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Human Rights Watch appreciates the opportunity to contribute to the ongoing preparations for the November 5-6, 2009 EU-Russia human rights consultations in Stockholm.

We believe the deterioration in human rights protections in Russia has reached a critical point that the EU needs to reflect as it assesses Russia's commitment to the shared values articulated in the EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, currently being renegotiated. The recent spate of murders of human rights defenders and other violations detailed in this memo are unprecedented even in the recent years of Russia's deteriorating human rights record. They need to be fully factored into a sober assessment of how the EU can formulate its engagement with Russia in a manner consistent with EU values and of how the EU can use the human rights consultations and other engagement with Russia to promote positive change.

In this memorandum we detail a number of these violations.  They include:

  • murders of and attacks and threats against human rights defenders and other civic activists that have contributed to a deeply negative climate for civil society;
  • impunity  for long-standing human rights violations stemming from the government's failure to implement European Court of Human Rights judgments on cases from Chechnya;
  • ongoing grave abuses in the North Caucasus, including extrajudicial executions, torture, and illegal detentions, and continued impunity for these abuses; and
  • exploitation of and abuses against migrant workers.

We hope the EU will: 

  • recognize the full extent and implications of these serious concerns;
  • articulate clear expectations for concrete steps Russia should take to address these concerns;  and
  • closely monitor the Russian authorities' progress in fulfilling these expectations.

Because the human rights situation in Russia has reached such a critical point, it is also important for the EU to continue to press for ways to make the human rights consultations with Russia, and its human rights policy more broadly, more effective. Such ways include:

  • holding the consultations in Moscow and inviting working-level staff and decision makers from relevant ministries, in addition to the Foreign Ministry, to participate;
  • establishing a working-level follow-up mechanism for engagement that would pursue issues raised during the consultations, thereby ensuring continuity and enhancing the potential for positive outcomes;
  • adding a session to the formal dialogue that is open to NGO and/or press participation, to create an open, transparent forum for civil society and media to ask specific questions of both the EU and of the Russian government.

Moreover, in light of this critical point it is more important than ever for the EU to engage with the Russian authorities about human rights concerns at all levels, to ensure the consultations are effective and ensure they do not become an isolated dialogue with little, if any, resonance in the overall EU-Russia relationship.

Attacks on Civil Society Activists

At the time of the May 2009 EU-Russia consultations, many NGOs brought to the EU's attention the murder of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova. Since that time, the killings, violence and threats against those who speak out about abuses or work for justice for victims has become a crisis. At this writing at least three brazen murders of civic activists have taken place in Chechnya since the last consultations round, and another occurred in Ingushetia. Other activists have been subjected to violent attacks, threats, harassment, and intimidation, and state officials have made numerous, hostile public statements against independent groups.  Most of these individuals work on issues related to the North Caucasus. But the precedent these attacks have established, together with the violence to which activists in other parts of Russia have been subjected to clearly indicate that this is an all-Russia crisis.

In Chechnya, high-level Chechen officials have made threatening statements accusing human rights activists of supporting insurgents, which further underscores the danger to those working for justice in Chechnya.

The situation markedly deteriorated in summer 2009 when, against the background of increasingly lawless and violent counter-insurgency operations, which will be described below, three local activists were abducted and killed. The shocking killing in July 2009 of Natalia Estemirova, a leading human rights defender in the republic who documented abuses by Chechen law-enforcement and security agencies on behalf of the Memorial Human Rights Center, was followed by harassment and intimidation of several of Memorial's staff-members in Chechnya. One of them had to be evacuated from Chechnya due to evident danger to his physical security. On August 10, 2009, Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband, Alik Dzhabrailov, who worked for Save the Generation (an NGO that provides assistance to children affected by conflict in Chechnya), were abducted from their Grozny office and discovered murdered the next day. Local law enforcement and security personnel are implicated in the abduction and murder of Sadulayeva and Dzhabrailov, and their involvement in Estemirova's murder cannot be excluded.

