The Nemtsov case: A test for Russian justice – and for the international community

The Nemtsov case: A test for Russian justice – and for the international community
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In February, four years will have passed since the world was robbed of Boris Nemtsov, one of the most outspoken and relentless advocates of liberal democracy in Russia, and a fierce critic of Vladimir Putin. Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister and successor of the first democratically elected – albeit flawed – leader of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, offered us a glimpse of what Russia could have been, had it followed the path of liberalism and democracy.

Instead, Nemtsov ended up an opposition politician, a civil society activist and an anti-corruption crusader. He was tragically murdered in central Moscow on February 27, 2015, as he was organizing a rally against the Russian military intervention in Ukraine. An assailant fired seven or eight shots from a Makarov pistol, killing him in a brazen assassination on Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge within eyesight of the Kremlin. 

There is no point at this stage in pondering an alternate history in which Nemtsov became the leader of Russia and led the country down a path of democracy – it is not the way history played out and it never will be. The point we can, and must, make at this hour is that of justice and redemption. Not only for the family and friends of Boris Nemtsov, but also for all of us that share his dream of a truly European Russia.

The half-hearted federal investigation of the murder has left the public with more questions than answers. Five Chechen men were found guilty of murdering Nemtsov, but details unveiled in private investigations suggest that the crime was a large-scale operation involving a much higher number of perpetrators. It is clear that, for one reason or the other, the Russian government is keen on keeping the lid sealed on what really happened on the night of February 27 and Russian authorities consider the murder of Nemtsov solved. 

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In my view – which I know to be shared by many American lawmakers – this is not a matter that the international community can leave in the hands of President Putin. Just as we have been firm on the Russian aggression in Ukraine, we must be firm on the government’s obstruction and abuse of its own judicial system.

In July of this year, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA) passed a resolution on violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the Russian Federation. The resolution urges Russian authorities to fulfill their commitments to human rights and democratic values, which have been violated for far too long. The resolution also urges the Russian authorities to undertake a new, thorough investigation of the murder. The resolution was drafted by the Swedish delegation and amended by members of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, making it an example of international cooperation at its best. 

The adoption of this resolution is a vital first step in the international community’s work to ensure that the perpetrators of this crime are brought to justice. The next step must be for the OSCE to continue this work by appointing a special representative, or a grouping of parliamentarians, so that the international community can continue to shed light upon this case.

As parliamentarians in an international body focusing on democracy, human rights and security, we share a responsibility towards the citizens of all member states. Many American and European lawmakers have a common viewpoint regarding this issue, and it is of utmost importance that the cooperation between the liberal democracies of the OSCE intensifies in order to combat corruption and to defend the rule of law in an efficient manner. It is through strengthened cooperation, and a zero tolerance against human rights violations, that the international community best can protect individuals from abuse and terror inflicted by their own governments.

As the four-year mark of Nemtsov’s murder approaches, we should not yet allow ourselves to mourn the tragic death of a true champion of liberalism and democracy. Instead, we should let ourselves be inspired by his example, and fulfill his life-long search for justice and truth. The virtues of Boris Nemtsov – patience, persistence and extraordinary courage – are the virtues that must guide the international community on its path forward, towards justice.

Margareta Cederfelt is a member of parliament from Sweden and Vice-President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.