They fought the good fight.
We knew how this was going to end.
Wishes of peace for those who loved them.
They fought the good fight.
We knew how this was going to end.
Wishes of peace for those who loved them.
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.
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?
By now, most of you have heard the heartrending story of the little Liberian refugee girl who was raped by four boys, also Liberian refugees, in Phoenix, AZ. The four boys ranged in age from 9 to 14 years old. When the girl’s parents learned what happened, they told the police to take their daughter away, that the shame she had brought on her family was too great to bear. The girl was subsequently placed in foster care.
Like I said, most of you know these details already. And if you’ve read the news stories, you also know what the knee-jerk media and public reaction to this story has been — oh, those savage Africans!
Right wing columnist Phyllis Chesler even titled her column –I’m not kidding– “Child Barbarians in Phoenix: Obama Extends their Stay,” and used what happened in Phoenix to advance her argument that people from the “Third World” are inherently criminal, violent, animalistic and unassimilable into American society.
Most Americans have no idea how different our culture is from cultures in the Middle East, central Asia, or Africa. If differences are acknowledged, America and the West are blamed for them. The barbarism, genocide, perpetual civil and religious wars, the cruelties of Sharia law (stoning, cross-amputations, be-heading), and the utterly tragic treatment of women, children, and the poor in the Third World– all are blamed on western imperialism, colonialism, and capitalism.
Not true–or so I have been arguing for years. Some barbarism is indigenous to a region. But even if it were true–what’s to be done now? Should we willingly welcome cannibals [Huh? -Ed], gang-rapists, child-rapists, polygamists, (dis)honor murderers to our shores?
Terrible things happen in the Third World: Children as young as five are routinely kidnapped into slavery, or forced to become suicide bombers or child-soldiers. Children see their mothers raped, their fathers tortured, their parents and other relatives brutally murdered. Male children are forced to rape their own mothers, female children are forced to sexually service men old enough to be their grandfathers. No one protects, consoles, re-educates, or “treats” them as trauma victims.
Immigrants bring both their barbarism and their traumatized histories right along with them when they come to America.
Anti-refugee blogger Ann Corcoran also weighed in. Displaying her inimitable talent for creatively combing prejudices, she wrote :
This is a heinous practice we are well aware of with followers of Islam—-blaming the rape victim. But these Liberians are likely not Muslims, so I was interested to learn that this cultural problem was coming into the US with other refugee cultures as well.
Predictably, one of her commenters responded:
The family of the rape victim should be deported immediately. They don’t understand nor to they have the same values that we Americans have. They have no business being here. The families of the rapists should also be investigated. We shouldn’t have to allow people with these sort of views to live in this country. They don’t seem to understand what civilized people allow. We can’t have them breeding a generation of this kind of thinking in this land. I am sorry if this sounds harsh, but if they came here for a better life, that is fine, but if their values will alter our way of life, then they shouldn’t be allowed to come.
Americans also commit rape, just like Americans also murder and abuse their children and intimate partners. As has been proved time and again, foreign born residents –including refugees- are actually less likely to commit violent crimes than Americans born in this country. These are not opinions, they are facts. (See here and here.)
A climate of impunity for violence against women, much of it sexual, has existed in Liberian society for a long time, and reached unfathomable proportions during Liberia’s civil war. This is also true.
But so is the tremendous effort Liberian activists have put into ending that culture of impunity and changing social attitudes toward women and victims of sexual and gender-based violence. Like every other society, Liberian society is not culturally or attitudinally monolithic. Certain opinions are widely (though not universally) held, but extrapolating the actions or opinions of any individual or small group of individuals to the entire racial, ethnic, religious or national category that person or those individuals fall into is illogical, dangerous bigotry. It reduces people to categorical absolutes, dismisses all of life’s messiness as predestination, and encourages faulty assumptions about violence, culture, and causality.
The parents of the rape victim in Phoenix have done themselves and the rest of the Liberian refugee community in the United States no favours by abandoning their daughter and telling the press how ashamed of her they are, but they do not represent all Liberians refugees, or all Liberians. Prominent Liberians from U.S.-based activists to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf have condemned the reaction of this family and expressed their support for the victim. The Liberian diaspora has recoiled in as much horror at the entire situation as everyone else.
This is not about Africans.
This is not about Liberians.
This is not about refugees.
And this is not about your agenda or my agenda when it comes to immigration.
This is about a little girl in Phoenix who had something terrible done to her, parents who betrayed their child when she needed them most, and yes, four little boys who will now be swallowed by the criminal justice system and whose lives will forever be defined by a crime they committed as juveniles.
