Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Co-Chairmen Statement on the Assassination of Boris Nemtsov
As Co-Chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, we condemn in the strongest possible terms the brutal assassination of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov last Friday, February 27th. We call upon the Russian government to ensure a prompt, impartial and transparent investigation to identify and bring to justice all those who planned and carried out the crime, and to guarantee the conditions necessary for Russian citizens to fully exercise their human rights to freedom of expression, association and political participation. As a state party to numerous international human rights conventions, Russia is obligated to protect and defend its citizens’ fundamental civil and political rights. There must not be impunity in Mr. Nemtsov’s case, and there must not be any more such cases.
Boris Nemtsov was a well-known and highly respected advocate for democracy in Russia. An economic reformer, he served as governor, was elected several times to parliamentary bodies, and held the position of First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia under President Boris Yeltsin. He co-founded several pro-democracy coalitions, among them Union of Right Forces, the Solidarnost movement and most recently, the People’s Freedom Party. He fought against corruption and for transparency; he was one of the first Russian politicians to turn to the Web to communicate with the public.
Mr. Nemtsov was also critical of the administration of President Vladimir Putin for alleged embezzlement and profiteering ahead of the Sochi Olympics, and for the annexation of Crimea and the policy toward Ukraine. At the time of the murder, he was leading efforts to organize a peace rally to oppose the war in Ukraine and Russia’s growing financial crisis. In the weeks before his death, Mr. Nemtsov received death threats over social media, and his mother expressed fear that Mr. Putin would have him killed. Whoever pulled the trigger, it is certain that he faced a campaign of hatred, intimidation and aggression fanned by those who labeled Russian democrats and opponents of Mr. Putin as “national traitors.” Only days ago pro-Kremlin organizations in a rally in downtown Moscow openly called for “cleansing” Russia of the “the fifth column.” They carried placards with Mr. Nemtsov’s photo.
Mr. Nemtsov is one of several government critics who have been murdered during the 15 years that Vladimir Putin has ruled the country. Others include Paul Khlebnikov, Russian-American journalist and editor of the Russian edition of Forbes, 2004; Anna Politkovskaya, Russian journalist, writer and human rights activist and critic of Mr. Putin, 2006; and Natalya Estemirova, Russian human rights activist and board member of Memorial, 2009. All were shot to death. Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian accountant and auditor who investigated corruption, died in prison after being deprived of health care and beaten. None of these cases has been satisfactorily resolved.
We mourn Mr. Nemtsov’s death and send our deepest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues, and all those who supported his tireless calls for a democratic and transparent Russia. We also hope that his death will not be in vain, but will inspire others to take up the fight for freedom in his name. Mr. Nemtsov never agreed to lower his voice to appease his bullies. Now it is up to the Russian people and to us, his colleagues at home and abroad, to ensure that his message continues to be heard in Russia and beyond.