EU urges Russia to protect human-rights workers in North Caucasus
The European Union on Thursday urged Russia to protect human-rights workers in the troubled North Caucasus region, a year after a leading activist was murdered.
Natalia Estemirova specialized in documenting abuses in the Russian republic of Chechnya, where Russian forces fought two wars against Islamist separatists in 1994-96 and 1999-2000. She was dragged from her home and shot dead on July 15, 2009, DPA reported.
Investigators have not yet concluded the case, despite the fact that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev demanded quick results.
The EU "strongly encourages the authorities of the Russian Federation to work towards putting an end to the climate of impunity and fear in the North Caucasus in general and Chechnya in particular, and hopes for swift results in the investigation into the death of Ms Estemirova," member states said in a joint declaration.
Violence is still rife in Chechnya and the neighbouring republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan as Islamist forces wage a low-level war against Russian forces. Both sides are alleged to have committed numerous human-rights abuses.
The EU "expresses its preoccupation at the continuing human-rights violations in the North Caucasus and the worsening of the situation of human-rights defenders in the region," the statement said.
Estemirova is the third high-profile activist dealing with Chechnya to be murdered in Russia in recent years. Journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead in Moscow in 2006, while lawyer Stanislav Markelov was gunned down in the Russian capital in January 2009.
The cases have severely embarrassed Russia internationally, where they are seen as proof of the government's failure to improve its record on security and human rights.
Earlier on Thursday, Medvedev said after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Estemirova's killer had been identified, and that attention was now focusing on finding out who ordered the murder.
"The investigation is going at full speed," he said.
Separately, the human-rights commissioner at the Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg, also demanded action from Russia.
"Those guilty of this horrible and cowardly crime have still not been brought to justice. This is unacceptable," he said. The Council is a human-rights body with 40 members, and is not linked to the EU.