The county prosecutor for Maricopa County has stated that the 14 year old boy will be tried as an adult, while the 9, 10 and 13 year olds will be tried as juveniles. Instead of receiving counseling and rehabilitation to re-enter society, these boys will spend years, possibly decades in the case of the 14 year old, in some of the worst prisons in the democratic world.
Childhood is defined legally and understood socially by a person’s age, not by his or her behaviour or capacity. Ten year olds are fully capable of drinking and smoking, but we don’t let them do those things. Fifteen year olds are certainly capable of fighting in wars –but we don’t let anyone enlist in the armed forces until she or her reaches age 18, and we view combatants below that age elsewhere in the world as victims of adult manipulation and unfortunate circumstances beyond their control.
A few nights ago, I asked a lawyer friend to explain the rationale behind trying children as adults and sentencing them to hard time in adult prisons. He said that there isn’t a sound legal rationale behind it –it’s purely pandering to a lynch mob mentality for political gain, buying votes by satiating voters’ desire for retribution without the consideration of mitigating circumstances. It’s not that we view child offenders as adults when they commit terrible crimes, he explained, it’s that we stop caring that they are children.
All of that made perfect sense to me. There are many aspects of American political culture that are incredibly illiberal and backward, and our attitude toward juvenile offenders is one of these. Not until 2005, following the Supreme Court decision in Roper v. Simmons, did it become illegal everywhere in the United States to apply the death penalty to juvenile offenders.
Even then, the court ruled 5-4, and the decision is still controversial. Think about that: it’s controversial for the United States to no longer be executing people for crimes they committed as kids. Prior to Roper, fifteen states still allowed the execution of juvenile offenders as young as 16 years old.
What is in store for the Liberian refugee children at the center of the Phoenix tragedy? For the little girl, I hope, all the medical and psychological services she needs, with or without the future involvement of her parents in her life. It is also my sincere wish that she finds the kind of unconditional love she was denied by her parents.
For the boys, life from now on will be nasty, poor, solitary, and bereft of opportunities for rehabilitation. Given where they will stand trial, convictions are all but guaranteed, and the resulting sentences will likely be lengthy, custodial ones. The conditions in Maricopa County jails violate minimum humanitarian standards. Infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio runs Maricopa like his personal, authoritarian fiefdom. I wrote about Arpaio last year. If you think I’m being dramatic and exaggerating what the Liberian boys will face in the days ahead –or you believe the boys deserve whatever is coming to them– I suggest you keep reading.
Bad times for democracy in Central Asia continue.
The OSCE has officially said the Kyrgyz election “failed to meet key OSCE commitments, despite some positive elements.” Before the elections, OSCE observers saw “instances of obstruction of opposition campaign events as well as pressure and intimidation of opposition supporters.” Then, on election day, there were “many problems and irregularities, including ballot box stuffing, inaccuracies in the voter lists, and multiple voting.” But hey, at least they had multiple candidates!
Joshua has a good summary of the Kyrgyz election mess (complete with ballot-stuffing video) here.
The Afghan parliament is revising the country’s marriage law, and not in woman-friendly ways, according to AlterNet:
The Afghan parliament is expected to soon approve revisions to its marriage law that will do very little in the way of improving women’s rights. Despite recent demands that the country radically rework its policies on issues such as polygamy and a woman’s right to work, Afghanistan’s government is signaling a continued adherence to regressive traditions.
In a recent letter to Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, activists said, “slight changes in the wordings of the law, rather than changes in content,” have rendered the revisions ineffectual.
Additionally, Shinkai Kharokhel, a lawmaker involved in the legislation, told the Associated Press on July 14 that the law’s revisions do little more than uphold structural inequalities in the country. She said many Afghan women “are illiterate, and they don’t have financial security and no one will give her money … shelter, medical, food, all these expenses belong to the man, and he can hold that back.”
What is perhaps most unfortunate among the “revisions” is the Afghan government’s failure to erase a law that calls on women to engage in sex with their husbands at least every four days. Although the proposed revisions do eliminate a time frame for sexual requirements, they still allow a man to withhold financial support for his wife if she refuses to “submit to her husband’s reasonable sexual enjoyment,” Human Rights Watch has reported.
“[…] submit to her husband’s reasonable sexual enjoyment”?
That’s grim stuff. Here’s hoping MP Kharokhel and other progressive MPs make more of a dent in this law.
While we’re on the topic of misogyny and sexism, my landlord busted out the following gem two nights ago when I complained about sexual harassment of women on the streets of my city.
