Murder of another major human rights figure

Press release

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), expresses its utmost dismay following the murder Ms. Natalia Estemirova, a member of the Memorial Human Rights Centre in Grozny, Chechnya, in the Russian Federation.

According to the Memorial Human Rights Centre, Ms. Natalia Estemirova was kidnapped on July 15, 2009 at around 8.30 am close to her home in Grozny. She was forcibly put into a white VAZ-2107 car, but managed to shout that she was being kidnapped. A woman was seen following her from the exit of her block of flats.

Ms. Estemirova was later found shot dead at 5.20 pm in a forest close to Nazran in Ingushetya.

Ms. Estemirova was due to attend a series of meetings on the same day, including a joint trip with employees of the Chechen Ministry for the Interior to Stavropol Krai. When she did not arrive at any of her appointments and did not contact anyone, her colleagues went to her house and learnt what had happened from eyewitnesses.

Ms. Natalia Estemirova had worked at the Memorial Human Rights Centre in Grozny since 2000. She had received many awards for her human rights work, including the Anna Politkovskaya Award from the organisation Reach all Women in War (RAW), an organisation supporting women in armed conflicts, and the European Parliament Robert Schuman medal in 2005. She was close to the journalist Ms. Anna Politkovskaïa, who was murdered in 2006 in Moscow, and was one of the few to denounce human rights violations committed in Chechnya during the two wars. The Pro-Russian Chechen authorities had repeatedly expressed their discontent with her work. More particularly, on July 7, 2009, she had disclosed and denounced the public arbitrary killing of an alleged rebel by men dressed up in camouflage uniforms in the village of Akhkintchou-Borzoï.

The Observatory expresses its deep concern about the ongoing climate of fear faced by human rights defenders in the Russian Federation, where, over the past months, several human rights defenders have been killed. Furthermore, the Observatory requests the Russian Federation to order an immediate, thorough, effective and impartial investigation into Ms. Natalia Estemirova’s assassination, the result of which must be made public, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before a civil competent and impartial tribunal and apply to them the penal sanctions provided by the law.

Finally, the Observatory calls upon the Russian authorities to guarantee the protection of all human rights defenders in the Russian Federation, in conformity with relevant international and regional human rights instruments, to ensure that an end be put against all acts of harassment or attacks against human rights defenders in the country and that the defence of human rights has not become a deadly activity.

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