If some night I don’t come home

Another aidworker has been kidnapped in Chechnya. Zarema Gaisanova, an employee of the Danish Refugee Council, has been missing for five weeks, and, surprise, surprise, the police are being accused of abducting her. Gaisanova’s family and friends want her back.

I’m no longer going to feign hope when it comes to abductions of aidworkers, journalists and human rights activists in the North Caucasus.

We know how this story ends.

Good night, travel well

Tanya Lokshina drives a knife through your heart:

Natasha takes a last sip of tea: “Yes, it would be good to leave – for a year, say. I so want to write a book. But there is always so much to do and no time left for anything. But if I did go somewhere… Not now, of course, I just can’t at the moment…” She gets up from the kitchen sofa, and staggering from tiredness, heads for the bedroom.

“Come on, do it now!” I laugh as she leaves. “Just think how awful it’ll be if you get bumped off, and haven’t even written the book which your friends and colleagues can bring out with great fanfare after your death. You’re not going to have a book, like proper people, just a pathetic posthumous collection of articles. The shame of it! Those posthumous collections of articles are the pits. If you’ve got a shred of conscience and self-respect left, you’ll get out of here and not come back ‘til you’ve written the book!” I move the mouse to wake the sleeping computer, and hear Natasha chuckling sleepily as she pulls the blanket over herself.

She was killed two days later, on 15 July.

She was pushed into a car while running to catch a shuttle taxi early in the morning. They took her from Chechnya into Ingushetia, and shot her by the forest.

At the funeral Lana tagged at my sleeve: “You will publish a collection of Mum’s articles now, won’t you? Mum didn’t write a book… You said that if a person is killed and hasn’t written a book, then they publish a collection of articles…” We like to think that children sleep at night, but they listen to our midnight conversations with great attention.

This temporary flesh and bone

This is crushingly depressing in that special way something that seems totally unstoppable is.

Via Human Rights Watch, the latest threat against human rights advocates in Chechnya:

Akhmed Gisayev, a Memorial employee who had been working with Natalia Estemirova to investigate a sensitive human rights case in the days before her murder on July 15, 2009, has experienced a series of menacing events in the past days and weeks.

In the evening of August 13, a group of three or four armed men stopped Gisayev and his wife near their apartment in Grozny. The men pointed their weapons at Gisayev and demanded his documents. They refused to identify themselves or explain the reasons for the search. When Gisayev said that he worked at Memorial and showed his Memorial ID card, one of the men said: “And it’s your colleagues who are getting killed? And do you know why they’re getting killed?” They then returned Gisayev’s passport and left. The next morning, on August 14, Russian military and local security personnel conducted a passport check-and-search operation on Gisayev’s street. Such operations used to occur regularly, but have not occurred in Gisayev’s region for a long time. Some of the men who had threatened him the previous evening were among those who searched his apartment.

Prior to these events, Gisayev had observed a car parked next to his house on several occasions. The car had dark windows, a radio transmitter, and a license plate with a number not used for civilian vehicles, leading him to suspect that it belonged to the security services. Gisayev reported these incidents to the prosecutor’s office in Chechnya, but the authorities did not undertake any concrete measures to investigate them or to ensure Gisayev’s protection.

[...]

In the days before Estemirova was killed, Gisayev and Estemirova had been researching the case of a man who had been abducted and tortured by local law enforcement officials. When the man’s relatives began to work with Gisayev and Estemirova to take action on his case, the man was taken into incommunicado detention by local law enforcement from the hospital where he had been receiving treatment for his torture injuries. Memorial staff and the man’s relatives appealed to the local prosecutor’s office in the first week of July. Soon after, Gisayev began to notice the suspicious-looking vehicles outside his home.

Gisayev is an applicant in a case pending before the European Court of Human Rights, relating to his own illegal detention and torture by Russian servicemen in 2003.

The human rights movement does not need any more martyrs. If  Akhmed Gisayev was my friend or co-worker, I would be doing my utmost to convince him to leave Chechnya, to leave Russia and seek asylum somewhere in Western Europe.

And yet, if every human rights advocate in a dangerous place took that advice, there would be no one to track down disappeared prisoners, uncover unmarked graves, and amplify voices of living victims. In the North Caucasus, this is lonely and, for many, eventually lethal work. Allies and colleagues in Brussels, Washington, London, New York and even Moscow can do little more than wait in dread by their phones and keep their computer screens open to email.

The condemnation of an activist’s murder in the Russian Federation now has its own form letter; all one needs to add is the who, where, and how. Everyone knows the why.

What more can one even say?

Stay safe? Good luck? Solidarity?

And the hits just keep coming

Literally.

Malik Akhmedilov, an investigative journalist in Dagestan, was found murdered today. In true North Caucasus fashion, his body was found in the trunk of a car.