“You know the Bloodhound Gang song ‘Street Legal Whore’? Well, that describes most women your age. Take it [the harassment] as a compliment. Pretty soon you’ll be too old for it.”
Needless to say, I’m moving out at the end of the summer. I’d move out sooner, but can’t afford to.
(Oh, and that foul Bloodhound Gang song is actually titled “I’m the Least You Could Do.”)
I have nothing but contempt for Jeff Sessions.
Via Human Rights Now:
Yesterday the Senate passed four amendments to the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, including a provision that would allow the death penalty to apply to hate crimes. This amendment, added by Senator Jeff Sessions, R, AL (a vocal opponent of the Act itself), adds nothing to the justice the bill seeks for victims of gender and sexuality-based hate crimes.
The point Sessions was trying to convey is something like “If you’re going to pass legislation that discourages people from committing crimes against members of groups I resent the very existence of, I’m going to bundle that legislation with a big, fat human rights violation! How’d ya like that?”
My mind, it boggles.
My ex-boyfriend and I are going to see Afghan Star this weekend. I’m excited. Here’s the trailer.
Well, this is rich.
MOSCOW — The spokesman for Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s strongman leader, says his boss will sue a top human rights organization for claiming he was behind the brazen slaying of one of its activists.
Natalya Estemirova, an activist for the group Memorial, had exposed dozens of rights abuses in the Russian region of Chechnya. Her bullet-ridden body was found Wednesday, hours after she was kidnapped by four men not far from her home in the Chechen capital, Grozny.
Oleg Orlov, Memorial’s chief, said Thursday: “I know who is guilty of Natalya’s murder. His name is Ramzan Kadyrov.” Orlov said he meant Kadyrov carried broader responsibility rather than ordering her murder.
Kadyrov’s spokesman Alvi Karimov said Kadyrov’s lawyer is preparing a lawsuit “to defend his dignity.”
Where could Memorial employees have gotten the idea that Kadyrov had anything to do with Estemirova’s death?
Oh, right — Kadyrov himself.
[…] the Chechen president offered Estemirova a position as the head of a civil society advisory commission for the city of Grozny. She accepted. It was not in Estimirova’s character to shut up, though. Even while advising the government of Kadyrov, she did not stop writing reports for Memorial. The one about Kadyrov forbidding girls to come to universities without head scarves made him really angry. In March 2008, Kadyrov called her to come to a city office and yelled at her. Estemirova was fired. He threatened her multiple times, she later told us, but her Memorial friends “decided to keep that out of publicity, as Memorial’s work in Chechnya would stop the moment we decided otherwise.”
Estemirova worked in the Caucus, arguably one of the most macho regions of macho Russia. She investigated human rights abuse in Chechnya. Although internationally, consensus has already been reached and “pro-government” figures are thought as the likely culprits, the truth is, this woman could have crossed just about anyone. In a region with a history of war and ongoing violence, plenty of people may have wanted Natalia Estemirova dead.
Anna Nemtsova’s Foreign Policy article on Natalia Estemirova’s murder is one of those pieces I read with a swelling lump in my throat.
Many times after that, I would call her to see how things were in Russia’s forgotten war zone. Natasha, as we called her, would always quickly reply: “They abduct people by the dozens, they burn their houses, they torture guerrillas’ relatives, kick people out of their apartments — something has to be done, something has to be done to help them.” Who are they? I would ask her. “Come over, I will tell you.”
Well, on Tuesday, they came for Natasha. At 8:30 that morning, as she walked out of her house, she was dragged into an unmarked white Lada, screaming vainly for help.
Just like one of the stories she so doggedly pursued. And of course, we know how this one ends:
Because it always ends the same way.
They found her body later that day, in nearby Ingushetia, riddled with bullets. This, unfortunately, was the Chechnya that she knew all too well, the place of thuggery, violence, and corruption that most of the rest of the world has been content to forget. Just recently Moscow declared that the war there is over. Well, it may not be war, but it remains as lawless as a war zone. Abductions and killings by them are rising.
Nemtsova adds something I didn’t know about Estemirova:
Until this week, Natasha had a simple rule: She never gave up her investigations until she knew for certain that nothing else could be done. That became her practice from an early age, when she was a reporter. Before the wars started, she had been a history teacher. Back in the 1990s, when the violence began, she reported 13 documentary stories for local television stations. “That was when I became a human rights activist at heart. When my husband died in war, my heart hardened,” she said. That was all she told me about her personal life; there was none. She never liked talking about what happened to her husband.
So that is how she became involved in human rights work. It makes a lot of sense, actually. What a remarkable woman. What a god-awful loss. Words fail.
