UN experts ready to assist Russia in investigating series of killings of human rights defenders

GENEVA, 21 July 2009 – Seven UN human rights experts reiterate their request to the Russian authorities to extend an invitation to visit the country to assist the authorities in conducting an independent investigation into a series of killings of human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists in recent years, many of them related to the human rights situation in Chechnya and other Republics of the North Caucasus, including the latest killing of Natalia Estemirova.

The experts acknowledged the expressions of outrage and assurances by the Russian leadership that all necessary steps will be taken to apprehend and punish Estemirova’s killers. “However, these assurances will be worth little unless the authorities take steps that go beyond what has been done in the past, which has all too often led to a cycle of impunity”, said Tuesday a group of UN independent human rights experts in a joint statement.

“We offer our assistance to the Russian authorities in light of the failure to effectively and impartially investigate the killings and attacks on a number of human rights defenders in recent years and to prosecute and bring the perpetrators to justice”, said the experts. “This would break the cycle of prevailing impunity surrounding the killings of other high profile human rights defenders and contribute to the prevention of further violence and harassment against human rights defenders”,” added the experts.

The independent experts also reminded that “the Government of the Russian Federation has a prime responsibility under international human rights instruments to ensure the protection of human rights defenders against any violence, threats, retaliation, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a result of their human rights work.”

Natalia Estemirova, a member of the Russian NGO Memorial, was found murdered on 15 July 2009. She had been abducted from her home in Grozny and bundled into a car. Her body was later found in woodland in neighbouring Ingushetia with two bullet wounds to the head and chest.

As a researcher with Memorial she had tirelessly documented cases of abductions, torture, enforced disappearances and unlawful killings allegedly committed by government-backed militias in the Chechen Republic.