Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Natalya Estemirova, R.I.P.

Human rights activist shot dead in

An award-winning Russian human rights activist was murdered today after dedicating much of her life to investigating abuses by the Chechen regime.

Natalya Estemirova was shot twice in the head at close-range after she was bundled into a car in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya.

The activist, who was one of Anna Politkovskaya's key collaborators, was found dead near the city of Nazran in Ingushetia. A single mother in her early 40s, Estemirova had collected evidence of human rights abuses in Chechnya since the start of the second war there in 1999.

As well as the murdered Politkovskaya, she worked with Stanislav Markelov, a prominent lawyer and another opponent of rights abuses in Chechnya, who was shot and killed on a Moscow street in January.

Estemirova took part in a rally to protest his murder, reading out one of the numerous threats he had received for his campaigns against disappearances, false imprisonments and rights abuses.

A year after Politkovskaya was gunned down in her Moscow apartment building in 2006, Estemirova became the first recipient of an award in her name for work for the leading Russian rights group Memorial.

As she received the Anna Politkovskaya prize, she said: "Nothing has been done to investigate the crimes that have been committed in Chechnya since 2000.”

The Memorial rights group said in a statement today that Estemirova “was forcefully taken from her house into a car and shouted that she was being kidnapped” at 8.30 am (0330 BST) in Grozny.

“Chechen authorities had expressed dissatisfaction with her work more than once,” Memorial said. The group’s statement did not give any indication of who might have carried out the abduction.

Concerns have grown in the last weeks about the stability of the Caucasus after Ingushetia’s leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov was seriously wounded in a car bombing on June 22.

Security forces are being killed in clashes with militants on an almost daily basis and ten Chechen police officers were killed in a militant ambush in Ingushetia last week.

Memorial and Human Rights Watch had earlier this month issued a report accusing Chechen security forces of punishing families of alleged militants by burning down their homes.

The authorities have failed to secure any convictions over the 2006 killing in Moscow of Politkovskaya, who exposed abuses by Russian security forces in Chechnya and vehemently criticised the Kremlin. Also unsolved are the January murders of young journalist Anastasia Baburova and Mr Markelov, who were gunned down in central Moscow as they left a news conference.