a two-and-a-half-year jail sentence for fraud in Russia.

See also: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/c549c081-1c9f-489a-8ba6-6e2323cb9fcb

He says the charges were politically motivated to halt his challenge to the Kremlin. Russian authorities have opened a new criminal case against Navalny that could see him stay in jail for another decade.

Today’s prize recognises his immense bravery and we reiterate our call for his immediate release,” said David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament, in a tweet. The main political parties also celebrated the laureate’s work and recognition, although some

“His unbroken commitment for a democratic Russia is representative of the many activists who are fighting for liberal rights,” wrote David McAllister, a German MEP of the centre-right EPP group and chairman of the parliament’s committee on foreign affairs.

His bravery for freedom of thought and expression show how they are the precondition for democratic politics, human dignity & peace,” said Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt, from Renew Europe.

https://www.euronews.com/2021/10/20/alexei-navalny-wins-sakharov-prize-the-eu-s-highest-award-for-human-rights-work

Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 for freedom of expression

October 8, 2021

On 8 October 2021 the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2021 to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace. Ms Ressa and Mr Muratov are receiving the Peace Prize for their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia. At the same time, they are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions.

Maria Ressa uses freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines. In 2012, she co-founded Rappler, a digital media company for investigative journalism, which she still heads. As a journalist and the Rappler’s CEO, Ressa has shown herself to be a fearless defender of freedom of expression. Rappler has focused critical attention on the Duterte regime’s controversial, murderous anti-drug campaign. The number of deaths is so high that the campaign resembles a war waged against the country’s own population. Ms Ressa and Rappler have also documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse. Maria Ressa has received earlier recognition with 5 human rights awards [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/c048da20-ba0f-11ea-a77e-f524f6fc9aaa]

Dmitry Andreyevich Muratov has for decades defended freedom of speech in Russia under increasingly challenging conditions. In 1993, he was one of the founders of the independent newspaper Novaja Gazeta. Since 1995 he has been the newspaper’s editor-in-chief for a total of 24 years. Novaja Gazeta is the most independent newspaper in Russia today, with a fundamentally critical attitude towards power. The newspaper’s fact-based journalism and professional integrity have made it an important source of information on censurable aspects of Russian society rarely mentioned by other media. Since its start-up in 1993, Novaja Gazeta has published critical articles on subjects ranging from corruption, police violence, unlawful arrests, electoral fraud and ”troll factories” to the use of Russian military forces both within and outside Russia.

Novaja Gazeta’s opponents have responded with harassment, threats, violence and murder. Since the newspaper’s start, six of its journalists have been killed, including Anna Politkovskaja who wrote revealing articles on the war in Chechnya. Despite the killings and threats, editor-in-chief Muratov has refused to abandon the newspaper’s independent policy. He has consistently defended the right of journalists to write anything they want about whatever they want, as long as they comply with the professional and ethical standards of journalism.

Muratov dedicated his award to six contributors to his Novaya Gazeta newspaper who had been murdered for their work exposing human rights violations and corruption. “Igor Domnikov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, Stas Markelov, Anastasia Baburova, Natasha Estemirova – these are the people who have today won the Nobel Prize,” Muratov said, reciting the names of slain reporters and activists whose portraits hang in the newspaper’s Moscow headquarters.

Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda. The Norwegian Nobel Committee is convinced that freedom of expression and freedom of information help to ensure an informed public. These rights are crucial prerequisites for democracy and protect against war and conflict. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov is intended to underscore the importance of protecting and defending these fundamental rights.

For more on the Nobel Peace Prize and many other awards on freedom of expression see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/F8EA8555-BF30-4D39-82C6-6D241CC41B74

https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2021/press-release/

https://www.reuters.com/world/philippines-journalist-ressa-russian-journalist-muratov-win-2021-nobel-peace-2021-10-08/

2021 Laureates of the Right Livelihood Award

October 4, 2021

The 2021 Laureates of the Right Livelihood Award were announced in Stockholm on Wednesday, 29 September at Kulturhuset, Stockholm. For more in this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/97238E26-A05A-4A7C-8A98-0D267FDDAD59

Marthe Wandou, Cameroon

“For building a model of community-based child protection in the face of terrorist insurgency and gender-based violence in the Lake Chad region of Cameroon.”

Read more

Vladimir Slivyak, Russia

“For his defence of the environment and for helping to ignite grassroots opposition to the coal and nuclear industries in Russia.”

Read more

Freda Huson of the Wet’suwet’en people, Canada

“For her fearless dedication to reclaiming her people’s culture and defending their land against disastrous pipeline projects.”

Read more

Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment, India

“For their innovative legal work empowering communities to protect their resources in the pursuit of environmental democracy in India.”

Read more

For last year’s winners, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/01/four-well-known-human-rights-defenders-are-the-2020-right-livelihood-laureates/

https://rightlivelihood.org/2021-announcement/

European Court of Human Rights calls probe into murder of Natalia Estemirova ineffective

September 1, 2021

Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch wrote on 31 August 2021 “Justice for Murder of Chechen Rights Defender Remains Elusive”

Today, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on the case of Natalia Estemirova, Chechen human rights defender murdered in July 2009. It found that Russia had violated their obligations to protect her right to life by “fail[ing] to investigate effectively [her] abduction and killing.” [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/BA7B3FCE-AFE7-4B72-9156-EA257B3BC205]

Natalia – Natasha to me and many others – was a colleague and very close friend. I last saw her 36 hours before the murder, while staying at her place in Grozny, as I always did when in Chechnya. We’d spent a week interviewing people whose homes police had torched because of their alleged involvement with militants, and whose relatives had been rounded up, disappeared, or killed by security officials.

