Russia/Chechnya: Justice Flouted in Military Murder Case
On the night of March 26, 2000, 18-year old Elza Kungaeva was abducted, beaten, raped and murdered. Russian authorities promptly started an
investigation and arrested Budanov, who confessed that he strangled the young woman in a fit of rage, claiming she was a rebel sniper. The
investigation found that Budanov and three of his subordinates kidnapped Kungaeva at gunpoint from her home in Tangi-Chu and took her to Budanov's
quarters. After he was alone with Kungaeva for about two hours, Budanov ordered his subordinates, who stood guard outside, to bury her naked
Initially the military promised that justice would be severe and swift. But as the case unfolded, the prosecution began undermining a potential
conviction. The forensic examination found that Kungaeva had endured anal and vaginal penetration just before her death, but the prosecution dropped
rape charges against Budanov before trial. The indictment cites the forensic medical report to describe injuries to Kungaeva's face, neck, and hips,
but does not cite the report's description of injuries to her genitals. One of Budanov's subordinates was charged with "desecration of a corpse,"
but the investigation was closed under the 2000 amnesty.
Two psychiatric examinations done in 2000 found Budanov was sane and in control of his actions. However, the court ordered a third examination,
carried out by the Serbskii Institute for Forensic Psychiatry, notorious for its role in persecuting dissidents during the Soviet era. The
institute's experts concluded in May 2002 that Budanov was "temporarily insane" when he killed Kungaeva, noting his war-inflicted trauma. However,
after independent experts criticized the psychiatric examination conclusions as "lacking medical substantiation" and Russia's prosecutor general
said the conclusions failed to answer important questions, the military court ordered a fourth examination. In September 2002, this examination once
more found Budanov was "temporarily insane" at the time of the murder.
Don't Ignore Russian Abuses in Chechnya
"Chechnya is the only place in Europe where civilians are being killed on a near daily basis," Andersen said. "Our research clearly contradicts
Russian government assertions that Chechnya is returning to normal. What's happening there is certainly far from normal."
Tracking the conduct of Russian forces in six military sweep operations between August and December 2001 alone, the Human Rights Watch briefing paper
documents nine forced disappearances and five cases of the indiscriminate use of force. It analyzes the Russian authorities limited efforts to
investigate these crimes and describes the problems faced by internally displaced people in Chechnya's neighboring regions. The briefing paper also
describes assassinations and threats against officials and ordinary civilians by Chechen forces.
Among the victims whose cases are detailed in the briefing paper are:
- Madina Mezhieva and Amkhad Gekhaev who were machine-gunned from a military helicopter on October 27, 2001, while driving home from a turnip field
in Komsomolskoe. The soldiers took these two away alive, and several days later, family members obtained their bodies, both missing limbs, from the
military commander's office in Gudermes.
- Malika Lalaeva and Raisa Taramova, two children killed during a shelling of Goity on October 28, 2001, when three of the nine shells lobbed into
the village hit Lalaev's family house.
- Musa Yunusov and Lom-Ali Yunusov, both detained at night on December 9, 2001 by Russian soldiers, who also torched their houses. Five days later,
the relatives identified their mutilated bodies among seven corpses dumped in a forest near a Grozny suburb.
- Magomed-Emi Alsultanov, Khasmagomed Esuev, Mukhadi Khamzatov, Saidmagomed Mutsukaev, Anzor Ismailov and others, detained by Russian forces and
subsequently "disappeared." For months, relatives were trying to get information about their fate from Russian authorities, but never succeeded.
In none of these cases have the authorities taken adequate steps to investigate the abuses. Since the last U.N. commission meeting, the Russian
government has claimed to be carrying out criminal investigations into abuses in Chechnya. But Human Rights Watch has analyzed several key
investigations, including those into the Sernovodsk sweep "disappearances," the mass grave in Dachny village, and the massacres in Alkhan-Yurt,
Staropromyslovskii, and Aldi. Human Rights Watch found that investigators have consistently failed to take basic investigatory steps that could lead
to the identification of perpetrators.
War Crimes In Chechnya and the Response of the West
Testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
by Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch Emergencies Researcher
Atrocities in Chechnya
Since the beginning of the conflict, Russian forces have indiscriminately and disproportionately bombed and shelled civilian objects, causing heavy
civilian casualties. The Russian forces have ignored their Geneva convention obligations to focus their attacks on combatants, and appear to take few
safeguards to protect civilians: It is this carpet-bombing campaign which has been responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths in the
conflict in Chechnya. The Russian forces have used powerful surface-to surface rockets on numerous occasions, causing death tolls in the hundreds in
the Central Market bombing in Grozny and in many smaller towns and villages. Lately, Russian commanders have threatened to use even more powerful
explosives, including fuel air explosives which could have a disastrous casualty count if used against civilian targets. The bombing campaign has
turned many parts of Chechnya to a wasteland: even the most experienced war reporters I have spoken to told me they have never seen anything in their
careers like the destruction of the capital Grozny.
