On the tenth anniversary of Natalya Estemirova’s assassination, human rights organizations demand justice


15 July 2019

Joint statement of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of the Observatory for defense of the rights of human rights defenders “Memorial” human rights center

Human Rights Watch

Amnesty International

International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR)

Norwegian Helsinki Committee

Front Line Defenders

World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), in the in the framework of the Observatory for defense of the rights of human rights defenders RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in WAR)

Gogerning board of the EU-Russia Civil forum  

The Committee Against Torture

“Public verdict” foundation  

The European Center of Human Rights Defense (EHRAC)

15 July 2019 — On the tenth anniversary of the assassination of Natalya Estemirova who used to be the face of human rights defense in Chechnya, nine international and two Russian human rights organizations, together with the FIDH and its member-organization, human rights center “Memorial”, urge the Russian authorities to fulfill at last their obligations with regards to conducting a thorough impartial and effective investigation of the assassination, to bring the guilty persons to responsibility in court and to bring an end to impunity for human rights violations in Chechnya.   
In the morning of 15 July 2009, Natalya Estemirova was abducted not far from her home in Grozny, the Chechen capital, apparently, by law-enforcement officers.    Several hours her body with gunshot wounds was found in neighboring Ingushetia.  
From the beginning of the 90s, Natalya Estemirova fearlessly fought with impunity of human rights violations in Chechnya. She started to cooperate with human rights center “Memorial” in autumn of 1999, when the Second Chechen war started, and soon became one of its key activists. Ms Estemirova fearlessly documented outrageous crimes, first, by Russian military and police, and later, by the Chechen law-enforcement bodies.    The missile strike at the center of Grozny in autumn of 1999, which resulted in deaths of over a hundred civil persons, murder of dozens of civil citizens by the Russian law-enforcement officers in Novye Aldy settlement in February 2000, enforced disappearances, tortures, extrajudicial murders and punitive arsons performed by the Chechen law-enforcement officers in 2007-2009, and many other crimes have been revealed only through her work.
In 2008, after Natalya Estemirova made a stand against the demand of the Chechen authorities that all women should wear headclothes, head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov threatened her personally. Ms Estemirova repeatedly faced with threats, including several days before her death.   In the last weeks of her life Ms Estemirova investigated and made public especially grave crimes committed by the Chechen law-enforcement officers, including the public execution of Rizvan Albekova on 7 July 2009 in Ahkinchu-Borzoy.  
Ms Natalya Estemirova’s work on exposure crimes in Chechnya was acknowledged and distinguished with a number of recognized awards. In 2004, the Swedish Parliament gave her “The right to exist” award, and in 2005 Natalya Estemirova received the Robert Schuman’s medal from the European Parliament. In 2007, she received an annual award from Human Rights Watch for distinguished human rights activity. After her friend, Anna Politkovskaya, was killed in 2006, Estemirova became the first one to receive the award established by “RAW in WAR” in honor of the murdered Russian journalist.   

In January 2010, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation reported that Natalya Estemirova was murdered by militant Alkhazur Bashayev, who had been dead by the moment when this was reported. According to the investigative authorities, the crime happened due to the fact that Estemirova know about his involvement in recruitment of militants. Later on, the Investigative Committee claimed that Bashayev, allegedly, killed Estemirova in order to discredit the government of the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic in the wake of the summit of Dmitry Medvedev, who was the President of Russia at that time, and German chancellor Angela Merkel. This conclusion was made based on the evidence obtained from former militants, who served long jail time, and it appeared neither reliable or convincing.    

In 2011, the FIDH, Novaya Gazeta and “Memorial” human rights center, in their joint report  emphasized: discrepancies in the official version give grounds to suspect that this version was created in order to exclude the investigation of potential implication of official authorities, including the Chechen law-enforcement officers, in the assassination.  

On 20 September 2011, Natalya Estemirova’s relatives submitted a complaint about ineffectiveness of her assassination investigation to the European Court of Human Rights. The case is under consideration.    

“Memorial” thinks that Estemirova’s assassination was linked with her human rights activity. The Chechen authorities wanted to silence the human rights defender. The official version, attributing her assassination to militants, turns out to be groundless at a closer look. The Russian authorities should find and punish the culprits, including the assassin’s paymaster”, — Oleg Orlov, manager of “Hot Spots” program of “Memorial” human rights center, comments.   

Against the background of systematic prosecution of human rights defenders in Chechnya, the inability of the Russian authorities to conduct effective investigation of Estemirova’s assassination appears to be intentional. Her assassination had catastrophic consequences for human rights situation in Chechnya — intensification of atmosphere of fear led to local citizens being afraid of turning to human rights defenders for assistance.  Kadyrov repeatedly called human rights defenders enemies of the people and terrorists’ allies.    

Members of the Joint Mobile Group of human rights defenders in Chechnya (JMG), which, after Estemirova’s assassination played a key role in rendering legal assistance to the victims of abuse by local law-enforcement officers, were repeatedly attacked in  2014–2016. On 9 March 2016, two members of the JMG and six foreign and Russian journalists, going to Chechnya, were attached in the territory of Ingushetia, not far from administrative border with Chechnya. It is obvious that the attackers were controlled by the Chechen officials. The JMG office was attacked twice and destroyed by the persons who, apparently, were acting at the orders of the Chechen authorities. All these attacks were followed by total impunity, which forced the JMG to leave the republic due to safety concerns.        

The efforts of the Chechen authorities with regard to eradicating human rights activity were crowned by the criminal case against the successor of Natalya Estemirova, her friend and colleague, Oyub Titiyev, who headed the “Memorial” work in Chechnya after Estemirova’s death. In January 2018, the Chechen authorities arrested him under forged accusation of drugs storage.  After 17 months of imprisonment, in June 2019, Titiyev was released on parole.

We urge the Russian authorities:  

– to perform a thorough, independent and effective investigation of Natalya Estemirova’s assassination and bring the guilty persons to responsibility in court;
– to perform investigation and provide justice with regard to other attacks against human rights defenders and journalists in Chechnya, including the attacks against the activists of the Joint Mobile Group in 2014–2016;

– to create a favorable working environment in Chechnya for human rights defenders and journalists;  

– to ensure the observance of human rights and main freedoms in accordance with the international obligations accepted by the Russian Federation.