Remembering Natalya

Prague Watchdog’s obituary of Natalya Estemirova – the English version, published yesterday:

Today Natasha Estemirova was murdered. I am afraid that the political significance of this killing, about which many words are going to be written, will obscure the tragedy of the death of a very good person, and the intolerable pain, bitterness and rage of hundreds and thousands of people who knew her.

The Russian government no longer restricts itself in its choice of victims. Among those who are abducted, killed, or go missing in Chechnya are Russian citizens of every kind: ordinary people, businessmen, government officials.

In Chechnya there is no longer any question of political rights. Although it does not understand the extraterritorial nature of humanitarian law, Russia’s power elite is nevertheless forced at least sometimes to respond to the protests of Western public opinion about the very serious violations of human rights that take place there. That is why the dissemination of information on such crimes is one of the principal instruments in the hands of human rights defenders.

Natasha had to deal with a system that is hopelessly sick and criminal, trying to ease the burden that oppresses those who live amidst the nightmare in southern Russia.

Now she is no more. It matters little who was behind the assassination – Kadyrov’s forces or some other special service (no one else could have kidnapped a woman in Grozny and then removed her from the republic). The important fact is that it was an agency under the control of the Russian government.

What will happen now? “Memorial” will have to give more thought to the safety of its employees, and possibly limit the organization’s activities in Chechnya. Staff members will naturally have to act with caution, knowing that their lives are menaced not by some abstract threat, but by a danger that is real and imminent, lurking round every corner.

Of two things we may be certain. Those who committed this deed will never be caught. On the other hand, the list of those who cannot learn to keep silent will continue to grow longer.

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