MOSCOW (AP) – Europe’s highest human rights court has ruled that the Russian authorities have not launched an effective investigation into the murder 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 human rights defender in Chechnya, who was kidnapped and later found dead with head and chest shots.
The ECHR noted that the Russian authorities had promptly opened an investigation into Estemirova’s killing and identified a suspect, but stressed that Moscow’s failure to provide full material on the case meant that the court was “unable to to conclude that the investigation has been carried out thoroughly ”. It found that some inconsistencies in the expert opinions cast doubt on the effectiveness of the investigation.
The victim’s sister, Svetlana Estemirova, claimed on her appeal that state agents were behind the murder, but the Strasbourg court ruled that the evidence did not support the claim.
The court ordered Russia to pay 20,000 euros ($ 23,600) to Estemirova’s sister and asked the Russian authorities to track down and punish the perpetrators of her murder.
Estemirova was a sharp critic of Chechnya regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who relies on his feared security forces to enforce his rule and suppress dissent in the region. International human rights groups have accused the Chechen authorities of kidnapping, torturing and killing their opponents.
The Kremlin, which relied on Kadyrov to stabilize Chechnya after two separatist wars in the 1990s and early 2000s, has steadfastly supported him despite international criticism.
Amnesty International said the ECtHR ruling highlighted “unmitigated impunity in Russia”.
“The inaction by the Russian authorities has given the Chechen leadership carte blanche to continue to commit abuses and silence anyone who dares to speak up,” said Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. “In the twelve years since Natalia was murdered, not only have they failed to identify and hold the perpetrators accountable, but they have also remained quiet and complacent as other human rights defenders in Chechnya are exposed, assaulted, threatened and persecuted in the same way . “
Krivosheev said “attacks on human rights in Chechnya have intensified and civil society has been systematically wiped out by the Chechen authorities,” adding that human rights defenders “have faced death threats, arbitrary arrests and jails, and many journalists and activists have been forced into exile.” . ”
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