Notes on the trial of Col. Yuri Budanov for Kungaeva's murder. The initial rape charge was dropped. Extracts from HRW report of 27-02-2001.

Backgrounder on the Case of Kheda Kungaeva


On March 27, 2000, Kheda Kungaeva, an eighteen-year-old woman, was taken from her home in Chechnya, beaten, raped, and murdered. On February 28, 2001, the Rostov District Military Court will try Col. Yuri Budanov for Kungaeva's murder. It is the first and only case in which Russian authorities promptly and publicly acknowledged a crime, perpetrated by Russian federal forces against civilians in Chechnya, that constitutes a gross violation of international humanitarian and human rights law.

The military has portrayed Budanov's behavior as an exceptional example of wanton criminality by a serviceman. However, the abduction, beating, rape, and murder of Kungaeva reflect a pattern of violations perpetrated by federal forces that has been exhaustively documented by Human Rights Watch and other nongovernmental organizations.

A diligent prosecution of Budanov would be the first step toward justice for Kungaeva, but should not on its own be interpreted as a sign that Russia is committed to a meaningful accountability process for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by its forces in Chechnya. Russian authorities have concealed and obstructed the prosecution of its forces for such violations; acknowledgement, investigation, and prosecution of such crimes against civilians have been alarmingly few, and many were conducted in bad faith. A resolution adopted in April 2000 by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights called for Russia, among other things, to establish a national commission of inquiry to investigate such crimes, but Russia has not fulfilled the resolution's requirements.

A forensic medical report, a copy of which was obtained by Human Rights Watch, cited a military procurator's report that on March 27 at 1:00 a.m., Budanov took Kheda Kungaeva, a civilian, from her home in Tangi-Chu and brought her to a military encampment. The forensic examiner concluded that Kungaeva was beaten, anally and vaginally penetrated by a hard object, and strangled at about 3:00 a.m. The report cited marks on her neck, the condition of her blood vessels, the tone of her skin, and the condition of her lungs. It found that other injuries such as bruising found on her face, her neck, her right eye, and her left breast were inflicted by a blow with a "blunt, hard object of limited surface," which occurred approximately one hour before her death.

Russian military authorities first publicly accused Budanov of raping and murdering Kungaeva, and subsequently indicted him only on charges of murder, kidnapping, and abuse of office. Although forensic evidence strongly suggests that Kungaeva was raped, no one is known to have been charged with her rape.

Human Rights Watch welcomes the initiative to prosecute the murder of Kheda Kungaeva, but remains concerned that authorities are ignoring evidence of rape.

The events of March 27, 2000

On the night of March 26-27, 2000 at about 1:00 a.m., the commander of division 13206 Col. Y.D. Budanov arrived in the village of Tangi-Chu in the Urus-Martan district of the Chechen Republic on APC no. 391 together with servicemen Sergeant Grigoriev, Sergeant Li-En-Shou, and Private Yegorov. On the orders of Colonel Budanov, his subordinates forcibly took citizen K.V. Kungaeva from house no.7 on Zarechni Lane and drove her to the division's encampment on the APC. Around 3:00 a.m. on March 27, 2000 Y.D. Budanov strangled K.V. Kungaeva in trailer 131 [reportedly Budanov's quarters ]. On the orders of Colonel Budanov, Private Yegorov, Sgt. Li-En-Shou and Sgt. Grigoriev took the body of K.V. Kungaeva and buried her in a forested area near the encampment. Around 10:00 a.m. on March 28, 2000, Kungaeva's body was exhumed.

…About ten days before the rape and murder of Kungaeva, Budanov reportedly arbitrarily searched and looted several homes in Tangi Chu, and on March 25 he reportedly looted and threatened to torch several other homes.

