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Joint Mobile Group wins Martin Ennals Award

9 October 2013 

Source: (info)
On 8 October the Martin Ennals Foundation and the Geneva city authorities announced that the winner of the 2013 Martin Ennals Award is the Joint Mobile Group working in the Chechen republic under the leadership of Igor Kalyapin. 

As the Committee Against Torture points out, the Martin Ennals Award is presented to human rights defenders who have demonstrated a deep commitment to the cause of human rights protection and have personally experienced great risks on account of their activities. The award is intended to enhance the protection of human rights defenders by giving them international recognition.

Joint Mobile Group, Russia: The Joint Mobile Group was set up on the initiative of Igor Kalyapin, head of the Committee Against Torture based in Nizhny Novgorod, following the murder of a number of human rights defenders working in Chechnya. The organization sends specialist human rights defenders on short-term assignments to Chechnya where they investigate and document human rights violations. Subsequently, this information is used to publicize violations and achieve redress for victims. Speaking of the importance of international recognition, Igor Kalyapin stressed: ‘…when the international community is watching us closely, it’s harder for the authorities to take any kind of action against us…’

Micheline Calmy-Rey, chair of the Martin Ennals Foundation, said: ‘The choice of the Jury has again shown that human rights defenders are the most crucial actors and can make a difference on the ground.’ 

The Jury also selected two recipients of the New Martin Ennals Prizes: 

Mona Seif, Egypt: Core founder of the” No To Military Trials for Civilians”, Mona has brought together activists, lawyers, victims’ families, local stakeholders and started a nationwide movement against military trials.

Mario Joseph, referred to as Haiti’s most important Human Rights lawyer: He has worked on some of the most important cases in Haiti, including the current case against the former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.

The main award of the human rights movement. The Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA) is a unique collaboration among ten of the world’s leading human rights organizations to give protection to human rights defenders worldwide. The Jury is composed of the following NGOs:

Amnesty International
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights First
International Federation for Human Rights
World Organisation Against Torture
Front Line Defenders
International Commission of Jurists
German Diakonie
International Service for Human Rights

Information about the Joint Mobile Group 

In 2009 after the murder of Natalya Estemirova, Zarema Saidulaeva and Alik Dhzabrailov, who were all active in investigating human rights violations in Chechnya, working in this region became particularly dangerous. The human rights organizations working there were forced to cease their operations. It was then that Igor Kalyapin, chair of Committee Against Torture, proposed a new approach.

The Joint Mobile Group, coordinated by the Committee Against Torture, consists of human rights lawyers who go as volunteers to Chechnya to investigate human rights violations. They travel to the region for a short period of time, and then others take their place. At the present time the Joint Mobile Group has become one of the main sources of information about violations of human rights in Chechnya. The Joint Mobile Group aims to bring to justice those guilty of human rights violations in the Chechen republic, in particular with regard to crimes such as forced disappearance, torture and extrajudicial killing.

Despite the practically total impunity of state officials, the Joint Mobile Group has achieved some success. An example is the case of Islam Umarpashaev who was abducted from his home in December 2009 and held for several months under guard and tortured. Thanks to the persistence of the Joint Mobile Group and its leader Igor Kalyapin, unprecedented progress has been achieved in this case. In January 2010, with the help of the Joint Mobile Group, Umarpashaev’s relatives applied to the European Court of Human Rights, and in April 2010 Islam Umarpashaev was released. In January 2011 as a result of wide publicity and the level of publicity achieved by the case, the investigation was transferred to federal level investigators, although this has yet to bring significant results.

The Joint Mobile Group found systematic violations of human rights in Chechnya, and also made public the authorities’ unwillingness to deal with the issues concerned.The Joint Mobile Group has used both the domestic courts to protect human rights, and international mechanisms, where Russia has ratified the relevant treaties.

Staff of the Joint Mobile Group experience continual pressure from the authorities. In June 2012 the president of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, accused three lawyers from the Joint Mobile group in a television broadcast of hating the Chechen people, unambiguously warning the victims of human rights violations not to contact this organization. A month later a federal investigator questioned Igor Kalyapin about an alleged divulgence of investigative secrets concerning the Islam Umarpashaev case. In two years, this was the third attempt by the authorities to bring charges against Igor Kalyapin. Despite this, the members of the Joint Mobile Group have continued their work, knowing that if they stop there is no one to help the victims of the egregious violations of human rights, or their families, in the struggle for justice.

Although the idea of creating the Joint Mobile Group belongs to Igor Kalyapin, the painstaking work to bring government officials to justice for crimes they have committed would have been impossible without the daily efforts and professionalism of all the staff of the Joint Mobile Group. Despite all the dangers and difficulties they face, they continue to travel to Chechnya to gather accurate information about human rights violations.