Russian prosecutors are at least trying to create the public impression that they have not given up on trying to bring to justice the only senior Russian military officer to be tried for atrocities against Chechnya’s civilian populace. In a January 10 press conference, an official of the military prosecutor’s office said that it would be seeking a new trial in the case of Colonel Yury Budanov, who murdered a Chechen woman nearly three years ago.
On New Year’s Eve, when both Russian and Western media attention were sure to be at a low ebb, a Russian military court ruled that Budanov had indeed killed 18-year-old Heda Kungayeva–but absolved him of criminal responsibility on grounds of temporary insanity. (Despite the claims about his mental health, Budanov had been a highly regarded tank commander.)
Tatyana Kasatkina of the human rights group Memorial told Agence France-Presse after the December 31 verdict that “There is no hope anymore for Chechens that the crimes of Russian forces against the civilian population will be punished.”
At the January 10 press conference, Aleksandr Savenkov said that the prosecuting attorneys had asked the court to find Budanov guilty and to give him a 12-year sentence. He failed to point out that the prosecutors had previously reversed themselves several times, dropping the charge of rape and at one point even suggesting that the colonel be pardoned. (An autopsy found that Miss Kungayeva had indeed been sexually assaulted.)
The Kungayev family has not given up. The Moscow daily Kommersant reported that Abdulla Khamzaev, the family’s lawyer, intends to appeal to Russia’s Supreme Court–and even to bring a lawsuit before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The defender in the latter suit would not be Budanov as an individual but the military unit in which he served–and thus the Russian government.