The aftermath and initial investigation

The military responded immediately to Kungaeva's rape and murder, promptly taking Budanov into custody, and assisting the Kungaev family; they also condemned Budanov at the highest levels, without awaiting the outcome of a court proceeding. Federal soldiers returned Kungaeva's body to her family on the evening of March 28, 2000. Maj.-Gen. Alexander Verbitskii told villagers that Budanov had raped and then strangled Kungaeva, and promised that justice would be severe and swift. …

Budanov was arrested on March 29. According to press reports, Budanov claimed that Kungaeva was a sniper, and that he had gone into a rage while questioning her. He reportedly admitting killing her, but denied the rape charges. …

Vissa Kungaev told Human Rights Watch that initially, the investigation seemed satisfactory. He reported meeting with investigators in Tangi-Chu and in Urus-Martan, and reported that investigators also questioned family members and villagers. Kungaev's lawyer said that the investigation established that no members of the Kungaev family were snipers or fighters. However, after six months had passed, Kungaev worried that the investigation had stalled, and sent petitions to the federal military procuracy, the general procuracy, and the Duma, expressing concern about the apparent halt to the investigation and urging that it continue. In October 2000, Kungaev learned that the charges against Budanov did not include rape, and became especially concerned about the investigation at that point.

When he spoke with Human Rights Watch in early February 2001, after authorities had closed the investigation, Kungaev expressed shock and regret that Budanov had not been charged with rape. "They took away the most important charge," he said. …

The charges against Budanov and lack of a rape prosecution

Budanov was charged with three crimes: kidnapping resulting in death, abuse of office accompanied by violence with serious consequences, and murder of an abductee. No charges have been brought expressly for the beating and torture Kungaeva endured prior to her death.

Initially, the case of Kheda Kungaeva appeared unique-not in the brutality endured by a Chechen civilian at the hands of federal forces, which was all too familiar-but because top military officials publicly acknowledged and promptly investigated the crime. However, the failure to bring charges of rape, despite the presence of conclusive forensic evidence of anal and vaginal penetration just before her death, raises a concern that authorities are not prosecuting the case fully.

Budanov claimed that he detained Kungaeva on suspicion of being a sniper, and that he killed her during interrogation. The investigation, however, reportedly found that no member of the Kungaev family had in any way been suspected of involvement in criminal activity. Budanov used his official position and a military vehicle to remove Kungaeva from her home, and detained Kungaeva at a military installation. He is charged with exceeding (prevysheniye) his official position with violence resulting in serious consequences, which is punishable by three to ten years of imprisonment (article 286.3 of the criminal code). Budanov, if found guilty of kidnapping resulting in serious consequences or accidental death, would face five to fifteen years imprisonment.

Budanov has also been charged with premeditated murder of an abductee, the most severe charge he faces. If convicted of murder of an abductee, Budanov could face a sentence from at least eight years to life imprisonment, or the death penalty. If convicted of intentional homicide, he would face a sentence of six to fifteen years' imprisonment. A finding that Budanov committed the murder in a state of extreme distress, as provided for under article 107, would make the crime punishable by up to three years of imprisonment, but the sentence would be covered by the May 2000 amnesty.

Three of Budanov's subordinates, Sergeant Li-En-Shou, Sergeant Grigoriev, and Private Yegorev, were charged with concealing a serious crime. According to a press report, one of these men was also charged with desecration of a corpse. While it is unclear what specific criminal act triggered this charge, Human Rights Watch is concerned that it was brought in an attempt to portray the sexual assault as an act that occurred after her death, in order to avoid bringing rape charges. Charges against all three were simultaneously brought and dropped under the May 26, 2000 amnesty law.

The military procuracy declined to answer Human Rights Watch's questions regarding the absence of rape charges in the Kungaeva case, citing the need for confidentiality in the proceedings. It is therefore unclear whether the procuracy is denying that she was raped, or whether it is claiming that prosecutors have not identified a suspect in the rape.

However, the forensic examination of Kungaeva's body, which took place on March 28 in the village of Tangi-Chu, provides strong evidence that she was brutally sexually penetrated just prior to her murder. The forensic physician, a captain in the Russian military medical service, found three tears in her hymen and one in the mucus membrane of her rectum, and the report concludes that she was penetrated anally and vaginally by a blunt object, perhaps an erect penis, approximately one hour before her death:

On the body of K.V. Kungaeva these injuries were found: tears in the hymen and in the mucus membrane of the rectum, caused by insertion of a hard blunt object or objects into the rectum and into the vaginal passage, which is supported by the anatomical characteristics of the injuries specified. It cannot be ruled out that the object was an erect penis. … The tears occurred not long before death (about one hour), ...

The trial of Yuri Budanov is set for February 28.

Human Rights Watch