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Human Rights Watch calls for meaningful investigation into August war crimes

By Mzia Kupunia
Tuesday, October 6
The international human rights group Human Rights Watch has called on the international community to “press Georgia and Russia to bring to justice those who violated the laws of war, causing many civilian deaths and injuries and widespread destruction of civilian property, in last summer’s short but deadly conflict.” Its statement, posted on the HRW website on October 1, says that “in the EU-funded independent, international fact-finding mission on the conflict in Georgia report published on September 30, 2009, the lack of [apportionment of] accountability is striking.”

The New York based organisation says there is a need to carry out “meaningful” investigations. “The international community is largely focusing on who fired the first shot, but the need for justice should not be ignored," said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. "The people whose lives were ruined by fighting are still waiting for justice. It's hard to imagine how there can be any real reconciliation without it." “There's no excuse for the failure to carry through with meaningful investigations," the Human Rights Watch website quoted Carter as saying. "They need to be prompt, thorough, independent and impartial, and most of all, they should lead to successful prosecutions."

Neither Georgian nor Russian official sources have made any comment on this issue so far. However some Georgian analysts say that the Human Rights Watch statement is justified. Political analyst Irakli Sesiashvili said on October 4 that those representatives of the Georgian Government “who violated the international and Georgian norms during the war should be held responsible.” “There is a need to hold a fair investigation, despite the fact that under the current Government this is unlikely to be possible,” Sesiashvili told the GHN news agency “Although the Government has all the levers of power in its own hands and there is no just court, this does not mean that we should not do this,” he stated, adding that “at least” discussions should be started on this issue. “It might already be too late, but it is better to answer all questions even so. It is impossible to establish justice by making political statements,” GHN quoted Sesiashvili as saying.

In January 2009 HRW issued a report accusing both Russia and Georgia for violating the rules of war, including by using “indiscriminate and disproportionate” force in South Ossetia. Then- Europe and Central Asia Director at Human Rights Watch Rachel Denber said in January that “Both Georgia and Russia should undertake an impartial and thorough investigation into abuses committed by their forces. Russia should also do so for crimes committed by the South Ossetian forces, since Russia exercises effective control over South Ossetia. Russia and Georgia must ensure that those who committed these crimes are brought to justice and provide appropriate redress for the numerous victims of the conflict.”