Mon, Jul 20, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Respected rights group to suspend work in Chechnya

AP , MOSCOW

The respected Russian human rights group Memorial is stopping work at its office in the republic of Chechnya after the kidnapping and killing of one of its most daring activists, a Russian radio station has quoted an official with the group as saying.

Natalya Estemirova, who had investigated executions, kidnappings and other abuses, was forced into a car in the Chechen capital on Wednesday, witnesses say. She was later found shot in the head.

Ekho Moskvy radio quoted Memorial executive committee member Alexander Cherkasov on Saturday as saying its office in Chechnya was being closed because of concern for the safety of other workers there.

“We have seen that the work that Natasha was involved in, the work done by our colleagues in Chechnya — documenting crimes committed by representatives of the authorities — is fatally dangerous. We can’t put them at risk,” he was quoted as saying.

Activists blame the forces of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov for Estemirova’s killing and for widespread violations of human rights. They also complain that the Kremlin, by backing Kadyrov, has created a climate of impunity that encourages abuses.

Cherkasov did not say for how long the Chechen office would be closed, the Echo Moskvy radio station said. He could not be reached for clarification.

Memorial spokeswoman Yuliya Klimova said that a closure had been discussed, but she was not aware that a decision had been made.

Estemirova was killed the same day a report that she helped research was released, concluding there was enough evidence to demand that Russian officials, including Russian Prime Minister Vladmir Putin, be called to account for crimes committed on their watch.

She had worked with two other Kremlin critics who were also slain: lawyer Stanislav Markelov and reporter Anna Politkovskaya.

Estemirova had collected evidence of rights abuses in Chechnya since 1999, when the province’s second separatist war began. She was a key researcher for a recent Human Rights Watch report that accused Chechen authorities of burning more than two dozen houses in the past year to punish relatives of alleged rebels.

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