16 July 2009, Thursday

Natalia Estemirova, one of Russia's most courageous and well-respected human rights defenders, was found shot to death in Ingushetia on 15 July 2009, following an abduction from her home in Grozny by unidentified men earlier that day, Russian Justice Initiative (RJI) said today.

Natalia, who worked for the Memorial Human Rights Center, has been at the forefront of efforts to investigate human rights violations and push for accountability in Chechnya for more than a decade. She closely collaborated with journalist Anna Politkovskaya and lawyer Stanislav Markelov, whose murders in October 2006 and January 2009 still remain unsolved.

“Natalia was herself repeatedly threatened, but quitting was never an option. For her, the suffering of others was not merely a part of her work—she lived with it, allowed it to pass through her being. But most importantly, she fought with fear. To allow those around her to be free from fear. She did with fear what had to be done, including with her own. She feared becoming afraid, of stepping down and leaving others behind without her support,” said Varvara Pakhomenko, RJI consultant, who worked closely with Natalia.

She was awarded many international prizes recognizing her work in the field of human rights, including the Anna Politkovskaya prize (2007), the Human Rights Watch Defender Award (2007), the Robert Schuman Medal of the European Parliament (2005), and the Swedish Parliament prize for "Right to Survival" (2004).

“Victims of the second Chechen conflict were calling Natalia literally day and night because they knew she always had a listening ear. She helped these people complain to the authorities, and when their complaints went unanswered—as is so often the case—she assisted their applications to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg,” said Arsen Sakalov, RJI's Nazran Office Director.

The Court has issued more than 100 judgments condemning Russia for enforced disappearances, extrajudicial execution and torture. Today the European Court of Human Rights unanimously condemned Russia for the enforced disappearance of a young Chechen in January 2003.

Karimov and Others v. Russia (29851/05).

On 11 January 2003 Arbi Karimov was taken away from his home in the village of Proletarskoye, Chechnya, by a group of Russian military servicemen. The military prosecutor's office initially informed the Red Cross that Arbi was killed while resisting arrest but it later retracted that information. There has been no news of Arbi since.

The Court held Russia responsible for the illegal detention and presumed murder of Arbi. (violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights) It also condemned Russia's failure to properly investigate the crime (violation of Article 2) and held that the manner in which Russia handled the complaints of Arbi's relatives constituted inhuman treatment (violation of Article 3) The Court awarded the applicants 45,000 euro for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages. Arbi Karimov’s relatives were assisted in bringing their application to the Court by Russian Justice Initiative.

“It is not enough that President Medvedev has ordered a thorough investigation into this brutal murder. The authorities must reinforce and make effective this commitment by bringing Natalia's killers to justice, as well as those officials responsible for the human rights abuses brought to light through Natalia’s work. The unfortunate reality is that Russia has shown great reticence in this regard. For example, Generals Baranov and Shamanov – singled out by the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights for their involvement in war crimes – are today being promoted, not prosecuted,” said Roemer Lemaître, RJI's Legal and Program Director.

For more information:

In Moscow, Russia: Roemer Lemaître, +7  906 7723632

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