We said goodbye just past midnight on July 14. When I woke up later that morning, Natasha had already left for an early meeting, so I went to the airport without getting to see her again. The next day, armed men pushed her into a car as she was running to catch a bus to the city center. They drove her into neighboring Ingushetia and shot her near the forest.

In 2011, having lost hope for an effective investigation by Russian authorities, Natasha’s family filed a complaint with the European Court, alleging a violation of her right to life because Russian authorities failed to protect human rights defenders in Chechnya, Chechnya’s leadership repeatedly threatened Natasha, and her abduction was apparently carried out by security officials.

Ten years later, the court ruled today that Russia had failed to investigate but also held that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to conclude that state agents had murdered Natasha.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/15/ngos-remember-10th-anniversary-of-natalia-estemirovas-murder/]

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.

I had very high hopes and it would be an understatement to say that I’m disappointed,” Natasha’s daughter Lana, who was 15 when she lost her mother, told me today.

The lack of sufficient evidence the court cited is a direct result of Russia’s brazen determination to protect the perpetrators of this outrageous murder. Natasha was killed for fearlessly exposing abuses by Chechen authorities. An effective investigation would leave no doubt about official involvement in her murder.

https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nc/charlotte/ap-top-news/2021/08/31/europe-court-russian-probe-into-activist-murder-ineffective

https://www.eng.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/56609/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/08/31/justice-murder-chechen-rights-defender-remains-elusive

Human right defender Sergei Kovalev died

August 19, 2021

One of Russia’s most famous human rights defenders and former Soviet dissident, Sergei Kovalev, died aged 91 on Monday 9 August 2021 his family said. He won 9 international human rights awards, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/7B15D0E9-FDB2-4727-B94F-AA261BDB92D9

Kovalev was a biologist who became one of the leading members of the USSR’s pro-democracy movement. He was held for years in Soviet labour camps for his activism. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he became a fierce critic of Moscow’s war in Chechnya and warned against democratic backsliding when President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000.

His son Ivan Kovalev said on Facebook that his father died “in his sleep” in the early hours of Monday morning.

Russian rights group Memorial, which Kovalev co-founded, said he was “faithful to the idea of human rights always and in everything — in war and peace, in politics and every day life”.

The leading rights organisation — which has been labelled a “foreign agent” by Russian authorities under a controversial law — said Kovalev had campaigned for human rights since the 1960s. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/04/26/russia-pursues-its-policy-of-labeling-human-rights-defenders-as-foreign-agents/

As a biology student, Kovalev had dreamed of devoting himself exclusively to science.

But he changed his mind after the arrests of dissident writers Yuli Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky.

“I then understood that it was not possible to only be in science,” he said. “It would have been shameful.”

In 1968, Kovalev was fired from his job at a Moscow university laboratory for joining the Action Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR — considered to be the Soviet Union’s first rights group.

He then grew close to the dissident academic Andrei Sakharov.

Kovalev was part of a group of dissidents writing the “Chronicle of Current Events”, an underground typed bulletin that reported on human rights violations in the USSR.

It reported the arrests and psychiatric internments of the Soviet regime’s opponents and on the situation in its labour camps.

He was arrested in 1974, accused of spreading “anti-Soviet propaganda” and sentenced to seven years in a Gulag camp, followed by three years of house arrest in the icy Siberian region of Kolyma.

He was only allowed to return to Moscow in 1987, thanks to the perestroika reforms launched by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

He went on to help found Memorial, which recorded testimonies of Soviet political repression.

Kovalev was one of the few Soviet dissidents that entered post-USSR politics.

He contributed to writing Russia’s new constitution and was elected a parliamentary deputy twice.

In 1994, he was appointed as chairman of President Boris Yeltsin’s human rights commission in 1994. But he was forced to give up the post two years later for his outspoken criticism of Russia’s brutal intervention in the Chechen conflict.

Kovalev also criticised the political system created by Putin, from the beginning of the former KGB spy’s long rule. “A controlled democracy is being created in our country that seeks to create problems for ‘enemies inside as well as outside’,” he said in 2001, a year after Putin was inaugurated as president.

In 2014, he called on Western countries to “stop Russian expansion” into Ukraine after Moscow annexed Kiev’s Crimea peninsula.

According to Kovalev, the West had made “too many concessions” to Russia.

He also criticised Russian opposition leaders, whom he accused of being pragmatists without strong moral convictions. “I belong to the camp of idealists in politics,” he said.

https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210809-soviet-dissident-sergei-kovalev-dies

https://today.rtl.lu/news/world/a/1768110.html

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/08/09/human-rights-watch-mourns-death-sergei-kovalev

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/09/sergei-kovalev-soviet-dissident-who-clashed-with-yeltsin-putin-dies-aged-91