Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Friday urged Russian authorities [press release] to conduct a thorough investigation into the murder of rights activist Natalia Estemirova [BBC obituary], including an inquiry into possible official involvement in the killing. Estemirova, who was kidnapped in Grozny in July 2009 and shot to death, reported regularly on human rights abuses committed by the Chechen government, including extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances. HRW noted that Chechen authorities have repeatedly harassed rights groups providing legal aid and assistance to victims of law enforcement abuses in Chechnya. HRW had joined with other rights groups last year in calling for an investigation [JURIST report] into Estemirova's death. In a statement, the group noted that little has changed since then:
There has been no progress in the investigation into her death in the past year, Human Rights Watch said. Despite repeated reassurances by federal authorities that Estemirova's case is close to being resolved, the investigation still appears to be based solely on the premise that Estemirova was killed by Chechen insurgents in retaliation for exposing some of their crimes. Along with leading Russian human rights activists, Human Rights Watch disputes that as the most likely scenario and has observed significant discrepancies in the evidence cited by the authorities.HRW called on authorities to publicly acknowledge what, if any, investigation has been conducted into the possiblity of official involvement in her murder. The group also expressed concern for the safety of other human rights advocates working in the region.
Estemirova is one of several rights advocates to be gunned down in Russia in recent years. Prominent opposition leader and human rights activist in Russia's southern province of Ingushetia [official website, in Russian], Maksharip Aushev, was shot dead [JURIST report] in October 2009 while traveling on a highway in the North Caucasus region of Kabardino-Balkaria. In August 2009, Chechen human rights activist Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband Alik Dzhabrailov were found dead [JURIST report]. Sadulayeva's death came less than a month after Estemirova's death. The body of Russian human rights activist Andrei Kulagin [JURIST report] was found in a quarry in June 2009. Russian Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin expressed concern in April 2009 that activists in Russia were being attacked with greater frequency [JURIST report]. In January 2009, Russian human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov was shot and killed [JURIST report] in Moscow. Markelov represented journalist Anna Politkovskaya [BBC obituary], who was shot to death [JURIST report] in October 2006. JURIST Forum Guest Columnist Pamela A. Jordan argues that Estemirova's murder may help jolt average Russians into demanding that their leaders engage in legal reform in her op-ed Strong-arm Rule or Rule of Law? Prospects for Legal Reform in Russia [JURIST op-ed].