– Statement made on 28 February 2022 –
Dear Committee Members,
My name is Lana Estemirova, I am the daughter of a human rights activist Natalya Estemirova, who was assassinated in Chechnya in 2009. I was fifteen years old.
Today is a very special date – it’s my mum’s birthday. She would have turned sixty-four. And yet, instead of celebrating her life, I’m sitting here in front of you, talking about her murder. Twelver years later, the perpetrators have still not been found and there has been no proper investigation.
For my mother, being a human rights activist wasn’t just a profession, it was her life mission. Fighting injustice was ingrained in her, like an instinct. You might be more familiar with some harrowing cases that she helped bring to light, such as the kidnapping and disappearance of Zelimkhan Murdalov, the massacre in Novye Aldy carried out by Russian military forces, the bombing of Rigakhoi village that killed Mandash Tsintsaeva and her five children. My mother helped to document countless number of crimes by the Russian military and later on, of Ramzan Kadyrov’s private army, all while raising me as a single parent.
The European Court of Human Right’s decision on August 2021 on my mother’s case was a long-awaited development, although the verdict was somewhat disappointing. Overall, the court concluded that the Russian government failed to effectively investigate my mother’s abduction and murder and that her right to life was violated. The little evidence presented to the court by the Russian authorities-1500 pages out of more than 10,000 pages- points at the ineffectiveness and sloppiness of the criminal investigation. For example, the traces of DNA of my mother’s alleged killer Bashaev, was not found on my mother’s body.
There has been significant evidence that state agents were involved in my mum’s murder. She received multiple threats from various officials, including Ramzan Kadyrov himself. We were forced to temporarily relocate outside of Russia twice, and I spent many months separated from my mum because she feared for my safety. A witness saw my mum being abducted by men in military uniforms and it’s important to note that the car that took her to her execution site wasn’t stopped at any of the checkpoints along the route. It was argued before the ECtHR that state agents were directly responsible for my mother’s murder, but in the end the Court concluded that this could not be proven ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. In my opinion this was a consequence of the failings in the official investigation. Therefore, I believe it is essential that state agent involvement must now be thoroughly investigated.
Any investigation into my mother’s murder will not be effective without consideration of state involvement. I came here today to urge this Committee to include in its concluding observations a request that the Russian Federation investigate whether there was state involvement in my mother’s, Natalia Estemirova’s, murder.
Additionally, throughout the investigation, the authorities refused to cooperate with my family’s lawyers and provided very limited access to the case files. Russia must also be called upon to give access to the investigation case files to my family’s lawyers.
My mother dedicated her life to the relatives of victims disappeared by Russia in Chechnya and surrounding areas between 1999-2006 and she was a loyal member of the Memorial team for many years. In the spirit of her work, I also ask that that this Committee continue to maintain pressure on Russia to determine the fate of the victims disappeared by Russia in Chechnya and surrounding areas between 1999-2006 as well as to push Russia to revoke its liquidation of Memorial, a human fights giant in the region.