Akhmedilov was known for his reporting on the one story sure to get you killed sooner or later: political assassinations and extrajudicial killings.

In the North Caucasus, reporters finish their careers by becoming part of the story in the worst way.

Oh, this is bad

According to Human Rights Watch, a Chechen aidworker and her husband were brazenly abducted from the office of the Grozny-based humanitarian NGO Save the Generation today (yesterday Russian time).

Two armed men entered the office of the group, Save the Generation, at about 2 p.m., witnesses said. The men said they were members of the security services and demanded that Zarema Sadulayeva, the head of the organization, and her husband, Alik (Umar) Lechayevich Dzhabrailov, come with them. They did not say where they were taking the couple. They had not been heard from as of 9:30 p.m., and Russian authorities had not responded to inquiries about the couple’s whereabouts by the Russian human rights organization Memorial.

Clearly not afraid of being identified or pursued, the kidnappers later came back to take their victims’ things.

Shortly after Sadulayeva and Dzhabrailov were taken away, the men who had taken them returned to the organization’s office and took Dzhabrailov’s mobile phone and his car, a gray VAZ 2110, with a license plate ending in 237.

Not even a month has passed since the murder of one of Chechnya’s –and Russia’s– most prominent human rights advocates, Natalia Estemirova. But unlike Estemirova, who directly investigated crimes by state agents, Sadulayeva and her husband were involved in apolitical humanitarian work.

Save the Generation is a nongovernmental organization in Chechnya founded in 2001 that provides psychological and physical rehabilitation to disabled children, orphans, and other socially vulnerable groups. The group also works closely with UNICEF, among other groups, to provide training about landmines, and promotes protection of the rights of the disabled.

Honestly, it doesn’t get any more uncontroversial than orphans, children with disabilities, and landmine victims. However, this is Chechnya under Ramzan Kadyrov,  and Kadyrov really doesn’t like it when people point out the fact that his republic has, you know, some issues.

In a recent Radio Free Europe interview, he actually made the following statement:

The only thing I can say is that we’ll fully rebuild Chechnya and solve every social problem. Chechnya will be the most successful region in Russia and the world.

Ok then! Right. Those ain’t delusions of grandeur at all.

On the subject of human rights abuses, Kadyrov wanted to make one thing crystal clear: he’s the biggest victim of all.

[...] my father was killed. I’ve lost thousands of people I know [Who actually knows, I mean personally knows, thousands of people? -Ed]. I’ve lost relatives, classmates and friends. And no one says Kadyrov has lost them, that Kadyrov has rights, too. Everyone’s silent about that.

As my stepfather says, “What’s that I hear? The sound of the world’s smallest, saddest violin playing just for you?”

When terrorists set off bombs in the center of Grozny, killing police, women, and children, human rights activists say nothing about that. Why don’t they protect my rights? Kadyrov has lost everything. But whenever something happens in Chechnya — where there are a million residents — if someone violates the law, it’s always Kadyrov who’s to blame.

All of which would seem totally unfair but for the pesky little fact that virtually everyone Kadyrov threatens meets a strange and grisly end soon thereafter. (But don’t worry, Kadyrov has a totally reasonable explanation for this. Watch the video!)

Meanwhile, back in the real world:

“Human Rights Watch is extremely concerned about the fate of Zarema Sadulayeva and Alik Dzhabrailov,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The shocking murder of Natalia Estemirova only last month has made it obvious that activists in Chechnya are being targeted for their work and are extremely vulnerable.”

“If the authorities have officially detained Sadulayeva and Dzhabrailov, they should reveal their location and the legal basis for holding them and guarantee their rights,” Cartner said. “This includes an absolute prohibition on ill-treatment, their right to inform their relatives of their whereabouts, and access to a lawyer of their choosing.”

As if screaming into the wind –which is what all appeals to the rule of law in the North Caucasus have become– HRW finishes with the following:

The detention of anyone followed by a refusal to acknowledge this detention, or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the detained person, constitutes an enforced disappearance, a crime under international law that is prohibited in all circumstances.

These stories don’t usually end happily, but I’m going to hold out hope Sadulayeva and Dzhabrailov are still alive until I read otherwise.

Ramzan Kadyrov gives a fantastically creepy interview

I’m glad the RFE_RL journalist who conducted this interview didn’t end up missing, or tiger food.

Here’s what Kadyrov said about the murder of Natalia Estemirova [emphasis mine]:

RFE/RL: You’ve promised to oversee an objective investigation into the murder of Natalya Estemirova. But her colleagues blame you for her killing. Why not appoint, or welcome, an independent figure to ensure that objectivity?

Kadyrov:
Why invite people from outside to do that if we have our own laws here? Are investigations in the Russian Federation conducted worse than in other countries? A full investigation is being carried out.

