RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Five years later, human rights defender Natalia Estemirova’s murderers still at large

Urgent Appeal
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Geneva-Paris, July 14, 2014. On the fifth anniversary of the murder of prominent human rights defender Ms. Natalia Estemirova, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, condemn the intolerable impunity that persists and reiterate their call for a thorough, impartial and independent investigation into her assassination.

On July 15, 2009, Ms. Natalia Estemirova, leading researcher in Grozny’s office of the Human Rights Centre “Memorial”, was kidnapped at around 8.30 am close to her home in Grozny, Chechnya. She was later found shot dead at 5.20 pm in a forest close to Nazran in Ingushetya. Five years later, the investigation has not yielded any visible results and her killers remain at large.

“Five years after the brutal death of Natalia Estemirova, we remain saddened by the loss of such a leading human rights activist in Russia. Unfortunately, her case also reminds us that many other human rights defenders in Russia continue to face multiple obstacles because of their courageous fight against human rights violations and impunity”, OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock said today.

Ms. Estemirova had worked at the Human Rights Centre Memorial in Grozny since 2000. She had received many awards for her human rights work, and was among those who have denounced human rights violations committed in Chechnya during the two wars. The Pro-Russian Chechen authorities had repeatedly expressed their discontent with her work.

The Observatory also recalls that the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Human Rights Centre “Memorial”, Mr. Oleg Orlov, was sued by Mr. Ramzan Kadyrov, President of the Republic of Chechnya, from August 2009 to January 20, 2012. The actions brought against Mr. Orlov by Mr. Kadyrov for defamation, first at the civil level, then at the criminal level, were manifestly undertaken in an attempt to sanction a statement made by Mr. Orlov about Mr. Kadyrov’s responsibility in the assassination of Ms. Natalia Estemirova in August 2009.

“We regret the inability of the Russian judiciary to determine the overall responsibilities and shed light on this murder, in violation of international obligations of the Russian Federation. It is urgent that an end be finally put to this intolerable impunity that encourages further acts of harassment against human rights defenders in the country", said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

The Observatory calls on the Russian authorities to abide by the recommendations formulated by the United Nations (UN) Committee Against Torture (CAT) in its Concluding Observations on the fifth periodic report of the Russian Federation in November 2012, including to “investigate promptly, thoroughly and impartially all allegations of intimidation, threats, attacks and killings of human rights defenders and bring to justice those responsible for ordering the killing of […] Ms. Natalia Estemirova […]”.

More generally, the Observatory calls on the Russian authorities to guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders in the Russian Federation, in line with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

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