Natalia Estemirova, the world’s leading researcher on Chechnya and an invaluable partner and close friend to Human Rights Watch, was abducted in Chechnya yesterday morning. Her body was found dead in Ingushetia several hours later.
We at Human Rights Watch are shattered by the murder of our dear friend Natasha. We’ve worked with her since 1999 and just days before her death, wrapped up a mission with her.
Natasha was a researcher with Memorial, Russia’s leading human rights organization. She was a key source of information for human rights organizations and the media regarding the worst abuses in Chechnya: torture, abduction, extrajudicial executions and the like.
Natasha was well known outside Russia as someone who sought justice and accountability for abuses by all sides to the conflict in Chechnya. We honored her with the Human Rights Watch Defender Award in 2007. Natasha had also been honored by various European institutions: In 2005 she received the European Parliament’s Robert Schuman medal and in 2004 was awarded the “Right to Life” award by the Swedish Parliament. She also was the first recipient of the Anna Politkovskaya prize – named for the journalist who met the same fate.
While the international community applauded her work, the Chechen authorities were not as pleased. She risked, and lost, her life for her cause.
We are planning a concerted response to ensure that Russia does not let this crime go uninvestigated or forgotten. Human Rights Watch expressed its deepest condolences to Estemirova's family and colleagues.