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Those responsible for the death of Natalia Estemirova must be brought to justice

Human Rights Comment
Strasbourg 13/07/2010
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One year has passed since human rights defender Natalia Estemirova was brutally murdered. On 15 July 2009 she was abducted near her house in Grozny, Chechnya. She was pushed into a car by several assailants and some hours later her body was found in a forest in Ingushetia. She had been shot in the head and chest.

Those guilty of this horrible and cowardly crime are still not brought to justice. This is an unacceptable and dangerous situation.

Natalia Estemirova was one of the leading members of the human rights organisation Memorial. Her courage and personal dedication for human rights protection in the Chechen Republic was unique. She had received several international awards for her work, she was for example the first winner of the Anna Politkovskaya Award in 2007.

The brutal assassination provoked widespread condemnation, both nationally and internationally. A year ago I and many others expressed our deep condolences to the family and colleagues of Mrs Estemirova and urged the Russian authorities to carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation with a view to ensure the criminal accountability and punishment of the perpetrators.

I have raised the case with the Russian authorities repeatedly since then, including with President Dmitry Medvedev in January 2010. During my meetings with the federal Investigation Committee in September, December and January I was assured that the investigation would be successfully completed in the near future. The world is still waiting for the results.

The assassination has a special significance as it prompted serious concerns about the safety for those who work for human rights NGOs in the North Caucasus. During a period following the murder Memorial was forced to cease its activities in Chechnya.

Impunity in this case would have a very negative impact upon NGOs’ sense of security and the possibilities for them to work in Chechnya. I can testify that non-governmental monitoring and reporting of human rights are of greatest importance for peaceful development and human rights protection in the region. The need to promote safe and favourable conditions for their work and to provide them with protection, in line with international standards is obvious.

The Russian government must demonstrate forcefully that it is prepared to protect Human Right Defenders in line with the European Convention on Human Rights and with the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers Declaration on Human Rights Defenders – and not only in words but also by way of concrete actions.

The killing of Natalia Estemirova is a reminder that strong actions are needed to protect activist members of human rights organisations. It is of immense importance that those guilty of this heinous crime are brought to justice – and not only the actual killers, but also those who ordered the assassination.

Thomas Hammarberg