The world's deadliest job: defending human rights in Russia
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Lawyer and human rights defender Stanislas Markelov, 34, was shot dead on 19 January after leaving a press conference not far from the Kremlin. His death has not come as a great surprise in Russia, where mysterious killings end up lost to a culture of impunity. Read more...
Mourners commemorate a human rights lawyer's death. Image: "Dave Pyle".
Lawyer and human rights defender Stanislas Markelov, 34, was shot dead on 19 January after leaving a press conference not far from the Kremlin. His death hasn't come as a great surprise in Russia, where mysterious killings end up lost to a culture of impunity.
Stanislav Markelov was a controversial figure in Russia. He once represented Anna Politkovskaya, the journalist who dared to write about Chechen war crimes, herself killed in 2006. Markelov had just finished telling reporters that Yuri Budanov, a Russian soldier condemned for raping and killing an 18-year-old Chechen girl, was being released from prison. On leaving the press conference, he was shot by a masked gunman, who also killed 25-year-old Anastasia Barburova, a Novaya Gazetajournalist who had come to Markelov's aid. The client behind the attack, evidently committed by a professional, has yet to be identified - and probably never will. Markelov is just the latest in a long list of investigative journalists and human rights advocates shot, stabbed or poisoned to death by killers who go unfound and untried.
A few of Russia's most famous unsolved murders:
1993 - Nikolay Likhachev, banker
1994 - Dmitry Kholodov, journalist
1995 - Vladislav Listiev, journalist
1996 - Paul Tatum, businessman
1997 - Mikhail Manevich, member of State Duma [MP]
1998 - Galina Starovoitova, member of State Duma [MP]
1999 - Viktor Novoselov, vice-speaker of St Petersburg city parliament
2000 - Ilya Vaisman, businessman
2001 - Igor Belyakov, vice-mayor of Novosibirsk
2002 - Vladimir Golovlev, member of State Duma [MP]
2003 - Sergey Yushenkov, member of State Duma [MP]
2004 - Paul Khlebnikov, journalist
2005 - Ayrat Sharipov, businessman
2006 - Anna Politkovskaya, journalist
2007 - Farid Babayev, political activist
2008 - Ruslan Yamadaev, member of State Duma [MP], Chechen opposition leader.
"The Russian state is yet to worry about facing the judge and the investigator in the European Court of Human Rights"
Another group which lies victim to impunity is that of the Russian army. Last year some 471 soldiers died in what are described as "non-combat deaths", many of which result in little investigation. Veronika Marchenko chairs the Mother's Right Foundation, a non-profit organisation which deals with the proper investigation of these deaths.
We are normal people and we understand that we can't raise the dead, and we can't win all the trials. When we don't win quickly, we are ready for a long fight in order to make the law prevail. Now, for instance, we are expecting such a fight in the case concerning the death of Ivan Krasheninnikov.
Ivan Krasheninnikov was drafted on 27 November 2005. On 11 December 2006 he was found dead in the cellar of his barracks hanging from a belt. Krul and Aflistov, two sergeants of military unit 35652, were charged with harassment causing grave consequences. During the entire trial, the Mother's Right Foundation tried to draw attention to the fact that there were conflicting medico-legal reports in the case papers. The independent experts (invited by our foundation), contrary to the state ones, claimed that Ivan was first strangled and then hanged. Therefore, the investigators either caught the first persons they came across, or tried to present the murderers as simple bullies.
The trial took two years. Finally, Krul and Aflistov got 18 months and 12 months on probation, respectively, which is less than the legal minimum for the crimes they were charged with. The court refused to issue a special ruling on the investigator, Merkushev, who irreparably flunked the investigation of Krasheninnikov's death.
The court decision is outrageous. The Russian state is yet to worry about facing the judge and the investigator in the European Court of Human Rights... Meanwhile, we'll keep on fighting."
"Investigators are used to every piece of fabricated evidence being easily accepted by the court"
Lev Ponomaryov directs Russia's "For Human Rights" movement. He worked with many of the people who have been killed in similar circumstances.
If we take the cases of four political murders of democratic activists - all of them my friends - politicians Galina Starovoytova and Sergei Yushenkov, and journalists Anna Politkovskaya and Yuri Schekochikhin, the people who ordered the crimes have not been found. While in some cases the killer or accomplices to the crime are caught, it's virtually impossible to find those really behind the crime because of data lost by the investigation office. This time it's Stanislav Markelov, who worked in my office and was a friend of mine.
The investigation process in Russia is very weak. With ordinary criminals this goes unnoticed. But when there's a high-profile case, especially when we successfully insist on open hearings, it becomes obvious. It's very clear now, in the Politkovskaya murder case: the trial is falling apart because all the investigation's mistakes are out in the open.
Investigators are not used to working professionally; on the contrary, they're used to every piece of fabricated evidence being easily accepted by the court. Besides, when a case is political, when the authorities are involved even circumferentially, the authorities do everything to obstruct the investigation. It all adds up - the lack of professionalism on the part of the investigators and the involvement of power in political killings."