"Chechnya exists today as a kind of enclave, completely outside the framework of Russian or international law," says Tatiana Lokshina, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Russia, who was reached by phone in Grozny. "This decision to lift the state of emergency has purely symbolic significance for the population of Chechnya. Today, the human rights abuses are committed by [pro-Moscow] Chechens rather than Russian security forces, but the atmosphere of impunity is the same," she says.
A tiny republic's dark history
The northern Caucasus region, of which Chechnya is part, was conquered by Imperial Russia in the 19th century and later forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union. The Chechens, a warlike mountain nation, rose up repeatedly and declared independence as the USSR was collapsing in 1991.
An invasion launched by then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1994 killed an estimated 100,000 people, mainly civilians, and ended in Russian defeat two years later. But a de facto independent Chechnya became a nexus for crime and subversion throughout the region. After a wave of apartment bombings, blamed on Chechen terrorists, that killed 300 Russians in 1999, the Kremlin again ordered Russian troops to invade the tiny republic.