Natalja Estemirova var et unikt menneske, det ser man av hennes øyne og karakterdragene. Hun tilhører de mennesker i historien som slår inn på en vei og aldri snur.
Å arbeide med menneskerettsbrudd i Tsjetsjenia og bo i Groznyj er som å bo i løvens hule.
I 2008 ble hun innkalt til personlig samtale med Ramzan Kadyrov. Han hadde nettopp proklamert at alle kvinner skulle bære islamsk slør. Hun protesterte. Samtalen forløp så truende at Estemirova forlot Russland i flere måneder.
Men hun vendte tilbake.
For fire måneder siden ble hun innkalt til innenriksdepartementet i Groznyj og igjen truet. Samme dag hun ble drept ble en 600 sider lang rapport om menneskerettsforbrytelser i Tsjetsjenia lagt frem på en pressekonferanse. Den nevner også Vladimir Putin som en potensiell tiltalt.
Russland er mektig irritert over alle sakene som bringes inn for Menneskerettsdomstolen i Strasbourg. En slik rapport som impliserer den mektige Putin, har neppe gått ubemerket hen. Putin har de senere år vist stadig mer autoritære tendenser. Drapet kan være en måte å si «så langt, men ikke lenger», også til president Dmitrij Medvedev som har lovt å styrke rettssikkerheten.
The slaying came the same day as the release of a report she helped research that concluded there was enough evidence to demand that Russian officials, including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, be called to account for crimes committed on their watch.
«She documented the most horrendous violations, mass executions,» said Tatyana Lokshina, a Moscow researcher with the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.
«She has done things no one else dared to do,» she said.
Estemirova, a 50-year-old single mother, was reported kidnapped Wednesday morning by the prominent rights organization she worked for, Memorial. Chairman Oleg Orlov said that four men forced her into a car in the Chechen capital, Grozny, where she lived. He said witnesses heard her yell that she was being abducted.
About nine hours later, her body was found on a roadside in Ingushetia, which borders Chechnya to the west. There were two close-range bullet wounds in her head, according to Ingush Interior Ministry spokeswoman Madina Khadziyeva.
Estemirova had collected evidence of rights abuses in Chechnya since the start of the second war there in 1999. She was a key researcher for a recent Human Rights Watch report that accused Chechen authorities of burning more than two dozen houses in the past year to punish relatives of alleged rebels.
Wednesday’s killing came a few hours after Russian rights groups presented a report saying that Putin and other top officials should be considered suspects in crimes against humanity that could be tried before an international tribunal.
The 600-page document appeared to be the first comprehensive attempt to collect and analyze accounts of atrocities by all sides in the two wars between separatists and government forces.
There was no evidence that her killing was connected to release of the report. But Markelov was killed as he left a similar news conference at the same office in Moscow, where he had spoken about his efforts to send a Russian colonel who had strangled a Chechen girl back to jail.
Andrei Mironov, a rights activist and former gulag prisoner, asserted that Estemirova’s killing, and others in recent months, were clearly sanctioned by government officials.
«First off, they kill reporters, to cut off the front line of information. Then they kill activists. … They are by definition enemies and they must be eliminated,» he said. «This is the Russian state. This is a Russian political system that generates terror, systematic terror.»