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On July 15th, Natalia Estemirova - a leading human rights defender in Chechnya - was found shot dead in Ingushetia. She is the second human rights activist to be murdered in Russia this year for trying to publicize grave and continuing human rights abuses in Chechnya.
As a researcher for the Memorial Human Rights Center, Ms. Estemirova has been at the forefront of efforts to investigate human rights violations and work for accountability in Chechnya for more than 10 years.
Ms. Estimirova focused on bringing to light the violent trend of extrajudicial executions, punitive house burnings, abductions, and arbitrary detentions in Chechnya and courageously criticized government authorities for abuses and for failing to bring the perpetrators to justice.
According to Human Rights Watch, Ms. Estemirova was assisting in the investigations of several of these cases when she was killed.
Natalia Estemirova’s death is the latest in a series of attacks and murders of journalists, lawyers, and activists seeking justice for human rights violations, particularly in Chechnya.
In January, Stanislav Markelov, a prominent human rights lawyer who represented numerous victims of human rights abuses in Chechnya, was shot dead on the street in Moscow. Anastasiya Baburova, a journalist who was with him, was also killed. In one of the most prominent cases, investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya, was murdered in October 2006.
These murders should be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. On the abduction and murder of Natalia Estemirova, U.S. National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said the "brutal slaying is especially shocking coming one week after President [Barack] Obama met with civil society activists in Moscow, including those from Natalia’s organization - Memorial.
Such a heinous crime," said Mr. Hammer, "sends a chilling signal to Russian civil society and the international community and illustrates the tragic deterioration of security and the rule of law in the North Caucasus over the last several months."
Mr. Hammer added that the U.S. calls "on the Russian government to bring to justice those responsible for this outrageous crime and demonstrate that lawlessness and impunity will not be tolerated."