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Human Rights Watch slams Georgia and Russia for human rights violations in South Ossetia

By Mzia Kupunia
Friday, January 16
New York-based human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has strongly criticized the Georgian and Russian authorities for committing “serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law” in the August conflict over breakaway South Ossetia. In its annual World Report, issued on January 14, Human Rights Watch also slams the Georgian and Russian Governments for using indiscriminate force, including cluster bombs.

“All parties committed serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, resulting in many civilian deaths and injuries,” the report reads. “The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that 133,000 people were displaced by the conflict, but at least 80 percent have now returned to their homes. Thousands of Georgians from South Ossetia still remain displaced,” it notes.

The 6 page report lists the details of the violations committed by the Georgian side during attack on South Ossetia, including indiscriminate shelling of apartment buildings and using cluster bombs in civilian areas. “Georgian forces used indiscriminate force, firing Grad multiple rocket launchers, an indiscriminate weapon that should not be used in civilian areas. The Georgian military used tanks and machine guns to fire at buildings in Tskhinvali, including apartment buildings where civilians sheltered,” the report says, adding that “South Ossetian forces had fired on Georgian forces from at least some of these buildings.”

The report says that the Georgian military also used cluster munitions against the Russian military, and did so in those Georgian territories adjacent to the administrative border populated by civilians. “Some civilians were killed or injured as a result of Georgian and Russian-fired unexploded ordinances, including cluster duds,” the report states.

The Human Rights Watch 2009 World Report also slams Russia for using cluster bombs in areas populated by civilians in the Gori and Kareli regions, an action which led to “civilian deaths and injuries,” and for “indiscriminate rocket attacks on civilian areas.” HRW accuses Russia of “failing to protect civilians in areas under its effective control” and for “preventing the Georgian authorities from policing these areas, creating a security vacuum.” The report notes that “Ossetian militias and armed criminal gangs looted and burned homes and killed, raped, beat, and threatened civilians in these areas.”

Human Rights Watch reports the unlawful detention of civilians by the Ossetian forces. “Detainees were held in conditions that amounted to degrading treatment,” the report says. “Russian troops and Ossetian militias detained at least 14 Georgian servicemen, subjecting them to severe torture and ill treatment, including beatings, burnings and starvation, and summarily executed at least one Georgian soldier,” it notes.

The Georgian authorities have not made any comment about the HRW report so far. A Defence Ministry spokesperson told The Messenger that they are studying the document and will make an official comment later today. HRW also mentions other problematic issues in the chapter on Georgia, including the lack of accountability for the excessive use of force and shortcomings in the criminal justice system, elections and media freedom.