A Russian organisation, Memorial, has won the European Union’s foremost human rights recognition, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, awarded by the European Parliament. Members said Moscow would be sure to notice the strong signal. Memorial was founded to document Stalin-era human rights abuses, and later expanded its scope.
The Parliament’s President, Jerzy Buzek, said it expected greater efforts from some countries, notably in some of the “eastern countries of Europe”, and that this needed to be improved. An activist with Memorial, Natalya Estemirova, already a Sakharov nominee in 2004, was found murdered in the Russian Republic of Ingushetia this summer. A Moscow court ordered Memorial to retract its accusation that neighbouring Chechnya’s President Ramzan Kadyrov was responsible for Estemirova’s killing. The human rights organisation led by Oleg Orlov is appealing the court decision. Referring to the prize, he said: “It is pleasant to have recognition, but it doesn’t enhance one’s security. Natasha should have received it (the prize). She didn’t. She was killed.” In spite of his success in the slander case, opponents accuse Kadyrov of massive rights violations in Chechnya, the scene of two separatist wars with Russia in the 1990s, and of tolerating no independent voices in the region.