Even though Russian authorities repeatedly assert that the war in Chechnya has been won and that life is returning to normal there, the dying goes on. Yesterday, a truck bomb blew up outside government offices in northern Chechnya, killing 41 people, including six children, and wounding more than 100 people.
The blast in the town of Znamenskoye, estimated to have had the force of 1.3 tons of TNT, was apparently an attack against Russian forces, but most of the dead were civilians, according to Associated Press reports.
The explosion destroyed a two-story headquarters of the Federal Security Service, the intelligence agency that is waging Russia's 3 1/2 -year-old war against Chechen separatists.
Russian President Vladimir V. Putin says the explosion was a terrorist act meant to halt efforts to bring peace to Chechnya.
"All such actions are aimed at one thing: stopping the process of the settlement of the situation in Chechnya, the process of political settlement," Putin told Cabinet members, the AP reported. "We cannot and will not allow anything of the kind."
Human rights organizations have been critical of Russia's treatment of the Chechen people, asserting that numerous human rights abuses have occurred there under the guise of fighting international terrorism. Several organizations have appealed, unsuccessfully, to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to censure Russia for its actions in Chechnya.
Following are excerpts from recent human rights reports on the situation:
Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper to the 59th Session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, April 7, 2003. (Human Rights Watch is a New York-based organization.)
The armed conflict in Chechnya continues and humanitarian law violations appear to be increasing. Human Rights Watch research conducted in the region in late March found that Russian troops had "disappeared" at least 26 people between late December and late February, or roughly three people per week. This is the highest rate of "disappearances" Human Rights Watch has documented since the beginning of the conflict.
In more than fifty interviews with victims and eyewitnesses, we also documented new cases of extrajudicial execution, torture and ill-treatment, and arbitrary detention. The Russian government's long-standing failure to investigate diligently such abuses and prosecute their perpetrators remains unchanged.
Chechen rebels are believed to be responsible for a continuing pattern of assassinations of village administrators and other civil servants working for the pro-Moscow government in Chechnya. ...
Unpublished government statistics confirm the high risk of abuse civilians face in Chechnya. According to an unpublished report on criminal activity in Chechnya, in 2002, 1,132 civilians were killed, or between five and eight times the murder rate for Russia, and between ten and fifteen times the murder rate for Moscow.
A second unpublished report, providing crime statistics for the first months of 2003, stated that for January and February there were 70 murders, 126 abductions, and 25 cases in which human corpses were found. Accompanying the statistics were detailed descriptions of more than 185 crimes in Chechnya committed in January and February 2003; in many, federal forces are implicated.
Throughout the past year, the Russian government sought to limit the flow of information from Chechnya. It barred outside scrutiny of the conflict by refusing to renew the mandate of the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] Assistance Group to Chechnya, forcing its closure, and by refusing to arrange visits to the region by several U.N. special mechanisms. The government also denied Human Rights Watch access to the region for the tenth time since the outbreak of the conflict in 1999. Finally, the government harassed several Chechen human rights advocates, one of whom subsequently "disappeared" after being taken into custody.
Statement to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, on behalf of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, the International League for Human Rights, the International Service for Human Rights, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and the Human Rights Center "Memorial" based in the Russian Federation (April 1, 2003):
In Chechnya, on the territory of the Russian federation, the continuing military action has taken the form of a guerrilla war. Russian officials have stated that their actions against the Chechen combatant forces should be viewed as part of the international war on terrorism. However, the international community should be aware that Russian federal forces have committed grave abuses against the Republic's peaceful civilian population.