This month marks the fifth anniversary of the murder of human rights activist Nataliya Estemirova. She was kidnapped and brutally murdered in the North Caucasus region of Russia for trying to publicize serious human rights abuses in Chechnya. Her killers remain unnamed and unpunished.
As a researcher for the Memorial Human Rights Center, Ms. Estemirova collected evidence of kidnappings, torture and killings in Chechnya since the start of the second separatist war there in 1999. She also 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 failing to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Ms. Estemirova worked closely in Chechnya with Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, another critic of the Russian Government who was murdered in Moscow in 2006. In 2007, Ms. Estemirova was awarded the first annual Anna Politkovskaya Award, in honor of her colleague and friend.
The United States calls on the Russian Government to step up efforts to find those responsible for the murder of Ms. Estemirova, as well as in the cases of other human rights activists and journalists whose murders remain unsolved.
Ms. Estemirova’s courage and dedication continues to serve as an inspiration for those who have carried on her work in Russia and elsewhere. Sadly, many of her colleagues in Russia continue to face harassment for their work, including human rights defender Andrei Yurov.
On July 1, Mr. Yurov was attacked outside his office in Voronezh, Russia, by two men who threw antiseptic into his face. He suffered first degree burns to his face as a result of the attack. Mr. Yurov is a member of Russia’s Presidential Council on Human Rights and recently participated in a discussion about the rights of members of minorities in Russian-occupied Crimea, especially ethnic Ukrainians and Tatars.
The United States calls on the Russian Government to ensure that human rights defenders can safely and freely pursue their work, which is so vital to a healthy, democratic society.