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We, the undersigned, are gravely concerned about the situation of human rights defenders in the Russian Federation, including several murders targeting prominent researchers and activists for their work in the North Caucasus last year and the lack of accountability for these heinous crimes.

On July 15, 2009, in Chechnya, assailants kidnapped Natalia Estemirova as she made her way to work at the Grozny office of the respected Russian human rights group Memorial. Ms. Estemirova was Memorial's leading researcher, focusing on such human rights violations as abduction, torture, and extrajudicial execution in Chechnya. Her killers crossed the border into neighboring Ingushetia, passing through at least two police checkpoints, before shooting her to death and dumping her body on the side of the road. Estemirova's murder occurred just days after President Obama addressed an important gathering of American and Russian civil society leaders in Moscow, including her colleagues from Memorial.

On July 3 this year, in a speech in Cracow commemorating the 10th anniversary of The Community of Democracies, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton said, "The persecution of civil society activists and organizations, whether they are fighting for justice and law, or clean and open government, or public health, or a safe environment, or honest elections, is not just an attack against people we admire, it's an attack against our own fundamental beliefs."  In the spirit of the values that underpin our commitment to democracy at home and abroad, we call upon the U.S. Government to press the Russian authorities to implement policies that will put an end to impunity for those who target human rights defenders, demand full and transparent investigation into these crimes, and hold the perpetrators accountable to the full extent of the law.

Jennifer Windsor
Executive Director, Freedom House

Elisa Massimino
President and Chief Executive Officer, Human Rights First

Tom Malinowski
Washington Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch

Carl Gershman
President, National Endowment for Democracy

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