Three members of the Mobile Group, Dmitry Utukin, Sergei Babinets and Roemer Lemaitre, threatened by the Chechen leadership in Grozny

Committee Against Torture, June 2012. Grozny.

(Geneva) – The decision to give the annual Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders for 2013 to a Russianhuman rights group that works in Chechnya highlights the courage and persistence it takes to press for justice there. The award was announced on October 8.

The award will be presented to the Joint Mobile Group of Russian Human Rights Organizations in Chechnya.

“The Joint Mobile Group takes on the hardest cases when the justice system has failed,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It faces tremendous adversity and danger in bringing human rights abuses into the spotlight in today’s Chechnya.”

The Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA) is a collaboration among 10 of the world’s leading human rights organizations to provide protection to human rights defenders worldwide.

The Joint Mobile Groupworks to bring to justice people who commit enforced disappearances, torture in custody, and extrajudicial executions in Russia’s Chechen Republic. In the aftermath of two disastrous wars, Chechnya is facing an Islamist insurgency. Collective punishment, abduction-style detentions, arbitrary detention, and torture and ill-treatment have marred the authorities’ counterinsurgency campaign.

Human rights defenders who cover these issues have been threatened, harassed, and publicly smeared. In 2009, Natalya Estemirova, one of Chechnya’s top human rights defenders, was abducted in Chechnya and found shot dead in neighboring Ingushetia.

The Joint Mobile Group sends investigators from other parts of Russia on missions to Chechnya to document abuses and press the local authorities to hold those responsible to account.

Igor Kalyapin, a human rights defender, started the organization in 2009, after the murderof Estemirova and several other activists.

The authorities in Chechnya have repeatedly sought to intimidate the Joint Mobile Group. Kalyapin has been the target of criminal inquiries, one of which remains active. In 2012, Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic, publicly threatened the group’s staff. Members of the staff were detainedin both 2010 and 2012. In one case, the Russian authorities confiscated a staff member’s computer and memory sticks after he returned from Chechnya and held them for eight months.

“Chechnya’s authorities constantly threaten, smear, and try to intimidate human rights activists in the republic,” Denber said. “But this has not deterred the Joint Mobile Group from trying to make the police and prosecutors do their jobs and prosecute the people who attempt to silence activists and human rights defenders.”

The main award of the human rights movement, the Martin Ennals Award, is a unique collaboration among ten of the world’s leading human rights organizations to give protection to human rights defenders worldwide. The jury for the Martin Ennals Award and prizes consists of the following groups:

  • Amnesty International
  • Human Rights Watch
  • Human Rights First
  • (FIDH) International Federation for Human Rights
  • World Organisation Against Torture
  • Front Line Defenders
  • International Commission of Jurists
  • German Diakonie
  • International Service for Human Rights
  • HURIDOCS