Dread! This is a message to you Ruudi...

As a fly-by-night football fan (!) I couldn’t help but notice that there were two big football stories in the overnight news.

First Eric Cantona has been appointed director of soccer at New York Cosmos. “Oh la la, it’s Cantona”, as the Sun rather predictably headlines it. (By the way, do take a quick peek at this eight-minute YouTube compilation of some of his top moments – all to a rather nice Euro-House music backing).

And, second, the Dutch football maestro Ruud Gullit is going to be manager of the Russian premier league club Grozny Terek in Chechnya. Wow. Perhaps not the obvious place for the former golden boy of Stamford Bridge to pitch up, but hey … that’s football.

But let me offer a word of warning to Mr Gullit. The president of Terek is Ramzan Kadyrov, the notorious former rebel fighter turned Moscow-backed leader of the Chechen Republic. There are numerous allegations of Kadyrov’s militia and law-enforcement forces being involved in human rights abuses, including torture, “disappearances” and killings.

Human rights defenders literally go in fear of their lives in Chechnya. It was from Grozny that Natalia Estemirova, the well-known human rights activist at the Russian NGO Memorial, was kidnapped off the streets before being driven into neighbouring Ingushetia where she was found dead from gunshot wounds to the head and chest.

Like the doughty human rights journalist Anna Politkovskaya before her, Estemirova had undoubtedly enraged many dangerous people in pursuing human rights investigations. Quite a few people will have wanted her dead, and some people pointed fingers at Kadyrov over her death. His response in one radio interview was blunt and aggressive. He denied any responsibility for the killing and said Estemirova was a woman without "honor or sense of shame." Charming.

As it happens Kadyrov has “form” when it comes to pronouncing on the “dishonourable” or “immodest” behaviour of women. In 2007 he called for women in Chechnya to dress modestly, and since then Chechen schoolgirls aged over ten have been obliged to wear headscarves or face expulsion from schools. Meanwhile, signs have appeared outside official buildings in Grozny warning women that they are required to wear headscarves if they wish to enter.

This, then, is the environment that Ruud Gullit is entering as he takes up his new coaching job. I wish him luck. I also suggest he read a few Amnesty reports on Chechnya (and Russia more generally), take appropriate personal precautions and indeed use his influence as a role model to speak out about human rights whenever the occasion arises. This is my human rights message to this football star.

Gullit’s famous dreadlocks have now gone (shame) but the fact that he once sported such fetching locks enables me to throw in a final pun. I say to Mr Gullit: hey dread, this is a message to you Ruudi!

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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