Two years ago, on January 19th, 2009, Stanislav Markelov—a human rights defender, lawyer, and founder of the Rule of Law Institute—was gunned down in the middle of the afternoon in downtown Moscow. Anastasia Baburova, a young freelance reporter working for Novaya Gazeta, was fatally shot in the same attack. A well-known and respected figure in Russia’s human rights community, Markelov represented victims of human rights abuses in Chechnya, independent journalists, including Anna Politkovskaya and Igor Domnikov, as well as victims of neo-Nazi violence. Anastasia Baburova wrote about street protests, demonstrations, youth movements, and high-profile court cases against Russian skinheads.
Baburova and Markelov were murdered not far from the Kremlin, on a sidewalk by the Historic 17th century White Boyar Chambers on Prechistenka Street. Today, Russian antifascists laid flowers at the site, and memorial vigils and demonstrations took place in Moscow and other cities in Russia, including Saint Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Tyumen, as well as in Ukraine, where Anastasia Baburova grew up. Rallies were also expected in Poland and Kazakhstan.
The principal organizing group, which calls itself the January 19 Committee, has published a manifesto calling on others to join their campaigns against “neo-Nazi terrorism.” Russia’s ultranationalist movement flexed its muscles last month, staging violent race riots on December 12 at the Manezh Square, next to the Kremlin. The authorities were caught by surprise and unable to contain some five thousand right-wing radicals and football hooligans. A number of violent attacks against non-Slavs were reported in the vicinity of Manezh Square, yet nobody has been brought to justice in any of those cases.
In 2009 and 2010, law-enforcement authorities in Moscow and across the country had finally started paying more attention to violent neo-Nazi gangs, arresting individuals for multiple targeted murders, primarily of ethnic minorities. According to Human Rights First’s partners in Moscow, the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, there were 37 racist murders in Russia in 2010, which—while still a staggering number—is the lowest figure on record since 2004, the year SOVA started to systematically collect this information. This “progress” is mostly due to better policing and prosecutions, which could still be much improved. The Russian government could take further steps to improvement its response, including by taking advantage of international resources made available through the OSCE’s Tolerance and Nondiscrimination Unit or by reaching out to countries like Germany or the United States with offers of bilateral cooperation to combat hate crimes.
Many of those responsible for the staggering number of hate crimes in Russia over the past six years remain at large, and in the most recent manifestation of mass violence around Manezh Square, nobody will likely be held accountable. But there is some hope that those who murdered Baburova and Markelov’s will be brought to justice. Two ultranationalists affiliated with the “Russian Obraz,” Nikita Tikhonov and Evgeniya Khasis, are standing trial for the murder. Next week, a jury selected for the case will be sworn in. If the trial results in a conviction, the Merkelov and Baburova case will be the first in a long list of high-profile murders of journalists and human rights defenders whose killers have been identified and brought to justice.
Human Rights First has documented many of these cases, advocating with the U.S. government about how to promote human rights in Russia.
Ukrainian Antifascists’ Tribute to Markelov and Baburova
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