Tanya Lokshina, Human Rights Watch’s incredible Moscow office deputy director, has a piece in the Washington Post today about the killing of her friend, Natalia Estemirova. She describes the repression that Estemirova died exposing:
Among the most recent cases she publicized was that of Madina Yunusova, 20, who married a suspected Chechen militant last month. Yunusova’s husband was killed in early July. Two days later, security forces came to her house, locked her mother, father and two sisters in the adjacent shed, and used gasoline to set the house on fire. The armed men unlocked the shed as they left, and Yunusova’s family managed to put out the fire. The next day, the forces returned — this time bringing Yunusova’s body wrapped in a shroud, along with instructions to bury her “without noise.”
Many others have remarked on the ghastly predictability of Estemirova’s end, but Lokshina’s words read with unique forcefulness and urgency.
Natasha had received many death threats and experienced many close calls over the years. Like Politkovskaya’s death, her killing was both predictable and avoidable. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has expressed his outrage at Natasha’s death, but that is not enough. The Russian government must launch an immediate and thorough investigation into not only Natasha’s death but the full range of human rights atrocities that have unfolded under the leadership of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. That investigation should examine the role of official involvement — including by Kadyrov.
Natasha is not the first Russian human rights defender murdered this year. In January, a friend of ours, Stanislav Markelov, a prominent human rights lawyer who helped many victims of abuse in Chechnya, was shot in central Moscow. Natasha came to town for his funeral. We sat at my kitchen table talking into the wee hours about Markelov and Politkovskaya and speculating about who would be next.
Now I know.
The killers of Markelov and Politkovskaya are still at large, and the Russian government has shown little political will to seriously investigate the murders of rights defenders. Natasha’s death must be the moment this changes. That’s where Western governments come in. We Russians have a saying, “The dogs bark, and the caravan moves on.” Europe and the United States have found it convenient to let Chechnya slip off the agenda in their meetings with Russian policymakers. The dogs are barking.
I will say it: I’m afraid for Tanya Lokshina. Her kind are an endangered species whose numbers are swiftly shrinking.