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Obituary: Natalia Estemirova

Natalia Estemirova in Grozny, September 2004
Natalia Estemirova was a friend and colleague of Anna Politkovskaya

Award-winning Russian human rights campaigner Natalia Estemirova, who has been found shot dead in the North Caucasus, documented hundreds of cases of abuse in Chechnya.

Her work for the Russian human rights group Memorial latterly focused on alleged human rights violations by government-backed militias.

Such was her importance as a regional expert that her office in the Chechen capital Grozny became the first stop for many visiting journalists, BBC Moscow correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes recalls.

Of mixed Russian-Chechen parentage, Ms Estemirova told the BBC in a 2007 interview that she felt she could understand both peoples.

Asked if she ever felt her life was in danger, she said her dedication to her work overrode her fears.

'Emblematic moral figure'

Born in the south Russian province of Saratov, she graduated in history from Grozny University and was teaching history in a school in the city until 1998, according to Memorial.

NATALIA ESTEMIROVA
Born in southern Russia to Russian and Chechen parents
Worked as teacher in Grozny before turning to journalism and human rights work
Investigated civilian casualties in Chechnya and worked with Anna Politkovskaya
Received awards from members of the European Parliament and the Reach All Women in War campaign group

She began reporting on human rights abuses and when the second Chechen War started in 1999, she documented civilian casualties.

Joining Memorial in 2000, when she moved temporarily to neighbouring Ingushetia, she continued investigating civilian casualties in Chechnya, notably in the villages of Novye Atagy in March 2000 and Rigakha in April 2004.

In January 2005, a group of MEPs in the European Parliament awarded the Robert Schuman Medal to both her and Sergei Kovalyov, chairman of Memorial.

In their citation, the MEPs said: "A large part of the Chechen society sees Natalia as an emblematic moral figure in the non-violent Chechen resistance.

"Far from political passions, she is, above all, devoted to helping victims of violence."

In October 2007, Ms Estemirova was awarded the inaugural Anna Politkovskaya award from the Reach All Women in War campaign group.

That award had been established after the killing of Politkovskaya - a journalist who sought to uncover human rights abuses in Chechnya - outside her home in Moscow in 2006.

'I have to work'

Ms Estemirova was a close friend and colleague of the journalist, interpreting for her on her reporting trips to Chechnya.

Of course there are moments when I feel scared
Natalia Estemirova
interviewed in October 2007

Visiting London to collect the Politkovskaya prize, Ms Estemirova was interviewed about her life and work by BBC World Service's Outlook programme.

Asked if she ever felt her life was in danger, she said: "Sometimes I just can't even come to feeling that because I have such strong other feelings.

"I try to be very exact about how I go about things and of course I do have worries about my family and people close to me but I still have to do my work.

"Of course there are moments when I feel scared."

Russian prosecutors gave Ms Estemirova's age as 50. She leaves behind a daughter of school age.



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