In Dagestan, human rights activists and independent journalists documenting and publicizing cases of extra-judicial executions, enforced disappearances and torture have been subjected to harassment and intimidation. For example, in August 2009, an arson attack burned the office of the independent organization the Mothers of Dagestan for Human Rights, a group formed in 2007 by mothers of young men believed to have been forcibly "disappeared." The group gathers information on abusive counterterrorism practices and provides legal support to victims of rights violations. The fire followed the shooting death on August 11 in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, of Abdumalik Akhmedilov, a newspaper editor who had criticized law enforcement officials for suppressing political and religious dissent in their campaign against religious extremism. Also, in September 2009, several local activists, journalists and lawyers, including two staff-members of Memorial Human Rights Center, received leaflets with explicit death-threats. 

On September 15, 2009, at around 8 p.m., Vladimir Sivakov, a 66-year-old board member of Memorial's section in Ryazan, was attacked and beaten by four unknown men. The attackers took Sivakov's wallet, passport, and his USB with Memorial's back-up files. The investigation is on-going.

In Khimki, in July, unknown perpetrators attacked Albert Pchelintsev, chairman of the organization Against Corruption, Lies and Honor, which works to expose corrupt practices in the local Khimki administration, to silence his work. A group of men approached Pchelintsev, forced his mouth open and shot him in the mouth and face with a stun gun, warning him that he would not be able to talk for a long time.

In Ekaterinburg, Aleksei Sokolov, an activist who reports on prison and police abuse, was beaten and threatened in May while being arrested on what appear to be politically-motivated charges of theft, stemming from a 2004 robbery. He was released from detention pending trial on July 31, although prosecutors filed new charges against him the same day. The court allowed an investigation to go forward on the basis of the new charges despite the fact that the crime alleged (a robbery alleged to have occurred in 2005) does not correspond to the article of the criminal code under which Sokolov is charged.

On October 25, 2009, Ingush opposition activist and head of the independent news source, Maksharip Aushev, was shot and killed in Nalchik, the capital of the North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkaria when a passing vehicle sprayed his car with more than 60 bullets. Aushev was an outspoken critic of abuses committed by the government's security forces.'s owner Magomed Yevloyev was shot dead in August 2008, shortly after he was detained by police and placed in a police vehicle.

Recommendations for steps the Russian government should be urged to take:

  • Condemn, unequivocally, attacks on human rights defenders and journalists, and investigate and prosecute those crimes to the fullest extent of the law;
  • Inform the international community, including the EU, on the status of the investigations into the murders of Stanislav Markelov, Natalia Estemirova, Zarema Sadulayeva, and Alik Dzhabrailov and into attacks against NGOs;
  • Seriously examine the possibility of official collusion in recent cases of killings, attacks, and threats against activists in the North Caucasus, and promptly and effectively investigate these crimes and hold perpetrators accountable;
  • Ensure effective protection of and foster a favorable climate for human rights workers, civic activists, lawyers, and independent reporters fighting abuses and impunity in the Northern Caucasus.

Other Restrictions on Russian Civil Society

President Medvedev has made several welcome overtures underscoring the importance of human rights in Russia and acknowledging areas where change is needed. Notably, in April 2009, he acknowledged problems in the 2006 NGO law and its implementation. In particular, he noted restrictions "without sufficient justification," and the fact that many government officials view NGOs as a threat, and created a working group to draft changes to Russia's law on non-commercial organizations (NCOs). Approximately 35 percent of Russian NGOs are registered as NCOs. The rest are registered under other legal forms. President Medvedev personally submitted the working group's first round of proposed amendments to the Duma (Parliament), which adopted them in June 2009.

These changes, which will go into effect in January 2010, apply only to noncommercial organizations, consist of the following:

  1. Planned inspections of NGOs by the Ministry of Justice are now limited to once every three years (previously they could occur once per year). Unplanned inspections remain unchanged and can still occur without limitation.
  2. Slightly simplified registration procedures to allow for the Ministry of Justice to suspend, rather than reject, registration applications that contain errors.
  3. The introduction of a public reporting system whereby NGOs that do not receive any foreign funding would report on their funding and activities to the public rather than the government via reports published on a website. Groups that receive foreign funding will have to continue reporting to the state on this funding (separate from their reporting to the tax inspectorate) as well as publish reports on their funding, which increases their reporting burden. Nearly all human rights groups and groups that work on sensitive issues receive foreign funding and will be subject to this dual reporting burden.

