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Help the IDPs go home, EU is told

By Sopo Datishvili
Thursday, October 16
Human Rights Watch has sent a letter to the EU which urges the Union to prioritize developing a plan of action which will help refugees and IDPs return to their homes.

Several days after the conflict, Human Rights Watch sent teams of researchers to assess the situation in the conflict zone. They interviewed refugees, representatives of South Ossetian militia and staff of international humanitarian organizations. HRW is concerned about the fate of people who were forced to leave their homes in the villages near the conflict zone. The letter to the EU is attached to a memorandum in which HRW gives examples of bulldozed, burned and destroyed houses once occupied by ethnic Georgians.

“While the authorities in South Ossetia have made statements that “provocations” against ethnic Georgians would not be tolerated, it is unclear whether any measures have been taken to hold accountable those who intentionally destroyed these homes,” the letter says. Human Rights Watch also highlights that Russia is still silent on this issue.

Human Rights Watch doesn’t deny that during the short war all sides of the conflict committed violations, but it maintains that now is the time to conduct a transparent investigation. “Furthermore we urge the EU to impress on all sides that they should ensure full and unhindered access, including to South Ossetia, for intergovernmental organizations seeking to conduct human rights monitoring and reporting,” the letter confirms. HRW also mentions recent events, including the withdrawal of Russian troops from the so-called “buffer zones,” but states that restoring law and order seems to be quite difficult at present due to tensions between the Georgian police and Ossetian forces.

The memorandum attached to the letter highlights human rights violations by all sides. It mentions the bombing of civilian areas during the counter-offensive by Russia, the torching and looting of ethnic Georgians’ homes by Ossetians and the use of force by Georgian forces during the assault on South Ossetia the night of August 7-8; for example the use of Grad rockets in civilian areas. HRW recommends that Russia put an end to the looting and the insulting of civilians in all areas under Russian control and publicly acknowledge and respect the rights of all people displaced by the conflict. It points out the primary importance of the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) in the current strained situation.

MP Koba Subeliani, a member of ruling party, has confirmed that people returning to their villages are finding their property damaged and burned down. “About 35 -40% of the houses aren’t fit to live in. The Government is repairing them. We are also giving them money and the fundamentals they need to lead a normal life,” Subeliani said

Ombudsman Sozar Subari has also spoken about the violation of IDP’s rights, but highlighted the unorganized process of returning them to the villages of the so-called “buffer zones.” “In some places minesweeping operations aren’t completed. People who went back to their homes were asked to leave again”, Subari said. He also told The Messenger that the IDP situation is more or less better now, but destroyed homes and property are still the most important problems in the conflict zone.