[Memorial head] Oleg Orlov blamed me [for Estemirova's death]. That human rights defender violated my human rights. He should have protected me as an individual and thought about what he was going to say. But he accused me of being a murderer. He said that Kadyrov killed Estemirova. I told him, “Mr. Orlov, you’re an adult. Be a real person for once in your life and tell me why you violated my rights?” He replied saying, “That’s not what I meant. I meant you in your role as president.”

They [human rights activists] are all lawyers. The texts they write follow the letter of the law. [Orlov] told me he blamed me as president, as the guarantor of the constitution. They’re very good lawyers. But if they say that Kadyrov or his people are to blame, let them prove it. Why would Kadyrov kill women that no one needs?

[Estemirova] never had any honor or sense of shame.
And still I appointed her head of a [civil society advisory] commission with the mayor of Grozny as her deputy. I wanted to be objective about addressing the issue. But she didn’t like it. She would say stupid things. I told her, “You’re a woman, and we’re trying to do something for the people. But if it doesn’t work, don’t blame us.” I said I would show her the city budget and told her to try to do better. She said, “Yes, I understand.”

So I said I’d disband the commission, thanks very much for your work, but I don’t trust you. I didn’t treat her gently. I didn’t tell her I loved her. I told it like it was. We were both acting in our professional capacities. She was the head of the commission, and I, as the president of Chechnya, was evaluating her work. So why am I to blame? Let the investigators conduct their work. If Kadyrov or his people are to blame, let them be tried and jailed.

So. Incredibly. Creepy.

Also, don’t you just love it when thuggish leaders shift back and forth between first and third person?

A few things

Inspired by Devon Whittle’s Arusha guides for ICTR interns, I am working on a guide to living in Sarajevo as an intern, UNV, or just poorly paid NGO staffer. My guide will be a fully revised and blog-ified version of a short document I put together for my successor near the end of my time in Bosnia. I was going to post the guide last night, but I have decided to put more effort into it, polish it up a bit more.

***

In offline life, I am writing something about the Democratic Republic of the Congo. When I began the piece, I had only the faintest understanding of the Second Congo War, and I feel like that hasn’t really changed. The sheer number of belligerent parties (more than twenty) and civilian deaths (between 4 and 5 million, including those who have died of disease and starvation as a result of the conflict) make my head spin. The magnitude of human suffering is dizzying. I hate “-ist” titles, but I suppose if you had to assign one to me it would be “Central Asianist” (blech!) or “Eurasianist” (blech!).  What I am definitely not is an “Africanist.”  Sometimes, I think this implies a kind of intellectual wussiness when it comes to conflicts. European and Central Asian conflicts aren’t simple by any stretch, but I get the feeling, reading about the DRC, that my Africa-focused friends at Wronging Rights and other blogs really do have to put more effort in.

And I thought the Afghan civil war was knotty. Crikey.

***

Oh. Dear. God.

NBC is coming out with a new reality show called ‘The Wanted’, about pseudo-journalists entrapping accused terrorists and war criminals. I wish I was kidding.

Couldn’t they have gone for another ‘Law and Order’ spin-off  –perhaps ‘Law and Order: War Crimes Investigations’? Fiction would have been better.

Journalists are going ballistic over this, but I think the international justice set has even more reason to worry about unintended consequences.

***

I’m going to lay off the haterade as far as Libertarians go for a while solely because Reason published this article.

Opponents of illegal immigration usually do little more than cite andecdotes attempting to link illegal immigration to violent crime. When they do try to use statistics, they come up short. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), for example, has perpetuated the popular myth that illegal immigrants murder 12 Americans per day, and kill another 13 by driving drunk. King says his figures come from a Government Accountability Office study he requested, which found that about 27 percent of inmates in the federal prison system are non-citizens. Colorado Media Matters looked into King’s claim, and found his methodology lacking. King appears to have conjured his talking point by simply multiplying the annual number of murders and DWI fatalities in America by 27 percent. Of course, the GAO report only looked at federal prisons, not the state prisons and local jails where most convicted murderers and DWI offenders are kept. The Bureau of Justice Statistics puts the number of non-citizens (including legal immigrants) in state, local, and federal prisons and jails at about 6.4 percent (pdf). Of course, even that doesn’t mean that non-citizens account for 6.4 percent of murders and DWI fatalities, only 6.4 percent of the overall inmate population.

It’s too bad facts have never mattered to the likes of Lou Dobbs and Michelle Malkin.

***

Memorial has ceased its work in Chechnya. This is equal parts sad and chilling. Oleg Orlov explained:

There is state terror in Russia.  We know about murders both inside Chechnya and elsewhere.  Those who are killed have tried to tell the truth and criticise the government.  Ramzan Kadyrov has made it impossible for human rights activists to work in Chechnya.  Natasha Estemirova’s killers wanted to put a stop to the flow of honest information from Chechnya.  Perhaps they have succeeded.

