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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 September, 2003, 08:42 GMT 09:42 UK
Rape and death in Chechnya
The family of a Chechen girl killed by a Russian officer accepted political asylum in Norway last month. Before they left, Sapiet Dakhshukaeva talked to them about their ordeal, and their views on the jailing of the culprit.

On 26 March 2000 Russia went to the polls to elect a president, but the Chechen village of Tangi-Chu was under military blockade, as it had been for more than a month.

THE TANGI-CHU BLOCKADE
Aim: to 'cleanse' the village of rebels and block a key road
In 'cleansing operations' troops surround a village and take men away for interrogation
Human rights groups link them with torture, disappearances, and summary execution
Soldiers of the 160th Russian tank division prevented anyone entering or leaving the village, cutting it off entirely from the outside world.

Meanwhile, three armed personnel carriers drove around, spreading terror among the local residents.

Mounted on one of the armed cars was an officer, whose face was well known, even though almost no-one knew his name.

The Kungayev family lived on the very edge of the village. Like other families they usually put their children to bed in their clothes, to be ready for any emergency.

Rosa Bashaeva
I have suffered, my daughter has suffered, and tomorrow it will be someone else - no-one can insure themselves against it
Rosa Kungayeva
They had three daughters - Elsa, Khava and Larisa - and two sons - Khavazhi and Khassi - all of whom were all asleep when a military vehicle rolled up to the house at 1am in the morning.

The father, Visa, heard automatic rifles being loaded outside the door, and assumed the soldiers had come for him - it did not occur to him that they might want his children.

As the mother, Rosa, was not at home that night, he woke the eldest daughter, Elsa (also known as Kheda), and told her to rouse the others quickly, before he slipped out to get help.

The children recalled later that the soldiers spent only five to seven minutes in the house.

There was no search. They seized Khava first, who was then only 13 years old, but let her go when they saw her elder sister, 18-year-old Elsa.

As they grabbed her by the hands and led her away, she cried to her younger brothers and sisters to defend her.

Her father's younger brother, Adlan, ran over from a neighbouring house - but the officer, Budanov, showered him with obscenities and struck him with the butt of his rifle, leaving the children in shock.

In the hallway Elsa lost consciousness. Then the visitors wrapped her in a rug and took her away.

'Quiet night'

What happened next, the whole world now knows, from the trial that continued on and off for more than two years in the North Caucasus district military court, in Rostov-on-Don: Elsa was raped and strangled.

Budanov checking documents in Tangi-Chu in March 2000
Blockade: Budanov checking documents in Tangi-Chu
But when Budanov reported to his chiefs the next morning he said the night in Tangi-Chu had passed quietly, and without incident.

Elsa's case is not an isolated one. Human rights organisations have documented hundreds of disappearances since 1999 - of women as well as men.

The frequency of rape and sexual assault is unknown and unknowable, though rumours abound in Chechen villages.

There have been few official complaints, partly because of the risk of reprisals, and partly because of local taboos. A woman who is known to have been raped is unlikely to find a husband, and a married woman may well be divorced.

Colonel Yuri Budanov
In court: Convicted of murder, never tried for rape
"This, obviously, is to the advantage of the soldiers," says Eliza Musaeva, a representative of the human rights organisation, Memorial, in the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia.

"If something happened, it is considered shameful... People try to hide the fact because they have to somehow continue living in this society."

Sexual assault is also notoriously unprovable, because of the lack of witnesses - but in Elsa's case, her dead body bore clear evidence of rape.

At first Budanov was charged with it, but then another young soldier admitted responsibility. He was later pardoned in an amnesty.

No consolation

According to a study by Memorial of 51 soldiers convicted of crimes in Chechnya, two found guilty of rape were given suspended sentences.

Elsa's brothers and sisters in Ingushetia tent camp
The family moved to a refugee camp in Ingushetia after the killing
Budanov himself almost avoided jail for murder, when his lawyers persuaded judges he was temporarily insane at the time of the killing. He was only convicted after a higher court ordered a re-trial.

When I met Elsa's mother, Rosa, in a refugee camp in the Ingush village of Karabulak, officials of Russia's ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party were talking about naming Budanov as a candidate in this year's parliamentary elections.

"We are afraid that he might be put forward for parliament," she said, as the cheerful squeaking of chicks resting around our feet broke the gloomy silence of the tidily kept tent.

Rosa, in her grief, seemed oblivious to the surroundings. Wiping away tears, she said: "It makes no difference what sentence they give Budanov, it won't give us any consolation. Our daughter will never come home..."

She was convinced that while Budanov has been jailed, many like him have gone unpunished.

"The most awful thing is that such people (when they leave Chechnya) then travel all over Russia in all directions. I have suffered, my daughter has suffered, and tomorrow it will be someone else. No-one can insure themselves against it."


SEE ALSO:
Russia 'thinning out' Chechens
23 Jul 02  |  Europe
Russia's "dirty war"
09 Aug 01  |  Europe
Russia admits Chechnya abuses
11 Jul 01  |  Europe
Q&A: The Chechen conflict
29 Oct 02  |  Europe
Profile: Chechnya
30 Apr 03  |  Country profiles


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