These changes, while mostly welcome, leave many problematic areas of the law and its implementation unaddressed. The schedule for the introduction of further reform proposals is unclear.

More fundamentally, the climate for NGOs and civic activists continues to deteriorate markedly. NGOs and activists that work on sensitive issues have been the victims of violent attacks and government harassment and interference into their work. Contributing to the hostile operating climate for NGOs, the authorities also use tax inspections, inspections for fire code or labor code compliance, police raids, and politically motivated criminal charges to harass and intimidate such organizations. Many NGOs are vulnerable to being targeted under the 2002 Law on Countering Extremist Activity, which designates certain forms of defamation of public officials as extremist and allows any politically or ideologically motivated crime to be designated as extremist. NGOs and activists that are outspoken on controversial topics of Russian government policy, such as human rights violations in Chechnya or human rights more broadly, or are perceived to be affiliated with or viewed as supportive of the political opposition, are at risk of being targeted under the 2002 extremism law.

We noted above the murders of four civic activists in Chechnya and threats to other civic activists there that have occurred since the last round of EU-Russia human rights consultations in May 2009 (see also North Caucasus section, below). Since that time activists and civic groups in other parts of Russia have faced harassment and excessive interference in their work. Several examples include:

  • In October, Moscow police brought charges of criminal slander against Oleg Orlov, the chair of the Memorial Human Rights Center, for remarks Orlov made implicating president of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov in the murder of Natalia Estemirova. If convicted, Orlov could face up to three years' imprisonment.
  • Anastasia Denisova, a human rights defender in Krasnodar active with Memorial and the president of the Youth Group for Tolerance "ETHniCS," has faced intimidation and harassment that have effectively made Denisova stop her work. In October, officials from the Krasnodar Economic crime Department conducted a search in ETHniCS' office for pirated software, and confiscated computer equipment, despite the fact that the search warrant authorized a search at a different address. Also in October, security officials at the Krasnodar airport prevented Denisova from flying to the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Security officials refused to allow Denisova to travel unless she checked her laptop with her baggage rather than carrying it on the plane, despite airline officials' protestations that they had never heard of such a demand and that Denisova's laptop would be damaged. During the same month a local newspaper published several negative articles on local NGOs, including an article dedicated to criticizing Denisova and the work of ETHniCS, suggesting that the work was inciting racial hatred. Since 2007 ETHniCS has faced restrictions in its work because of legal proceedings against it and the freezing of its bank account. Denisova recently fled Krasnodar, fearing for her safety.
  • In July, the Kazan Human Rights Center, which assists victims of police abuse and Agora, a consortium of human rights organizations, suffered a series of harassing inspections and legal action against their leaders that appear to be aimed at stopping their work.

Recommendations for steps the Russian government should be urged to take:

  • Condemn, unequivocally, attacks on human rights defenders and journalists, and investigate and prosecute those crimes to the fullest extent of the law;
  • Foster an environment in which civil society can operate freely by imposing only those obligations and burdens on NGOs that are compatible with international standards and absolutely necessary, and strictly defining the terms under which the government can interfere in legitimate private citizen activity;
  • Establish a transparent process to reform the NGO law that involves meaningful consultations with NGOs, legal experts, and other stakeholders;
  • Further amend the 2006 NGO law to streamline the registration process so that NGOs can register promptly and without undue complications, amend any sanctions for violations of the NGO law so that options other than liquidation are available which can compel or help noncompliant NGOs to come into compliance, and remove the most restrictive and intrusive provisions of the law such as those that allow the authorities to conduct unlimited ad hoc inspections and attend all NGO events.
  • Facilitate the work of, and issue standing invitations to all UN special procedures and immediately agree to visits by the Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders and on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
  • End the use of criminal slander charges to restrict protected expression and criticism of public officials.

