Ethnic cleansing continues in South Ossetian conflict zone in Georgia

Rusiko Amirejibi-Mullen r.amirejibi-mullen at
Tue Oct 28 09:09:21 UTC 2008

Ethnic Cleansing Continues in South Ossetian Conflict Zone in Georgia

Ethnic cleansing continues in the de-facto border region between  
Georgia and South Ossetia. Human rights monitors found evidence of the  
burning of houses, attacks on civilians and forced displacement of the  
Georgian population as late as Friday 17 October. There is still fear  
and tension in the conflict zone. The Russian Federation effectively  
controls South Ossetian territory and is responsible for maintaining  
security and allowing the displaced population to return and to  
investigate numerous allegations of crimes committed in the areas that  
have been and continue to be effectively under Russian control during  
and after the armed conflict in August, irrespective of who actually  
committed them. The Georgian government, on the other hand, is  
responsible for providing security to the population in the areas it  
controls, including in the de facto border regions, and for  
investigating the numerous allegations of crimes committed during and  
after the armed conflict, irrespective of who actually committed them.  

(Oslo, Tbilisi, Vienna, 24 October 2008) During August, September and  
October 2008, the Austrian Helsinki Foundation, Caucasia Centre for  
Human Rights and Conflict Studies, The Georgian Human Rights Centre  
and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee interviewed a number of IDPs and  
villagers from the conflict zones in South Ossetia, Kareli Region,  
Gori Region and Zugdidi region of Western Georgia.

Our aim was twofold: firstly, to investigate alleged occurrences of  
war crimes and crimes against humanity during and after the armed  
conflict in August, and secondly to offer legal assistance to the  
victims by representing their interests before the European Court of  
Human Rights in Strasbourg. The full records of our research will be  
also be presented in middle November to the International Criminal  
Court in The Hague, together with our final, public report.

Our work was hampered by lack of access to many of the relevant sites,  
as Russian troops and South Ossetian de facto authorities refused to  
allow our monitors access. Nonetheless our monitors went to villages  
in the Russian controlled ?Buffer Zone? in August and September as  
well as to villages in South Ossetia in September and October.

Between 60 and 70 IDPs and villagers from the conflict zones were  
interviewed. These people included those who from one village in the  
Zugdidi region, approximately seven villages in South Ossetia and  
sixteen villages in the Gori and Kareli regions. Some of them were  
interviewed in-depth, as they were victims of or eyewitnesses to grave  
violations of humanitarian law and human rights law. Based on our  
material one cannot draw conclusions about the total number of serious  
war crimes (like e.g. the number of people summarily executed or the  
exact number of houses burned). This material is non-exhaustive, and  
only provides an indication of the overall figures.

Yet this material strongly suggests a pattern of systematic attacks  
against the civilian population that continues until today, the acts  
are seemingly aimed at changing the ethnic composition of the South  
Ossetian population. During the first phase of the armed conflict  
(which continued for about five days from 7 August until 12 August),  
both parties seem to have committed war crimes in the form of  
indiscriminate bombings and disproportional use of force against mixed  
or civilian targets. In the second phase of the conflict the civilian  
population were specifically targeted in those areas effectively  
controlled by the Russian armed forces. These actions have lead to  
ethnic cleansing.

The practice of large-scale looting was accompanied by killings, rape,  
taking of hostages, deprivation of liberty, beatings, and threats. In  
several villages the burning of houses and destruction of public and  
private civilian property had a systematic character. The material  
collected describes 16 alleged cases of killings of civilians  
(excluding deaths resulting from cross fire, bombing and shelling at  
the time of large scale military operations, and accidents with  
unexploded ordnance), in areas controlled by Russian forces, many of  
which seems to be instances of summarily executions.

There were regional differences, with fewer violations were reported  
from the conflict zones in the Zugdidi region and the Akhalgori  
district of South Ossetia in comparison with other parts of South  
Ossetia. The destruction of Georgian villages and the forced  
displacement of the population appeared systematic and planned. The  
withdrawal of the Russian forces from the so-called ?Buffer Zone?  
bordering South Ossetia in mid-October, the return of Georgian police  
and the deployment of EU monitors, have lead to an improvement in the  
security situation, yet crimes against the civilian population  

Thus, for instance, in the village of Disevi in South Ossetia, our  
monitors found evidence of an on-going campaign against the few  
Georgian civilians remaining in the village. During a visit on 20th of  
October, our monitors encountered houses that were still smouldering  
after allegedly being put on fire a few days earlier. By our  
estimates, at least three quarters of the houses had been burned  
(apparently also some houses inhabited by Ossetians), suggesting the  
systematic and planned destruction of the entire settlement. There  
were several indications that looting was still going on in the  
village while we visited it, and there were credible reports that  
civilians, including old women, had been beaten, threatened and forced  
to leave the village as recently as last weekend.

Apparently, the perpetrators were Ossetian paramilitary formations.  
However, the village is guarded by Russian peacekeeping units. The  
territory of South Ossetia is effectively under the control of Russian  
military forces and, based on international law, the Russian  
Federation is consequently responsible for maintaining security and  


To the Russian Federation:

  Ensure that there is adequate security for the population of South  
Ossetia, including the Georgian population, and immediately stop the  
on-going persecution of civilians.
  Facilitate the unimpeded, voluntary return of the internally  
displaced people from Georgia to their native villages in South Ossetia.

  Investigate the numerous allegations where grave violations of  
humanitarian law and human rights that have occurred during and after  
the armed conflict, irrespective of which side was responsible for the  

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