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HRW report: Humanitarian Law violations and civilian victims in the conflict over South Ossetia

Human Rights Watch publicou hoxe un informe de duascentas páxinas sobre as violacións do Direito Internacional Humanitario durante o conflicto armado que en agosto do 2008 enfrontou ó exército de Xeorxia co exército de Rusia e as milicias de Osetia do Sur. Entre as violacións máis graves están os ataques deliberados á poboación civil, que poderían constituír limpeza étnica, e o uso por parte dos dous exércitos implicados de bombas de fragmentación (cluster bombs).

O informe leva por título “Up in Flames: Humanitarian Law Violations and Civilian Victims in the Conflict over South Ossetia”. Copio un extracto da súa introducción:

The armed conflict over South Ossetia lasted one week in August 2008 and will have consequences for lifetimes and beyond. The conflict and its aftermath have seen lives, livelihoods, homes, and communities devastated in South Ossetia and bordering districts of Georgia. A significant casualty of the conflict was all sides’ respect for international humanitarian law.

South Ossetia is a breakaway region of Georgia that shares a border and has very close ties with Russia. The armed conflict, in the making since spring 2008, started August 7 with Georgia’s military assault in South Ossetia and Russia’s military response the following day, and lasted until a ceasefire on August 15, with Georgian forces in retreat and Russian forces occupying South Ossetia and, temporarily, undisputed parts of Georgia. The week of open conflict, and the many subsequent weeks of rampant violence and insecurity in the affected districts, took a terrible toll on civilians, killing hundreds, displacing tens of thousands, and causing extensive damage to civilian property. Today, there is an acute need for accountability for all perpetrators of violations of human rights and humanitarian law, and for security conditions to allow all displaced persons to return in safety and dignity to their homes.

Human Rights Watch carried out a series of research missions in Russia and Georgia, including in South Ossetia, focusing on violations by all parties to the conflict. We interviewed more than 460 victims, witnesses, and others, and looked at reporting (and misreporting) of the conflict in Russia and in Georgia. The international legal framework within which Human Rights Watch examined the conflict includes international humanitarian law-chiefly the Geneva Conventions-relating to the conduct of hostilities, humane treatment, and occupation; and international human rights law, including international law concerning displaced persons and the right to return.

Human Rights Watch found:

  • In a number of instances Georgian forces used indiscriminate and disproportionate force in artillery assaults on South Ossetia, and in some cases used disproportionate force in their ground assault. The majority of these instances derived from Georgia’s use of multiple rocket launching systems, which cannot distinguish between civilian and military objects, in areas populated by civilians. Many civilians were killed or wounded.
  • In a number of instances in South Ossetia and in undisputed Georgian territory Russian forces violated international humanitarian law by using aerial, artillery, and tank fire strikes that were indiscriminate, killing and wounding many civilians.
  • Cluster munitions were used by Russian and Georgian forces, causing civilian deaths and putting more civilians at risk by leaving behind unstable “minefields” of unexploded bomblets. Their use and impact on civilians in the conflict demonstrates why in December 2008, 94 governments signed up to a comprehensive treaty to ban cluster munitions, which had been negotiated just months before the conflict commenced.
  • As an occupying power in Georgia, Russia failed overwhelmingly in its duty under international humanitarian law to ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety in areas under its effective control, instead allowing South Ossetian forces, including volunteer militias, to engage in wanton and widescale pillage and burning of Georgian homes and to kill, beat, rape, and threaten civilians.
  • After Georgian forces withdrew from South Ossetia on August 10, South Ossetian forces over a period of weeks deliberately and systematically destroyed ethnic Georgian villages in South Ossetia that had been administered by the Georgian government. They looted, beat, threatened, and unlawfully detained numerous ethnic Georgian civilians, and killed several, on the basis of the ethnicity and imputed political affiliations of the residents of these villages, with the express purpose of forcing those who remained to leave and ensuring that no former residents would return. From this, Human Rights Watch has concluded that South Ossetian forces attempted to ethnically cleanse these villages. Approximately 22,000 villagers, the majority of whom had fled South Ossetia before the conflict started, remain displaced.
  • In committing this violence, South Ossetian forces egregiously violated multiple obligations under humanitarian law, for which there must be individual criminal accountability and prosecution for war crimes where appropriate. To the extent that a number of these prohibited acts were committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against the civilian population, they may be prosecuted as crimes against humanity.
  • Residents of Akhalgori district -an area in the east of South Ossetia populated mostly by ethnic Georgians and currently occupied by Russian forces- face threats and harassment by militias and anxiety about a possible closure of the district’s administrative border with the rest of Georgia. Both factors have caused great numbers of people to leave their homes for undisputed Georgian territory.
  • During the time when Russian forces occupied Georgian territory south of the South Ossetian administrative border, Ossetian militias looted, destroyed, and burned homes on a wide scale, deliberately killed at least nine civilians, and raped at least two. Russian forces were at times involved in the looting and destruction, either as passive bystanders, active participants, or by providing militias with transport into villages.
  • Georgian forces beat and ill-treated at least five of the 32 Ossetians detained in August in the context of the armed conflict.
  • After the withdrawal of Georgian forces from South Ossetia, South Ossetian forces, at times together with Russian forces, arbitrarily detained at least 159 ethnic Georgians. South Ossetian forces killed at least one detainee and subjected nearly all of them to inhuman and degrading treatment and conditions of detention. They also tortured at least four Georgian prisoners of war and executed at least three. All of these acts are war crimes, for which individual criminal accountability must be established.

This report measures each party’s compliance with obligations under international law, rather than measure it against the conduct of the other party. Exposing violations committed by one party does not excuse or mitigate violations committed by another party. Which party started the conflict has no bearing on parties’ obligations to adhere to international humanitarian and human rights law and to hold violators accountable. Those seeking answers to questions about who committed worse, or more violations, or who bears responsibility for starting the conflict, will not find them in this report. […]

Enlaces sobre minas e bombas de fragmentación:

23 Xaneiro 2009 - Posted by | Georgia, Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Landmines, Politics, Russia

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