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  • Writer's pictureLaci Felker

The Assassination of Russian Human Rights Activist Natalya Estemirova

Originally posted September 2, 2021, with Muses Nest, a defunct online human and woman's magazine.

The United Nations in 1966 adopted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) treaty, which meant that everyone who was a part of the United Nations would have to adhere to the rights set out in the treaty. This treaty is also a part of the International Bill of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, the Russian government has recently been named in a court ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.

As part of the United Nations, the Russian Federation is held to the precedents set in the ICCPR. Still, the government has been accused of not thoroughly investigating the assassination of human rights activist Natalya Estemirova to their full capacity.

Natalya Estemirova focused on human rights issues, after having received her degree in history and teaching history at a local high school, and in 2000 became a representative for Memorial, a society dedicated to protecting human rights initially based in Moscow. She received multiple awards, like the Robert Schuman Medal that is given to people who have advocated for peace and human values, and the Anna Politkovskaya award that is given to women human rights activists, especially those who work in dangerous zones at their own risk. However, on 15 July 2009, she was abducted from her home, shouting that she was being abducted, and was later found with bullet wounds littering her upper body. The man who organized her memorial was then arrested under charges of disturbing the police.

The events surrounding Estemirova’s death are strange, to say the least. She was working on a case of human rights abuses in Chechnya. Then investigators did a poor job of actually doing their job, and the man who organized her memorial was arrested. When it comes to digging into Russia’s activities, there is a clear history of people disappearing. Meaning, a person who gets too close to something they shouldn’t be looking at or insinuating that the government is doing something they shouldn’t be doing, usually does not turn out very well for them. There are many independence leaders, journalists, and rights activists that have been killed, only because of what they believe is right. So, Estemirova is not the first human rights activist to be assassinated, and she is not the last. For example, the Anna Politkovskaya award is named after Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist who was murdered for looking into the war in Chechnya.

The European Court of Human Rights also claimed that the government officials were not responsible for her death, but that does not mean others are willing to accept this. Of course, when a job centers around exposing people and groups for the nefarious acts they commit, it is not a stretch to say that those people will not take kindly to it and retaliate. But it’s the government that people are accusing. Their incompetence with investigating her murder directly involves the security officials she was investigating. Memorial, the human rights society, made a statement that it was a government-sanctioned murder by a Chechen political official, Ramzan Kadyrov. However, Kadyrov immediately filed a defamation claim against the group.

There is much speculation about Estemirova’s death, about whether the government officials did it themselves, or that they hired someone to do it, or that they know who killed her. And that there is a policy of collective responsibility that has been used throughout history, although illegal, and it punishes not only those who commit specific acts but also their family and friends.

With Russia’s long history of torture and abuse and complete disregard for human rights, as well as corruption within the government, claiming that the Russian government was, in some way, an accomplice to Estemirova’s death would not be illogical. There is certainly a level of secrecy surrounding her case, as well as missing details, and there may never be an answer as to who really killed her. But there is one thing that’s for sure: Natalya Estemirova’s work still continues, as well as the fight to bring justice for her and her family. Even though her family was awarded money for damages, it is not enough. Something needs to change, and it starts with holding governments accountable for their actions.

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