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Russian Forces Continue Pounding Chechen Targets

Wounded Civilians Unable to Get Medical Care

Russian forces are continuing to strike Chechen targets with artillery, warplanes, and missiles, according to witnesses interviewed in Ingushetia by Human Rights Watch.

Kheidi, a 37-year-old woman who crossed the Chechen border early Wednesday morning, said that Russian warplanes bombed the village of Starye Atagi on Monday and Tuesday, killing nine civilians. According to other witnesses, Russian forces are still besieging Grozny. Zarema Badayeva, a wounded 26-year-old Grozny woman who crossed into Ingushetia Wednesday afternoon, told Human Rights Watch that Russian forces are "bombing everywhere" and that the remaining residents are "terrified to leave their basements." All essential services in the capital have collapsed, and the population has no gas, electricity, or fresh food. "You live on what you have stocked in your basement or you starve," said a 62-year-old woman at the border.

The Russian shelling complicates medical evacuations. Kheidi's seven-year-old daughter was hit by Russian shrapnel in her knee, ankle, and back on October 23. "She lay in Grozny city hospital for five days," Kheidi said. "And than we ran to Starye Atagi to escape the shelling." When that village was hit by Russian warplanes on November 1 and 2, Kheidi fled again with her daughter to the Sunzha district hospital, located in Sleptsovsk, a few miles inside Ingushetia. As a result of the travel and inadequate care, Kheidi was forced to have her daughter's leg amputated above the knee. Kheidi said that both the Grozny and Starye Atagi hospitals were understaffed, undersupplied, and overwhelmed by new patients.

Zarima Badayeva, whose left pelvic bone was shattered in the October 21 market bombing in Grozny, took shelter on Verkhnaya Street for 12 days, leaving only once for first-aid treatment in the Grozny city hospital. On November 3, her family decided to make a run for the Ingush border. "We crammed six people into our car," 32-year-old Gamza Badayev said, "and we finally got through after waiting hours at the border." Another woman interviewed in the Sunzha hospital said she was forced to wait at the Ingush-Chechen border for three days after being wounded by Russian shellfire on October 27. Although she had suffered a shrapnel wound in her right shoulder, Russian border troops blocked her from crossing until November 1.

Human Rights Watch calls on Russian field commanders to cease attacks on civilian objects, as well as carpet bombing or other means of attack that indiscriminately strike civilians and combatants alike. The Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols, to which Russia is a party, as well as the customary international law of war, emphasize the principle of civilian immunity. This body of law prohibits attacks - even when aimed at legitimate military targets - if they are indiscriminate or disproportionately harmful to civilians in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. Humanitarian law also requires precautions to protect the civilian population, such as effective advance warning.

Human Rights Watch also urges the Russian authorities to announce well-enforced pauses in the bombing by leaflet and radio, which may help civilians trapped in Chechen combat zones to escape the fighting. Russian authorities must also allow unimpeded freedom of movement to wounded civilians seeking to cross the Ingush border. Blocking access to a safe area out of the conflict zone violates Russia's international obligations to protect civilians. These are inscribed in the Geneva Conventions and in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

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