Human Rights Lawyer Markelov Shot 'The Murderers Are among Us'

Human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov was tireless in his attempts to strengthen the rule of law in Russia -- often going against the state itself. On Monday, he was shot to death in broad daylight on the streets of Moscow. A journalist also died in the attack.

By in Moscow


The last time I met with the young Moscow lawyer Stanislav Markelov, in a street café not far from Red Square in July 2007, he uttered a telling sentence. "The murderers are among us," he said.

Human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov was gunned down in the streets of Moscow on Monday.
AFP

Human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov was gunned down in the streets of Moscow on Monday.

On Monday, the sad truth of that statement was once again revealed. This time, Stanislav himself was the victim, shot by an unknown assailant in broad daylight on a street in the heart of Moscow. Journalist Anastasia Baburova was also killed in the attack.

The murder robs Russia of a courageous lawyer, one who consistently represented the interests of those citizens who had fallen victim to the capriciousness of the state. And those who had been killed by soldiers serving Russia.

He spoke often of uniformed perpetrators allowed to remain free despite having killed Chechen civilians. Among other clients, Markelov represented the Kungaeva family. Their 18-year-old daughter Elsa was brutally abused and murdered by Russian Colonel Yuri Budanov in 1999 at the beginning of the Second Chechen War. Budanov said he thought she was a sniper with the Chechen guerrillas. Budanov was ultimately sentenced in 2003 to 10 years in prison, including time already served. He was released last week, despite having a year left to serve.

Markelov wasn't just active in domestic courts. He also defended the rights of Russians before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. His clients were often those who had lost all faith in justice after Russian courts and investigators proved unwilling or unable to punish the murderers of their family members who had "disappeared" in Chechnya, kidnapped by soldiers or police.

Markelov went about his business in the fearless and decisive manner of a man who knows he has the law on his side. He was convinced that the rule of law in Russia, governed as it is by the lawyer tandem of President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, needed to be strengthened.

He was courageous in speaking out about the degradation of Russia's legal system and he helped found an NGO called the Rule of Law Institute. Markelov dedicated his life to the cause.

But he also knew that his activism increased the number of those who would wish him harm -- including those who operated from under the cover of the state itself. He repeatedly travelled to Chechnya, although he knew that in recent years, six lawyers had lost their lives there for no other crime than practicing their profession.

On Monday, it was his turn. Markelov had just left a news conference when a masked man caught up with him from behind and put a bullet through his head. The gun was outfitted with a silencer -- a clear sign, say officials, that the murder had been well planned. Markelov was 34 years old.

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