The arrest of a colonel who may have committed rape in Chechnya does not address a pattern of sexual assault by Russian forces in the Chechen conflict.
Human Rights Watch today released fresh evidence of two additional cases of rape that it has documented through witness testimony. Human Rights Watch has previously documented rape in other Chechen towns and villages, including Shali and Alkhan-Yurt. (See, Rape Allegations Surface in Chechnya, HRW Release January 20, 2000.)
The Geneva Conventions define rape as a war crime.
"It would certainly be a step in the right direction if the Russian government actually prosecuted a serviceman for rape," said Holly Cartner, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "But a single prosecution wouldn't begin to address the problem. There have been hundreds of war crimes, including summary executions and rapes, committed by Russian soldiers in Chechnya."
According to two eyewitnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch, Heda Kungayeva, 18, was raped and murdered by Russian forces sometime between midnight on March 26-27 and the evening of March 28, in the village of Tangi Chu south of Grozny.
According to "A.B." (not the witness's real initials), Kungayeva was at home with her father and three siblings on the night of March 26. Her siblings told A.B.'s relatives that when soldiers came near their home, Kungayeva called out to her father, warning him of the arrival of the Russian forces and telling him to leave the house to avoid arbitrary detention. Her father departed, leaving Kungayeva in the house with her siblings.
A.B. reported that when her father returned, the other children informed him that the Russian soldiers had come to the house, looked at all the children, and said, "We'd better take the pretty woman." The Russian soldiers then took Kungayeva away.
"B.D." (not the witness's true initials) told Human Rights Watch that on the night of March 26-27, B.D. heard screaming and shooting from the Kungayevs' house. B.D. ran to the Kungayevs' house just after midnight. Mr. Kungayev told B.D. that his 18-year-old daughter had just been taken away by Russian contract soldiers in an armored personnel carrier (APC). B.D. reported to Human Rights Watch that the sound of the APC pulling away from the village was still audible.
Villagers followed the APC to the edge of Tangi Chu, and watched it return to the Russian military positions in the mountains surrounding the village. On March 27, a group of villagers obtained permission from local Russian forces to travel to Urus-Martan, seven kilometers from Tangi Chu, to search for Kungayeva. They believed that she might have been taken to one of two detention facilities run by Russian forces in that town.
A.B. and B.D. both reported to Human Rights Watch that on March 28, a Russian commander in Urus Martan told the group of villagers that Kungayeva was dead, and had been raped by drunken men. He promised to find and punish the perpetrators, and to return the corpse. The witnesses told Human Rights Watch that Kungayeva's body was returned on the evening of March 28. They said that her body was badly disfigured.
Human Rights Watch has collected evidence of another rape, earlier this year, at the Kavkaz military checkpoint near the border with Ingushetia. Alisa (not her real name) reported to Human Rights Watch that in the last week of January, while traveling by bus with Maya (not her real name) from Chechnya to Ingushetia, the bus was stopped at the Kavkaz Russian military checkpoint, manned by Russian contract soldiers. Ostensibly because the photograph of Alisa in her passport no longer resembled her current appearance, the soldiers detained her, together with Maya. The bus driver pleaded with the soldiers not to detain the women, but the soldiers responded that the women would be sent back to their point of origin. The driver left.
Alisa and Maya were taken to separate underground shelters near the checkpoint. In Alisa's shelter were four Russian soldiers who accused her of being a sniper. They gave her a gun and told her to dismantle it, put it back together, and then shoot. Alisa told Human Rights Watch that she had never held a gun and did not know how to handle one. One of the soldiers hit her with either his wrist or fist, and Alisa fell to the floor. Two other soldiers began kicking her. The soldiers told Alisa, "You will never have children again." Then the soldiers raped her.
Some time later, Maya was brought into the underground shelter where Alisa was being held. According to Alisa, Maya was covered in blood and her mouth was cut. Alisa told Human Rights Watch that Maya said she had also been raped. Alisa told Human Rights Watch that she believes Chechen fighters paid the Russian forces for their release. She spent three weeks in bed recovering from the abuse.
Rape is considered a war crime under Protocol II additional to the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits it in its Article Four (Fundamental Guarantees), "at any time, and in any place whatsoever…outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, rape, enforced prostitution, and any form of indecent assault."