The War: a month on
From 3-8 September 2008 members of the Human Rights Centre “Memorial” and Human Rights Watch visited the military conflict zone in South Ossetia. They spoke with residents of Tskhinvali and villages, police officers, home guard soldiers and Russian soldiers, different representatives of the authorities and others.
At a press conference on 11 September, Memorial made public the following conclusions
1. “During the night of 7-8 August Georgias armed forces carried out an attack on South Ossetia. A disproportionate amount of force was used. The city of Tskhinvali and villages which contained civilians were subjected to gunfire, with the use of indiscriminate weapons, in the first instance Grad missiles.
2. This resulted in casualties among the population of South Ossetia. It is not possible at present to give an exact number. Some official structures are continuing to speak of thousands of casualties however it remains impossible to find the source for these assertions. Meanwhile Russias Investigation Committee speakers of 137 people killed. Only a publication of a list of those killed can clarify this. <>
3. From conversations with residents of Ossetian villages and of the most affected districts of Tskhinvali, it was possible to ascertain that most of those killed were involved in the armed resistance. A considerable percentage of the civilian population had left the city during the previous week, and those remaining sheltered in basements. We recorded some cases where these buildings were subjected to gunfire at basement level, however as a rule civilians died when they came out – to save their burning home, for water, or during attempts to leave the city via an allegedly announced “humanitarian corridor” during the night from 3 to 4 August. “
4. In Tskhinvali they saw one attempt to seize civilian hostages by the crew of a Georgian military vehicle and say that as they retreated from villages, Georgian military also took prisoners and hostages with them. Memorial reports that their conversations did not bring up any cases of torture, beatings or other forms of ill-treatment of women, children or the elderly by Georgian soldiers. The latter “had told many inhabitants that they had strict orders not to touch those parts of the population. The inhabitants of the villages in which according to reports in the Russian media “people were burned alive in churches” did not confirm such information. Moreover, during the days of conflict some wounded or seriously wounded Ossetians were taken to hospitals in Georgia where they received treatment and care. There are opposite examples: we saw Ossetians helping Georgian elderly people who had remained in their villages. “
5. Memorial speaks of severe damage to Tskhinvali and says that while Russian artillery may have inflicted some of this, residents of the city say that it was mainly inflicted during the night of 7-8 August and in the daytime on 8 August, when the Russian military were not near the city.
It says that on 13 August, two days after control had been established over Georgian enclaves, the Russian army took effective measures to protect the civilian population remaining there, and the looting and arson stopped. Forces from the Ministry for Emergencies also found and transported to Georgia 100 residents of villages who had not left their homes in time. “This successful attempt shows the fundamental possibility of effective resolution of such tasks. However about five days later the posts were removed, and the destruction of villages began again.”
7. Memorial says that Georgian villages have been virtually entirely burned. They name seven villages which they themselves visited.
They note that there are villages with mixed Ossetian and Georgian populations which the latter did not leave, and are not in danger.
8. <> The leadership in South Ossetia are not ensuring protection for the property of inhabitants of Georgian enclave villages nor the people remaining there. The Russian military have also ceased to fulfil this function. The situation in these villages is absolutely unacceptable” <>
9. Memorial say that the divisions of the Russian army remaining in Ossetia, at least those removed from their units, are falling apart having found themselves in a wine-making region. The welcome they are receiving is making them not only unable to fight, but also a danger to themselves and those around them.
Based on the press release at www.memo.ru The text is abridged, mainly because HRW may well issue their version, however only removing details fairly readily available.