Killer colonel cleared of murder
- BBC Tuesday, 31 December, 2002, 16:38 GMT
Budanov is seen by some Russians as a hero (sub-title to article photo)
A Russian military court has ruled that a senior military officer who
admitted strangling a Chechen teenager was temporarily insane at the time.
Colonel Yuri Budanov is to undergo psychiatric treatment, instead of
facing a lengthy prison term.
He is the first high-ranking military officer to be brought to trial
for such a serious offence, despite widespread accusations of human
rights abuses by Russian troops in Chechnya.
The family of the victim, 18-year-old Kheda Kungayeva, said the
doctors who declared Colonel Budanov insane had conducted a biased
evaluation aimed at exonerating him.
But their report, presented earlier this month, was accepted as
correct by the court in Rostov-on-Don.
There is no hope any more for Chechens that the crimes of Russian
forces against the civilian population will be punished
Human rights activist
Ms Kungayeva's family says that Russian soldiers dragged her from her
home at night, before raping and murdering her in a drunken rampage.
Colonel Budanov initially faced a charge of rape as well as murder,
but it was subsequently dropped.
Colonel Budanov said he suspected the teenager of being a rebel sniper
who had killed some of his comrades. He said he killed her while in a
rage during his interrogation of her.
He had faced a sentence of up to 12 years in prison if found guilty of
The case has polarised public opinion in Russia - from those who see
Colonel Budanov as a hero, to others who say he has got away with
murder because his victim was Chechen.
Lawyers for the victim's family have questioned the verdict, asking
why if the colonel was insane he was allowed to command a key Russian
And the BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Moscow says this case has been seen as
a key test of Russian justice, and, for Chechens at least, the court's
verdict proves Russia has failed that test.
The verdict was denounced by human rights campaigners, who said
Russian soldiers had been given a free hand to carry out human rights
The Russian army today is an independent political force, as it was in
the darkest periods of our history
Refugee aid group
"The Budanov case was so clear-cut and yet the murderer has escaped
punishment," Tatiana Kasatkina from the Russian human rights group
Memorial told the French news agency AFP.
"There is no hope any more for Chechens that the crimes of Russian
forces against the civilian population will be punished."
The verdict would "further undermine the trust of the Chechen people",
said Svetlana Gannushkina, the head of refugee aid group Civic Assistance.
"The Russian army today is an independent political force, as it was
in the darkest periods of our history," she said.
"That may have catastrophic consequences."