For more information on civil society and the NGO law, please see:

Human Rights Watch's report An Uncivil Approach to Civil Society, available at

Human Rights Watch press release "Revise NGO Law to Protect Rights," May 13, 2009, available at;

Human Rights Watch Proposals on Changes to the Russian Federal Laws on Regulating NGOs, May 13, 2009, available at; and

Human Rights Watch's report Choking on Bureaucracy: State Curbs on Independent Civil Society Activism, available at

North Caucasus

Grave violations of fundamental human rights such as torture, disappearances, and extrajudicial killings continue in Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan, where the Islamist insurgency appears to be on the rise; Human Rights Watch is not aware of information demonstrating that the authorities are pursuing thorough and effective investigations to hold their perpetrators accountable.


In Chechnya, security forces continue to use torture and illegal detention, and impunity for abuses is rampant. The failure to implement fully the European Court rulings on Chechnya contributes to this persistent climate of impunity (see below). As a consequence, law enforcement and security servicemen receive the message that they will not be held accountable for human rights violations they commit.

Human Rights Watch has documented the Chechen authorities' use of collective punishment practices against people with suspected rebel ties. Families of active or alleged insurgents are subjected to persecution, including in particular punitive "house-burning." Human Rights Watch is aware of more than 27 cases in which houses belonging to particular families have been deliberately targeted and burned apparently by Chechen law-enforcement officers between July 2008 and July 2009. All the families in question have alleged insurgents, usually sons or nephews, among their close relations. Prior to the actual house-burning, they all came under strong pressure from law enforcement and administration officials to compel their relatives to surrender and were threatened with severe repercussion for failure to do so. No one has been held responsible for any of the house burnings.

Notably, in 2007-2008 high-level Chechen officials, including the president, Ramzan Kadyrov, made numerous public statements stressing that insurgents' families should expect to be punished unless they convince their relatives to surrender. In doing so, the officials openly undermined Russian law. Such statements, while falling short of direct instructions to law-enforcement to destroy houses of insurgents' families, encourage lawless punitive actions by police and security personnel. In one striking example of such lawlessness and impunity documented by Human Rights Watch, on July 7, 2009, local law enforcement carried out the extrajudicial execution of a man they had accused of giving a sheep to the rebels.


In Ingushetia, the human rights and security situation has significantly worsened since the summer of 2007, which saw a rise of insurgency attacks on public officials, security and law-enforcement personnel, and civilians. The Russian government's response to these attacks, however, has not been in accordance with Russian and international law. The counterinsurgency practices adopted by the authorities of Ingushetia involve extra-judicial executions, unlawful, abduction-style detentions, and torture and cruel or degrading treatment. These practices antagonize the local population and serve to further destabilize the situation in the republic.

Yunus-Bek Evkurov, appointed president of Ingushetia in the autumn of 2008, appeared to be open to a discussion about the human rights situation in the republic. He held numerous meetings with local human rights defenders, protestors against human rights abuses, and relatives of the disappeared. He also created a human rights council to advise him on human rights and invited a number of prominent civic activists to join. In an April 2009 meeting with Human Rights Watch, Evkurov stressed his commitment to ensuring that counter-insurgency operations and measures are carried out in line with Russia's law and international human rights obligations. In June 2009 Evkurov was the victim of an assassination attempt, and other insurgent attacks on police and civilians in summer 2009 have further destabilized the situation.

As noted above, Ingush opposition activist and head of the independent news source, Maksharip Aushev was shot and killed in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria on October 25. 


In Dagestan, the number of abductions, extra-judicial executions, and enforced disappearances in connection with counter-insurgence operations has been on the rise since summer 2009. Human Rights Watch is aware of five extra-judicial executions in August 2009 of individuals the government presumes to be involved in the insurgency and five abductions in September 2009 alone. Among them was Nariman Mamedyarov, who in September 2008 was held by authorities in incommunicado detention, tortured, and later released. He was abducted again in September 2009; his body with gun-shot wounds was found two weeks after his abduction, with the local authorities claiming that he was killed during an armed clash between law-enforcement servicemen and the insurgents.

