Disappearance and Death: The Fate of Chechen Human Rights Activists

By Kylie Poulin
2011, Vol. 3 No. 02 | pg. 2/2 |

Despite its seemingly independent political maneuvering, notably laden with violations, many people fail to recognize that Chechnya remains a republic of the Russian Federation and not a sovereign state. While Chechen separatist efforts in the early 1990s were genuine, Moscow quickly tightened its grip of authority in response. The two Russian-Chechen wars since that time only led to greater instability often masked with rhetoric of controlling the Chechen situation.

The unchecked given to Akhmat Kadyrov’s oppressive government was a sign of Russia’s secession of involvement in the area, prior to the second war in 1999 (Lokshina). This lack of direct action taken to influence an increasingly brutal Chechen regime has continued to the present day. Therefore, not only does bear implications in the Chechen human rights situation, but has actually played a role in creating the thriving criminal environment in the North Caucasus region.

Former Russian President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin appointed Ramzen Kadyrov as Chechen President with full Kremlin backing in 2007, following the assassination of his father Akhmat and an interim term served by an essential figurehead from 2004-2007. This move greatly catalyzed the spread of violence under Kadyrov’s rule, as it lent significant autonomy to Chechnya’s government and elite operations (Myers). The Kremlin has continued to overlook the violence and human rights violations, particularly failing to investigate the deaths of human rights activists, disregarding the government-based origin of the increased instability: “Putin gave Kadyrov ‘carte blance’ to act in whatever way he wants. What is in fact happening is this in turn creates new rebels, and creates militants” (Solovyov).

Counterinsurgent authorities have thus played an increasingly frequent role in controlling rebellion and government criticism (i.e. the work of human rights activists) through the only means they know how – violence.

The dynamic in Russian politics shifted slightly when Putin’s term ended in 2008 and his former Chief of Presidential Staff, and later the Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev took over. Medvedev’s close ties to Putin, as well as Putin’s immediate transition into role as Prime Minister, have instilled an element of global skepticism regarding possible change under the new Russian leadership (BBC Profile: Dmitry Medvedev). Many view Medvedev as a puppet in office, controlled by Putin’s continuing agenda. Recently, however, Medvedev has taken several steps to distinguish himself and his policies from his predecessor and close friend Putin.

Medvedev directly addressed the volatile and dangerous Chechen situation following the August murders of Zerma Sadulayeva and Alik Dzhabrailov: “A whole sequence of political murders and assassination attempts have the aim of destabilizing the situation in the Caucasus. The president of the Chechen republic should do everything he can to find and expose those responsible” (Radio Free Europe). As Medvedev’s term continues, Kremlin attitudes toward Chechnya could continue to publicly support active change in Chechen .

Action taken by Russia to stop the perpetuation of violence in Kadyrov’s Chechnya would exert a presence of authority that could not be ignored by the Chechen elite. Regardless of how it is done, “Russian authorities need to take immediate steps to guarantee the safety of human rights defenders and civic activists in Chechnya” (Leading Chechnya Rights Activist Murdered).

On the broadest level of influence where Chechnya is concerned, international standards and action on the part of the global community has proven to be disappointingly ineffective, if not almost nonexistent. As illustrated earlier in this paper, the murders of numerous human rights activists in Chechnya is a clear violation of numerous rights provided for in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While the UNDHR created a legitimate standard for international human rights, it continues to lacks the backing of agency and subsequent enforcement mechanisms: “These murders produced an international outcry, but little more. So far, justice hasn’t caught up with the killers, or at least those who ordered the hits” (Bohlen). At present, the widespread acknowledgement of severe violations against human rights workers in Chechnya has come to fruition more in principle than practice.

One reason for the deficiency of global prosecution of the Chechen government lies in the ambiguous problem of the international court system. The first standing international court was the International Criminal Court (ICC), created in 1998 and ratified in 2002. The court acts as a complement to state legal systems and therefore only imposes legal jurisdiction where a voluntary member state is unwilling or unable to do so (Forsythe 106).

While Russia evidently meets this criterion with its continued inaction on the killings of human rights activists in Chechnya, it is not party to the ICC and thus outside its jurisdiction capabilities. In an instance where an international institution could make a tremendous difference in the eradication of blatant human rights violations, it is unable to do so due to Russia’s choice to deny ICC membership.

In a more general sense, the situation in Chechnya necessitates attention from the international community that it is simply not receiving. “The safety of human rights workers in Russia should be at the top of the agenda for Russia’s international partners. The US and EU should make it clear that ‘business as usual’ cannot continue as long as those who work to promote the rule of law are brazenly murdered and threatened” (Protect Rights Workers in Chechnya). While Chechnya is one small area of a vast Russian territory, the conditions in the unstable republic merit direct attention from both Moscow and countries around the world. Such blatant human rights violations as the consistent murdering of human rights activists begs the question of priorities in . Concern for the innocent victims of Chechen violence should be primary on the agendas of all states interacting with Russia, and tireless efforts should be made to see that such devastating events no longer continue to occur.

Human rights in Chechnya, or the increasing lack thereof, present a serious issue that requires urgent national and international action. The environment in Chechnya is such that those who speak out against human rights violations and work towards the betterment of society inevitably end up silenced, arbitrarily detained and brutally killed for speaking the truth.

What began as violent counterinsurgency measures during wartime has become the norm, due to the authoritarian rule of a harsh president, a lack of concern from the central Russian government, and a failure to enforce international standards and rulings applicable to the situation. The failures of human rights protection and enforcement only contribute to instability in the region, and a lack of action will likely result in the devastating death of more human rights activists. Chechnya is a clear and pressing example of the importance of universal human rights implementation, and will continue to act as such as long as effective intervention is not instigated by those with the authority to do so.


Barry, Ellen. “Russian Reports Tie Nationalists to 2 Killings.” The New York Times, 5 November 2009: A13. Print.

“BBC Profile: Dmitry Medvedev.” Europe. BBC News. Web. 1 December 2009.

Bohlen, Celestine. “Russia Is Still Getting Away With Murder.” The New York Times, 11 August 2009. Print.

“Chechen .” Europe. BBC News, 10 July 2006. Web. 4 December 2009.

The Republic of Chechnya. Chechnya Constitution. Referendum adopted 23 March 2003.

“First Chechnya War.” Military Operation. Global Security, 27 April 2005. Web. 25 November 2009.

“Flames and Fear in Chechnya.” Human Rights Watch, 2 July 2009. Web. 25 November 2009.

Forsythe, David P. Human Rights in International Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Print.

“Leading Chechnya Rights Activist Murdered.” Human Rights Watch, 15 July 2009. Web. 22 November 2009.

Lokshina, Tanya. Human Rights Watch Report: What Your Children Do Will Touch Upon You. New York: Human Rights Watch, 2009. Print.

Myers, Steven Lee. “Putin Picks Premier Tied to Abuse as Chechen Leader.” The New York Times, 2 March 2007. Print.

“Protect Rights Workers in Chechnya.” Human Rights Watch, 15 August 2009. Web. 26 November 2009.

Radio Free Europe. “Medvedev Demands Chechen Leader Solve High-Profile Murders.” Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 14 August 2009. Web. 21 November 2009. .

Solovyov, Dmitry. “Putin dashes to Chechnya, shows support for Kadyrov.” Reuters, 24 August 2009.

. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. New York: United Nations, 1948. Print.

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