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A Critical Voice on Human Rights Abuses Silenced

On the morning of July 15, 2009, Natalya Estemirova was abducted near her home in Grozny, Chechnya. As people on a nearby balcony heard her call for help, Estemirova was forced into a car. Her body was found a few hours later near a highway in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia.

Estemirova was a prominent human rights worker who for a decade had documented abuses, kidnappings, and killings for the Russian human rights group Memorial. She was the recipient of the first annual Anna Politkovskaya award, created by Reach all Women in War in honor of the murdered Russian journalist who courageously covered Chechnya for years. The award recognizes women who are defending human rights in zones of war and conflict, often at great personal risk.

Like many who have exposed human rights abuses in Chechnya, Estemirova's work met threats and condemnations from Chechen authorities. In March 2008, when Estemirova criticized a new law requiring Chechen women to wear head scarves, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov summoned her to a personal meeting and threatened her. Frightened by the experience, Estemirova went abroad for several months. Then she returned.

The tragedy of her death was compounded by the subsequent closure of Memorial's office in Chechnya. Alexander Cherkasov, Memorial executive committee member, explained, "We have seen that the work Natasha was involved in, the work done by our colleagues in Chechnya -- documenting crimes committed by representatives of the authorities -- is fatally dangerous. We can't put them at risk." The Memorial office in Chechnya, which operated throughout the conflict, provided critical -- and oftentimes the only -- information about human rights abuses in the Russian republic.

Update: On Sunday, July 26, a suicide bomb killed six people outside a concert hall in Grozny as a crowd gathered for a performance. It was the second bombing in Grozny this month.

Since Estemirova's death two weeks ago, Memorial has accused President Kadyrov of involvement in her murder; Mr. Kadyrov has announced that he is suing the human rights group for slander.

For more information about Natalya Estemirova, her work, and the situation in Chechnya, please visit: