GROZNY, Russia (Reuters) - Visiting British MPs on Thursday called on Chechen authorities to solve the murder of a prominent activist in comments likely to further aggravate strains in British-Russian ties.
In a case that drew condemnation worldwide, Natalia Estemirova was kidnapped and shot dead last July in her native Chechnya, the troubled, Muslim-dominated region in Russia’s south. Her body was dumped in neighbouring Ingushetia.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s promise to find her killers has so far yielded little result.
“We have raised Natalia Estemirova’s case very strongly with authorities. Clearly, these things are very far from satisfactory,” House of Lords member Frank Judd told Reuters.
Lord Judd and MP Jo Swinson, members of Britain’s All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group (PHRG), also met judges, local non-governmental organisations and rights workers during their two-day visit.
Their trip is likely to further irritate the relationship between Russia and Britain, which has been fraught since 2006 when emigre Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko was murdered in London with a dose of radioactive polonium-210.
They said kidnapping, murder and house-burning are continuing human rights violations in Chechnya, which now rests on a shaky peace after two separatist wars since the mid-1990s.
Rights groups say the Kremlin turns a blind eye to abuses by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, including torture, in return for keeping the region out of war, charges he has repeatedly denied.
Kadyrov declined an invitation to meet the lawmakers.
Chechnya’s human rights ombudsman Nurdi Nukhazhiev told Judd that while he acknowledged abductions and torture existed, some western countries such as Britain “apply double standards.”
“Some members from European parliaments are biased,” Nukhazhiev told Judd during a meeting in Grozny, asking how the West can criticise Chechnya’s human rights record while civilians are being killed in a NATO-led military campaign in Afghanistan.
Imran Ezhiev, head of the Society of Russian-Chechen Friendship, told Reuters he hoped British interest in Estemirova’s case would help solve it: “Interest by such figures will let the world know how dire our republic’s problems have become.”
Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman, Editing by Sonya Hepinstall