Natalia Estemirova

© 2007 Renaud Visage

The photos and footage you just watched from Chechnya are haunting.  But, those images are reality for us and a reminder of a region that has been neglected by many.

It's not an accident that you may not have thought of Chechnya for some time.  The government wants the world to believe that the conflict has ended and it is rebuilding the country.  It controls the media, and prevents the voice of the people, the truth, from being heard.

In Chechnya, the government creates an atmosphere of fear and mistrust.  Those who witness abuse keep silent, for if they speak they can soon become a victim.  Can you imagine living each day wondering who might turn you in to the government for saying the wrong thing?  It could be a stranger, but it could be a friend or even a family member. 

Without knowing who to trust, Chechens rarely speak about the conflict.  As a result, it is incredibly difficult for an outside organization or international agency to learn about the treacherous conditions.   To get people to talk, you have to prove that no harm will come to them and that their actions will garner strong results.

Over a decade ago, Memorial formed to make the victims' stories heard.  My colleagues and I have all been affected by the conflict.  Some of us have lost loved ones and simply could not allow the government to get away with it.  We have engaged in careful dialog for years with victims. Moving from village to village, and home to home, we explain to them why silence will not help.  We build their trust in us, and demonstrate that their voices are crucial for exposing the truth about what the government has done. 

We have collected the stories and experiences of hundreds of people and their families.  Over the years we have created a substantial record of government abuse. 

As you heard in the video, in partnership with Human Rights Watch, we took the victims' stories to the European Court of Human Rights.  This Court hears the appeals of victims subjected to human rights abuses by member states of the Council of Europe.  They make judgments and require governments to rectify the abuse. 

The court held that Russia, a member of the Council of Europe, is responsible for abuses in Chechnya.  These judgments require that Russia pay reparations to the victims.  More important, it requires that Russia put an end to the disappearances, torture, and killings that continue to this day.

These decisions are critical in the history of this crisis.  They give us an opportunity to hold Russia accountable for its actions, and bring an end to the impunity for grave abuses.

Russia has yet to fulfill the judgments of the court. If we are to see a positive turn in the course of the crisis, European countries must demand that Russia meet its obligations. The credibility of the court and justice for the victims depend on it.

Thank you for your support.

 

Natalia Estemirova