Europe and Central Asia: Russian Federation Natalia Estemirova 07/15/2009
On 15 July 2009, Natalia Estemirova was abducted from her home in Grozny. A few hours later her body was found in neighbouring Ingushetia.
Natalia Estemirova was an award-winning human rights defender and journalist in the troubled Russian republic of Chechnya, who had continued to document human rights violations and speak out on behalf of victims and their families in the face of repeated death threats and harassment.
Natalia Estemirova was a board member of the Russian human rights organisation Memorial, that focuses on documenting the Soviet Union’s totalitarian past, but also monitors human rights in Russia and other post-Soviet states. As Memorial’s leading Grozny-based activist, Natalia Estemirova tirelessly worked to shed more light on abuses and crimes committed by law enforcement and security agencies in Chechnya.
Her friend and colleague Tanya Lokshina, the Russia programme director and a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch in Moscow remembers Natalia as “amazing and inspiring person with an obsessive and unstoppable desire for justice.”
“She was nice and funny, always smiling, always well dressed despite her small salary, and somewhat coquettish.”
On 15 July 2009, Natalia was abducted from her home in Grozny. A few hours later her body was found in neighbouring Ingushetia. Previous threats made against both Natalia and the organisation she worked for, Memorial, combined with the circumstances of her murder, point to possible government or official involvement in her killing.
“I never told her to leave her job. I knew it was important for all the people. She didn’t live for herself. She didn’t live for me. She lived for those who needed her help.” Lana Estemirova, Natalia Estemirova’s daughter.
Natalia Estemirova spent several months with Front Line Defenders in Dublin in 2005/6 as part of our rest and respite programme for human rights defenders at risk. She had been working to document human rights violations in Chechnya throughout the conflict and enjoyed the opportunity to spend some time with her daughter in a safe environment. However, she remained committed to returning to her work in Grozny in spite of repeated threats against her.
The Russian authorities have made little attempt to effectively carry out an investigation into her murder. The Investigative Committee of Russia had identified the perpetrator as Alkhazur Bashayev, a rebel fighter from Chechnya, who was killed in a shootout with security forces in the fall of 2009.
Seven years on, no one has been brought to justice and some of Natalia’s colleagues have continued to receive threats by both unidentified actors and authorities because of their legitimate human rights work.