HRC “Memorial”: the murder of Natalya Estemirova


“Memorial” Human Rights Centre, 15 July 2009

Today they killed our friend and colleague, a person dear to us.

For almost ten years Natasha was a leading member of the “Memorial” team in the Northern Caucuses, first and foremost in Chechnya. She did not simply collect information about human rights abuse. She was a human rights defender in the highest meaning of the word, a people’s advocate. The inhabitants of Chechnya have become the victims of bombings, “purges”, abductions, tortures – it was all those people whom Natasha tried to help. She demanded the impossible from the authorities – that they cease their lawlessness. At times she succeeded – certainty that she was right and in the force of law gave her strength. This work made Natasha famous through all of Chechnya, people reached out to her, hoping for protection, or at least that lawlessness would not remain secret.

Natasha was on many occasions threatened by officialdom of all ranks, yet she could not conceive of not working in her homeland, Chechnya.

Oleg Orlov, Chair of the Council of the Memorial Human Rights Cente

“I know, I am certain who is guilty of the murder of Natasha Estemirova. We all know this man. His name is Ramsan Kadyrov, President of the Chechen Republic. Ramzan had already threatened Natasha, insulted her, and considered her his personal enemy. We don’t know if he himself gave the order, or whether that was done by his closest people so as to please the leadership. And it would seem to suit President Medvedev to have a murderer as head of one of the republics of the Russian Federation”.

When Natasha dared to speak disapproving about young women being made, almost by force, to wear headscarves in public places, there was a conversation with Kadyrov. She recounted how Kadyrov threatened her, saying literally: “Yes, my hands are drenched in blood, and I’m not ashamed of it. I have killed and will kill bad people. We are fighting the enemies of the republic.”

We know that the last of Natasha’s reports about new abductions, extra-judicial executions, public shooting in the middle of a Chechen village aroused indignation among those at the top in Chechnya. The so-called Human Rights Ombudsperson for Chechnya Nurdi Nukhazhiev told the head of our Grozny office about this. He said that he didn’t want anything to happen and would therefore criticize human rights defenders.

We took a risk which proved unjustified. We are very much to blame.

We must call things by their real name. In Russia we are seeing State terror. We know about murders in Chechnya and beyond its boundaries. They kill those who try to tell the truth, to criticize the authorities. Ramzan Kadyrov has made the work of human rights defenders in the Republic impossible. Those who killed Natasha Estemirova wanted to stop the flow of truthful information from out of Chechnya.

It may be that they have succeeded.

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