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Chechen society has strong taboos against revealing instances of sexual assault. Chechnya's Muslim culture and national traditions strictly regulate relations between men and women, and inappropriate behavior is subject to severe and often violent sanctions; the use of sexually explicit language in front of women is considered gravely offensive. Unmarried rape survivors are unlikely to be able to marry, and married women who are raped are likely to be divorced by their husbands. These factors make it difficult to document cases of rape and sexual abuse in Chechnya.

Almost all witnesses from Alkhan-Yurt told Human Rights Watch that Russian soldiers in their village were often drunk, and used deeply offensive, sexually explicit language when talking to villagers. Soldiers often entered homes and cellars, they said, asking for young women to have sexual relations with.

At least three women are believed to have been raped by Russian soldiers in Alkhan-Yurt during the first two weeks of December. "Fira F." (not her real name), a thirty-two-year-old woman from Alkhan-Yurt, provided Human Rights Watch with the names of two women who had told her that they were raped by Russian soldiers. One of the women is twenty-five and married, the other woman is an unmarried twenty-year-old woman whom Fira F. knows well. Fira F. told Human Rights Watch that soldiers were frequently drunk and would ask the villagers for vodka and young women, saying "We have not been with a woman for a long time, we need a woman." She said that it is possible that more cases of rape occurred but that "even if it's true, people will not speak about it."76

A second woman from Alkhan-Yurt interviewed independently by Human Rights Watch provided another account of rape in Alkhan-Yurt. Belita Zarakayeva, fifty-five, believed that five or six women had been raped, "including one old woman like me. At night at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., the soldiers came into the cellar. Some soldiers would stand guard, aiming their guns at [the people in the cellar] while the others were raping." She had heard that this account from other villagers who were present in the cellar, and said that many people refused to discuss the issue of rape: "A lot of women were raped, but our people won't talk about it-these women have to marry."

Belita Zarakayeva broke out in tears as she described the extreme precautions she and her neighbors had to take to protect their young daughters from rape:

There were five young women with us in the cellar: my three daughters, twenty-six, twenty, and twelve, and our neighbor's girls, eighteen and nineteen. We made a pit outside in the yard near the stables. We put a pipe [for air] in the pit, covered it with earth, and the five girls were staying in thatpit. The soldiers used to come by and say, "where are the young girls, we need three girls for each soldier." So we kept the girls in the pit.77

The girls, she said, were kept there for several days.

A third witness from Alkhan-Yurt, forty-year-old "Sultan S." (not his real name), also told Human Rights Watch about a case of rape: "Seven contract soldiers raped a woman in our village. It is a savagery. Her family lives near the cemetery; there were few people left in that part of the village. They [the soldiers] pulled her husband out in the street and then raped her. The woman is not young, she is forty-two or forty-three. I know the woman's name, but it is against our traditions to name her."

Rape is considered a war crime under Protocol II additional to the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits in its article 4 (Fundamental Guarantees), "at any time and at any place whatsoever ... outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, rape, enforced prostitution and any form of indecent assault."78 In recent years, the Ad-Hoc International Criminal Tribunals established in the aftermath of the wars in Rwanda (ICTR) and the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) have indicted and convicted several persons for rape as a war crime.

76 Human Rights Watch interview with "Fira F." (not her real name), thirty-two, Pliyevo, Ingushetia, December 12, 1999. 77 Human Rights Watch interview with Belita Zarakayeva, Pliyevo, Ingushetia, December 25, 1999. 78 Protocol II additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflict, of 8 June 1977, article 4.

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