Recommendations for steps the Russian government should be urged to take:

  • Ensure access to the region for UN special mechanisms, including the Working Group on enforced and involuntary disappearances and the Special Rapporteurs on torture, on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, and on violence against women in full agreement with the requirements for conducting visits that these procedures' terms or reference set forth;
  • Ensure meaningful accountability mechanisms to bring perpetrators of serious abuses to justice and ensure transparency regarding investigations and/or prosecutions undertaken, including their outcome;
  • Immediately stop the practice of extra-judicial executions, enforced disappearances, abduction-style detentions, and other abuses perpetrated by security services, military, and law-enforcement agencies;
  • Sign and ratify the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance;
  • In cases of arrest, ensure that all procedural guidelines are fully observed and family members are provided adequate information on the status and whereabouts of their arrested relatives.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch press releases, "Russia: Investigate Dagestan Arson Attack," available at;

"Russia: Leading Chechnya Rights Activist Murdered," available at;

"Russia: Halt Punitive Attacks in Chechnya," available at;

Human Rights Watch report, Russia: What Your Children Do Will Touch Upon You, available at;

Human Rights Watch commentaries "Dagestan: curse of the sixth department," available at and "Ending Chechnya's counterterrorism operation - or not," available at;

Human Rights Watch press release, "Russia: Torture Victim Abducted in Chechnya,"

available at; and Human Rights Watch report Russia: Stop ‘Dirty War' Tactics in Ingushetia, available at

Russia's Implementation of European Court of Human Rights Judgments on Chechnya

Although President Medvedev has made the rule of law and the elimination of "legal nihilism" the center of his agenda, one key area in which this commitment to the rule of law has not yet been put into practice is Russia's implementation of European Court of Human Rights judgments on Chechnya. The failure by Russia to implement these judgments not only denies full justice to individual victims in the cases, but raises serious concerns about Russia's willingness to abide by the rules of international institutions of which it is a member and the consequent integrity of the court.

In more than 116 rulings to date, the European Court of Human Rights has held Russia responsible for serious human rights violations in Chechnya, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and torture. It almost all cases, the court also found Russia responsible for failing to properly investigate these crimes. Following a judgment, Russia has an obligation not only to pay the monetary compensation and legal fees awarded by the court, but also to implement measures in each individual case to rectify the violations, as well as adopt policy and legal changes (also known as general measures) to prevent similar violations from recurring. Russia generally has paid the compensation and legal fees in a timely manner. But in cases from Chechnya it has failed to meaningfully implement the core of the judgments: it has failed to ensure effective investigations and hold perpetrators accountable.

First, and most significantly, with only one exception, no perpetrator in any of the 116 cases decided by the European Court has been brought to justice, even in cases in which the court has found that the perpetrators are known, and in some instances even named in its judgments. Other problems include: the state's failure to inform the aggrieved parties about the investigation; failure to provide access to criminal case files; inexplicable delays in the investigation; and legal obstacles preventing investigators from accessing key evidence held by Russian military or security services.

These same failures had plagued earlier investigations and had led the court to find violations related to the investigations. In addition, in a new and very troubling trend, the investigative authorities have flatly contested several of the European Court's judgments apparently in order to justify closing of the investigations and refusing to bring charges against perpetrators. This has occurred even in cases in which those responsible or their superiors are known and named in European Court judgments, or could readily be known.

Russia has also shown resistance to cooperating with the court in other ways. In 40 judgments on cases from Chechnya, the European Court found that Russia's refusal to share with the court documents from the criminal case files had violated its obligation to "furnish all necessary facilities" to support the court's examination of a case.

Full implementation is crucial to prevent abuses from recurring in Chechnya and in other parts of Russia's troubled North Caucasus. It carries perhaps the single most significant potential to produce lasting improvements in the human rights situation in this region. Full implementation is also an important indicator of Russia's commitment to establishing the rule of law and to practicing the principles of good governance in every region of the Russian Federation.