Natalia Estemirova of Memorial was found dead in Ingushetia, killed execution-style. She had been kidnapped just hours before in Chechnya, where she had been conducting research into extra-judicial killings. Estemirova’s murder follows a pattern: human rights defender uncovers evidence of crimes by state agents, goes public, and winds up bullet-ridden.
The slaying came the same day as the release of a report she helped research that concluded there was enough evidence to demand that Russian officials, including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, be called to account for crimes committed on their watch.
“She documented the most horrendous violations, mass executions,” said Tatyana Lokshina, a Moscow researcher with the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.
Estemirova’s colleagues at Memorial have no doubts about who is responsible for this latest slaying.
In previous such murders — and there have been many — the finger-pointing has been somewhat wobbly. The regime of Ramzan Kadyrov, the 32-year-old leader who runs Chechnya as his own personal fiefdom, has managed to shrug off accusations that it is somehow involved in the spate of killings that have seen Kadyrov’s opponents fall dead one by one, in Chechnya, in Moscow, and abroad.
Some have remained silent, likely fearing revenge. For Memorial, there is nothing more to fear.
Oleg Orlov, the chairman of Memorial, Russia’s preeminent human rights group, said Kadyrov has blood on his hands, and he plans on telling the world.
“Ramzan Kadyrov is personally responsible, not only because he leads Chechnya,” Orlov said, reacting more with raging anger than sadness over the death of his colleague. “He personally threatened Natalia, told her that her hands would be covered in blood and that he destroys bad people.” That threat came, he said, when Kadyrov dismissed Estemirova as head of the Grozny Human Rights Public Council early last year.
Though the war in Chechnya officially ended this year, internal violence goes on, and the brutal tactics the Kadyrov regime has employed to suppress the unvanquished insurgency have made a resumption of major armed conflict in the region more likely.
“During the past month, the level of human rights abuses has been staggering,” Lokshina said. “It seems that the law enforcement and security agencies under the control of President Kadyrov are attempting to suppress an insurgency which is suddenly on the rise.” That is happening in part, she says, because of the human rights abuses continually perpetrated by the regime.
With the murder of Estemirova, there is one less voice to expose those abuses.
Human rights work in the Russian Federation has become a grim relay race in which the living must take up the unfinished work of their murdered colleagues and run fast and fearless until they, too, are cut down.
Doug Muir at AFOE writes:
It’ll be interesting to see where this goes. There have been some hints that the Kremlin is a little tired of Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov. He’s a thug and embarrassingly corrupt; more to the point, his one claim to legitimacy in the Kremlin’s eyes — bringing peace and order to Chechnya — is looking a little frayed around the edges, especially since a lot of the trouble in Chechnya just seems to have moved next door to Ingushetia. (Ms. Estemirova’s killers kidnapped her in Chechnya, but dumped her body over the border in Ingushetia. This looks like a crude attempt to blame the crime on the Ingush resistance. Which would be totally consistent with Kadyrov’s character and M.O.) In theory, the Kremlin could use this — the killing of a photogenic ethnic Russian woman — as a sharp stick to poke him.
But I doubt that will happen; while Medvedev may be getting a little weary of Kadyrov, there isn’t a plausible replacement on the horizon.
Amanda at Pandagon wrote a great post about how important it is for members of our political class to understand the history of birth control before they make ignorant statements all over the press ( e.g. “feminists are pro-abortion” or “being pro-choice is racist; Margaret Sanger was a eugenicist”) and then make equally ignorant policy decisions:
Truth told, the history of birth control in the 20th century is a confusing one and hard to break into easy-to-read partisan packages. Eugenics was a popular theory throughout the early part of the 20th century, until the Nazis put an end to that, and while Sanger was motivated primarily by her socialism and her feminism, she wasn’t above asking people with less than perfect motivations, such as the KKK, for support. But it’s rich for modern people to act like this sort of bargain with the devil is impossible to understand, since future people will look at the fact that Pat Buchanan was allowed on MSNBC in the same dim light we use when looking at the social esteem that the KKK had in the 20s. I’m not making excuses, but pointing out that Sanger’s footsie-playing with racist elements was about a short-sighted pragmatism instead of evil, the kind that we forgive in folks like Rachel Maddow. In the 60s and 70s, you have the same problem. The actual proponents of birth control and abortion rights were motivated by social justice, but more than a few racist legislators promoted birth control and abortion for seedy reasons. Does this mean that women’s human rights should be revoked? Or that perhaps the issue of complicity is more unnerving and complicated than most of us would like to admit?
Read the whole thing.