Russian forces have often refused to create safe corridors to allow civilians to leave areas of active fighting, trapping civilians behind front lines
for months. The haggard men and women who came out of Grozny after a perilous journey told me of living for months in dark, cold cellars with no
water, gas or electricity and limited food: their little children were often in shock, whimpering in the corners of their tents in Ingushetia and
screaming in fright whenever Russian war planes flew over, reminding them of the terror in Grozny.
Men especially face grave difficulties when attempting to flee areas of fighting: they are subjected to verbal taunting, extortion, theft, beatings,
and arbitrary arrest. On several occasions, refugee convoys have come under intense bombardment by Russian forces, causing heavy casualties.
Currently, tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped in the Argun river gorge in Southern Chechnya, stuck behind Russian lines without a way out
from the constant bombardment and rapidly running out of food supplies.
For many Chechens, the constant bombardment was only the beginning of the horror. Once they came into contact with Russian forces, they faced even
greater dangers. Human Rights Watch has now documented three large-scale massacres by Russian forces in Chechnya. In December, Russian troops killed
seventeen civilians in the village of Alkhan-Yurt while going on a looting spree, burning many of the remaining homes and raping several women. We
have documented at least fifty murders, mostly of older men and women, by Russian soldiers in the Staropromyslovski district of Grozny since Russian
forces took control of that district: innocent civilians shot to death in their homes and their yards. In one case, three generations of the Zubayev
family were shot to death in the yard of their home.
On February 5, a few days after Secretary of State Albright met with President Putin in Moscow, Russian forces went on a killing spree in the Aldi
district of Grozny, shooting at least sixty-two and possibly many more civilians who were waiting in the street and their yards for soldiers to check
their documents. These were entirely preventable deaths, not unavoidable casualties of war. They were acts of murder, plain and simple. Refugees are
returning to Grozny to find their relatives or neighbors shot to death in their homes. And most disturbing of all, there is no evidence that the
killing spree has stopped.
In the past month, the Russian authorities have begun arresting large numbers of civilian men throughout Chechnya. These men, numbering well over a
thousand, and some women, have been taken to undisclosed detention facilities, and their relatives are desperately trying to locate them. I have
spoken to men who have been able to pay their way out of these detention facilities, and they have given me consistent testimony about constant
beatings, severe torture, and even cases of rape of both men and women. One of the men suffered from a back injury after being hit with a heavy metal
hammer; a second man had several broken ribs and suffered from kidney problems from the severe beatings.
The Refugee Crisis
The constant attacks by Russian forces against the civilian population have caused more than two hundred thousand Chechens to flee into neighboring
Ingushetia, overwhelming the local population, which numbers only some 300,000. Many more internally displaced persons are trapped inside Chechnya,
especially in the southern Argun river gorge, unable to seek safety because of the refusal of Russian forces to create safe corridors.
The conditions in the refugee camps are dire, with inadequate shelter, food, clean water, heating, and other essentials. Only a minority of refugees
are housed in crowded tent camps or railway cars: the majority live in makeshift shelter in abandoned farms, empty trucking containers, or similar
substandard shelter; many are forced to pay large sums for private housing. Because refugees are forced to rely on their own limited resources for
survival, they are often forced to return to what is still a very active war zone when they run out of money, putting their lives at renewed risk.
Russia is not allowing humanitarian organizations to operate freely in Ingushetia, and is virtually blocking any direct assistance to needy persons
inside Chechnya. Refugee children in Ingushetia are not attending school, and medical needs often go unmet. The contrast with the international
response to last year's Kosovo crisis is striking, although the security concerns and Russian obstruction are certainly relevant factors.
Russian authorities have repeatedly attempted to force refugees to return to Chechnya by denying them food in the camps or by rolling their train
compartments back to Chechnya. Russia is attempting to relocate refugee populations to areas of northern Chechnya under Russian control, which would
place them beyond the reach of international humanitarian agencies and under more direct Russian control. The border between Chechnya and Ingushetia
is regularly closed, preventing refugees from fleeing to safety and often splitting up families stranded on different sides of the border. Following
the destruction of the capital, Grozny, and many other towns and villages in Chechnya, and the widespread looting and burning of homes, many refugees
simply no longer have a home to return to: everything they owned in this world has been destroyed.