Today, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on the case of Natalia Estemirova, star Chechen human rights defender murdered in July 2009. It found that Russia had violated their obligations to protect her right to life by "fail[ing] to investigate effectively [her] abduction and killing.”
Natalia – Natasha to me and many others – was a colleague and very close friend. I last saw her 36 hours before the murder, while staying at her place in Grozny, as I always did when in Chechnya. We’d spent a week interviewing people whose homes police had torched because of their alleged involvement with militants, and whose relatives had been rounded up, disappeared, or killed by security officials.
We said goodbye just past midnight on July 14. When I woke up later that morning, Natasha had already left for an early meeting, so I went to the airport without getting to see her again. The next day, armed men pushed her into a car as she was running to catch a bus to the city center. They drove her into neighboring Ingushetia and shot her near the forest.
In 2011, having lost hope for an effective investigation by Russian authorities, Natasha’s family filed a complaint with the European Court, alleging a violation of her right to life because Russian authorities failed to protect human rights defenders in Chechnya, Chechnya’s leadership repeatedly threatened Natasha, and her abduction was apparently carried out by security officials.
Ten years later, the court ruled today that Russia had failed to investigate but also held that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to conclude that state agents had murdered Natasha.
“I had very high hopes and it would be an understatement to say that I’m disappointed,” Natasha’s daughter Lana, who was 15 when she lost her mother, told me today.
The lack of sufficient evidence the court cited is a direct result of Russia’s brazen determination to protect the perpetrators of this outrageous murder. Natasha was killed for fearlessly exposing abuses by Chechen authorities. An effective investigation would leave no doubt about official involvement in her murder.