ON THE MORNING OF JULY 15, 2009, NATALYA ESTEMIROVA, A 50-year-old researcher for the Russian human rights organization Memorial and former history teacher who had systematically reported on torture, disappearances, and murders in her native Chechnya for nearly two decades, was abducted as she left her home in Grozny and forced into a car. Her bullet-riddled body was found later by the side of a road. She had become a victim of just the kind of crime that she had so often documented.
For a brief period, the murder of Estemirova was an important news item worldwide. Few outside Russia had even known her name, but a great many now recognized that her death would have serious consequences. Chechnya has a well-earned reputation as a very dangerous place. An unusually large number of journalists, humanitarian workers, and human rights researchers have lost their lives there in the past two decades. Members of professions used to working in some of the world’s most dangerous places have learned to avoid Chechnya. Memorial’s researchers, led by Estemirova, were virtually alone by the time of her murder in keeping the world informed about the ongoing violent abuses of human rights in the territory. Would even Memorial be able to sustain that reporting after her death? “A question hangs over her execution, the most recent in a series of killings of those still willing to chronicle Chechnya’s horrors,” wrote a New York Times reporter, who described her as “both a trusted source and friend.” Is the accounting of the human toll now over? “Without her, will