Recommendations for steps the Russian government should be urged to take:

  • Bring ongoing investigations to meaningful conclusions by identifying and prosecuting perpetrators of violations found by the European Court;
  • Ensure effective, objective, and thorough criminal investigations into the actions of persons named in European Court judgments as participating in or having command responsibility for operations in Chechnya that resulted in violations found by the court;
  • Provide victims and relatives up-to-date and complete information about the investigation;
  • Provide families all information as to the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared;
  • Ensure an effective judicial mechanism to challenge the actions or omissions of the investigative authorities as one aspect of ensuring effective investigations;
  • Take disciplinary action against investigators who fail to take all necessary investigative steps, to inform aggrieved parties about the investigation, or otherwise fail to comply with their professional duties;
  • Ensure effective coordination between military and civil prosecutors' offices and investigative directorates, including sharing of information as well as effective prosecutorial and judicial oversight to prevent cases from being trapped in indefinite referrals from one prosecutor to another;
  • Ensure that domestic legislation and regulations regarding the use of force by military or security forces comply fully with human rights law;
  • Ensure that officials engaged in or commanding security operations, including counterterrorism operations, are not immune from prosecution for violations of the law.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch report "Who Will Tell Me What Happened to My Son?" available at

Human Rights Watch memorandum "Update on European Court of Human Rights Judgments against Russia regarding Cases from Chechnya," available at and Human Rights Watch brochure, "Justice for Chechnya: The European Court of Human Rights Rules against Russia," available at

Abuses against Migrant Workers

Despite the 2008-2009 global economic downturn, large numbers of migrant workers from the former Soviet Union continue to seek employment in Russia, which remains the dominant economy in the region. Human Rights Watch research on migrant workers in the construction sector has documented abuses that include denial of contracts, non-payment or delayed payment of wages, excessively long working hours, and unsafe working conditions. In the worst cases, including cases of trafficking into forced labor, employers or intermediaries confiscate workers' passports and force them to work without wages. Workers often face police extortion and ill-treatment. In most cases workers are unaware of official avenues of redress or fear retaliation for their irregular residency or work status should they appeal to official agencies.

Russia's human rights obligations require the government to take positive measures to protect migrant workers from abuse and exploitation. Effective, accessible mechanisms for timely redress for abuses are a crucial dimension of rights protection, yet have not received sufficient attention from the Russian authorities. Although a number of entities exist that at least formally should provide avenues for redress for migrant workers, including the Federal Work and Employment Service (Rostrud), the courts, and the prosecutor's office, none of these mechanisms has proven adequate to effectively investigate and ensure prosecution of violations. 

Recommendations for steps the Russian government should be urged to take:

  • Rigorously inspect and prosecute employers and intermediaries responsible for trafficking into forced labor, as well as employers and intermediaries who confiscate passports, withhold wages, use physical violence against workers or commit other violations of Russian law;
  • Create effective, accessible mechanisms for migrant workers to receive timely redress for abuses;
  • Ensure that migrant workers are aware of their rights under international and Russian law and informed of this complaint mechanism;
  • Ensure that complaints of abuse made by migrant workers are thoroughly investigated by the Labor Department, prosecutor's office and other relevant agencies, irrespective of migrants' residency or employment status;
  • Cooperate with labor-sending governments to facilitate prosecutions and investigations of employers and intermediaries implicated in trafficking, including by facilitating the participation in the investigation of complaints, and any legal proceedings, by victims who have already returned home;
  • Establish a clear regulatory framework for state and private employment agencies, individual employment recruiters and other intermediaries and adequately fund mechanisms for regular monitoring of these entities, including unannounced visits;
  • Ensure that pending legislation concerning migrant workers hired by private individuals (domestic workers, small-scale construction and remodeling, etc.)  guarantees that migrant workers in all sectors obtain work permits themselves, rather than through employers.

For more information, please see Human Rights Watch report Are You Happy to Cheat Us:" Exploitation of Migrant Construction Workers in Russia, available at

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