Natalia Estemirova, human rights activist murdered in Chechnya

Natalia Estemirova, human rights activist murdered in Chechnya

Historical Background

Russia first began extending its rule over the Caucasus region in the late 1700’s. Ever since then the Chechens, a fierce Muslim people of the mountains, have been fighting for their freedom. The most famous Chechen opposition leader was Avar Imam Shamil, who led the fight against the Russians from 1834 to 1859.

The history of Russian control of Chechnya has been filled with abuses on a large and small scale, with the most outrageous being Stalin’s deportation of the entire Chechen and Ingush populations to Kazakhstan in 1944.

More recently, the First Chechen War of 1994 to 1996, and the Second Chechen War (which began in 199 and continues on a low-level basis) have been characterized by massive civilian deaths, war crimes on both sides, the creation of large refugee populations, widespread torture by the Russians and their local clients, and the murder by the Russians of reporters and human rights activists.

Anna Politkovskaya

Investigating abuses by the Russians (including death squad executions, disappearances and torture) has become one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. One of the best known cases was the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya in 2006. Politkovskaya was a Russian journalist who was well known for her opposition to the Russian occupation of Chechnya, and her criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Politkovskaya had given an interview to Radio Free Europe the week before her death in which she said she was a witness in a criminal case against Ramzan Kadyrov (Moscow’s puppet ruler in Chechnya) in connection with abductions in Chechnya—a case based on her reporting. In that same interview, she called Kadyrov the “Stalin of our days”.

The European Union and many governments condemned the murder of Politkovskaya, calling for a thorough investigation into the crime by Russian authorities. Though suspects were later arrested and taken to trial, they were ultimately acquitted, and the true actors behind this contemptible crime remain unknown and unpunished.

Natalia Estemirova

Now the world witnesses the murder of yet another brave soul working in Chechnya, Natalia Estemirova.

Natalia Estemirova, a leading human rights activist in the troubled Russian republic of Chechnya and a close colleague of Human Rights Watch, was abducted near her home in Grozny on the morning of July 15, 2009, and carried off in a car as people on a nearby balcony heard her call out that she was being kidnapped. She was found shot dead later that day in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia.

As a researcher with the leading Russian human rights group Memorial, Estemirova had been at the forefront of efforts to investigate human rights abuses and seek justice for their victims for close to a decade. She worked closely with Human Rights Watch, including on its recent investigations into the punitive killings and house burnings against people suspected by Chechen authorities of having links to rebels. She was honored by Human Rights Watch as a recipient of their Human Rights Defender Award in 2007, and received many other international prizes in recognition of her important human rights work, including the European Parliament’s Robert Schuman medal in 2005, and the “Right to Life” award from the Swedish Parliament in 2004. She was the first recipient of the Anna Politkovskaya prize, in honor of the slain Russian journalist.

Please call on President Medvedev to ensure a comprehensive, independent, and transparent investigation into the murder of Natalia Estemirova.

To send a message demanding an investigation into Ms. Estimirova’s death, click here.