“Human rights defender” is a term used to describe people who act to promote or protect human rights. Defenders often act within the context of the legal profession, as lawyers, within the community, as activists and leaders, or in the media, as journalists and researchers. Defenders are active throughout the world, however some act in environments supportive of their activism and advocacy or hostile to and suppressive of it. When threats against individuals and their families’ safety are made, it sends a dire and chilling message that anyone hoping to seek justice, uphold rights, secure accountability and end impunity will face harassment and intimidation.
Monday, a prominent Russian human rights lawyer, Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, a freelance journalist he worked with, were both killed after holding a news conference on Markelov’s decision to pursue an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights against the early release of a former Russian commander imprisoned for the murder of a young Chechen woman. Though his announcement of appeal may not have been connected to his killing, it was just one of many stances he took that led to threats against him.
Thousands gatheredon Tuesday to protest his killing Chechnya’s capital, and the newspaper that Baburova worked for produced an editorial on the circumstances of her death, the fourth journalist from that paper to be killed.
Human rights defenders, whatever their channel for action, are integral members of human rights and social justice movements and all efforts should be put to defending their work and protecting the individuals. AI does do much work on behalf of human rights defenders, and more broadly on individuals at risks, ranging from media workers in Sri Lanka to pro-democracy activists in Burma.
Amnesty International has condemned the murder, but it seems no urgent action or pressure will come on authorities to pursue the perpetrators as it seems a high-profile case will ensure public pressure in the least.
Following is a video focused on a human rights defenders from Chechnya; though her story predates the incidents occurring earlier this week, it follows that the environment in which she reports abuses and that which Markelov fought them are one in the same.