***

Afghanistan needs better police, and why police reform has not been better planned and resourced boggles the mind.

“The police would stop people driving on motorcycles, beat them and take their money,” said Mohammad Gul, an elder in the village of Pankela, which British troops have been securing for the past three days after flying in by helicopter.

He pointed to two compounds of neighbors where pre-teen children had been abducted by police to be used for the local practice of “bachabazi,” or sex with pre-pubescent boys.

“If the boys were out in the fields, the police would come and rape them,” he said. “You can go to any police base and you will see these boys. They hold them until they are finished with them and then let the child go.”

***

The EU fucked up badly with this, probably more than the Commissioners understand as of yet.  The least worst thing the EU can do now, what it should do, is waive the border control requirements for Bosnia’s inclusion in the visa-free regime.

***

Today, while I was walking to the grocery store, the Arcade Fire song ‘Keep the Car Running/Broken Window’ played on my ipod. It seems a fitting soundtrack to the news of late, whether you buy into the “forcibly disappeared dissident” interpretation of the lyrics or the “terrorist on the run” interpretation.

Every night my dream’s the same.
Same old city with a different name.
Men are coming to take me away.
I don’t know why but I know I can’t stay.

There’s a weight that’s pressing down.
Late at night you can hear the sound.
Even the noise you make when you sleep.
Can’t swim across a river so deep.
They know my name ’cause I told it to them,
But they don’t know where And they don’t know
When It’s coming, when It’s coming.

There’s a fear I keep so deep,
Knew it’s name since before I could speak:
Aaaah aaaaaah aaaaah aaaaaah
They know my name ’cause I told it to them,
But they don’t know where And they don’t know
When It’s coming, Oh! when It’s coming

Keep the car running

If some night I don’t come home,
Please don’t think I’ve left you alone.
The same place animals go when they die,
You can’t climb across a mountain so high.
The same city where I go when I sleep,
You can’t swim across a river so deep.
They know my name ’cause I told it to them,
But they don’t know where
And they don’t know
When It’s coming, Oh! when is it coming?

Keep the car running
Keep the car running
Keep the car running

 

***

This photo of the Ploče train station is a perfect representation of where my life and frame of mind are at this moment.

This photo of the Ploče train station is a perfect representation of where my life and frame of mind are at this moment.

***

I still owe Michael at Humanitarian Relief a post on the crisis in refugee resettlement. I owe a lot of things to a lot of people right now.

“The dogs are barking”: Tanya Lokshina on Natalia Estemirova’s murder

Tanya Lokshina, Human Rights Watch’s incredible Moscow office deputy director, has a piece in the Washington Post today about the killing of her friend, Natalia Estemirova. She describes the repression that Estemirova died exposing:

Among the most recent cases she publicized was that of Madina Yunusova, 20, who married a suspected Chechen militant last month. Yunusova’s husband was killed in early July. Two days later, security forces came to her house, locked her mother, father and two sisters in the adjacent shed, and used gasoline to set the house on fire. The armed men unlocked the shed as they left, and Yunusova’s family managed to put out the fire. The next day, the forces returned — this time bringing Yunusova’s body wrapped in a shroud, along with instructions to bury her “without noise.”

Many others have remarked on the ghastly predictability of Estemirova’s end, but Lokshina’s words read with unique forcefulness and urgency.

Natasha had received many death threats and experienced many close calls over the years. Like Politkovskaya’s death, her killing was both predictable and avoidable. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has expressed his outrage at Natasha’s death, but that is not enough. The Russian government must launch an immediate and thorough investigation into not only Natasha’s death but the full range of human rights atrocities that have unfolded under the leadership of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. That investigation should examine the role of official involvement — including by Kadyrov.

Natasha is not the first Russian human rights defender murdered this year. In January, a friend of ours, Stanislav Markelov, a prominent human rights lawyer who helped many victims of abuse in Chechnya, was shot in central Moscow. Natasha came to town for his funeral. We sat at my kitchen table talking into the wee hours about Markelov and Politkovskaya and speculating about who would be next.

Now I know.

The killers of Markelov and Politkovskaya are still at large, and the Russian government has shown little political will to seriously investigate the murders of rights defenders. Natasha’s death must be the moment this changes. That’s where Western governments come in. We Russians have a saying, “The dogs bark, and the caravan moves on.” Europe and the United States have found it convenient to let Chechnya slip off the agenda in their meetings with Russian policymakers. The dogs are barking.

I will say it: I’m afraid for Tanya Lokshina. Her kind are an endangered species whose numbers are swiftly shrinking.