Humanitarian impact of the 2008 South Ossetia war

Humanitarian impact of the 2008 South Ossetia war

=South Ossetians=

On 8 August the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) urged the combatants to form a humanitarian corridor to evacuate the wounded and besieged civilians from within Tskhinvali.cite web|url = |date=8 August 2008 |title = South Ossettia leader says over 2,000 killed in conflict |accessdate = 2008-08-09 |publisher =Reuters] cite news|url= |title=Red Cross needs corridor for wounded in S. Ossetia] The fighting had disrupted electricity and telephone services, and denizens were reportedly forced to shelter in their basements [cite news
title=South Ossetia clashes intensify
date=9 August 2008
] Failed verification|date=September 2008 without access to water or medical supplies. [cite web|url = |title = Fighting escalates in Russia, Georgia conflict (w/video) |accessdate = 2008-08-09] Citation broken|date=September 2008 Russian media reported on 9 August that several journalists had gone into hiding as they appealed to the international community for right of passage. [cite web |url= |title=Журналисты в Цхинвали призывают мир открыть гуманитарный коридор - Новости России - ИА REGNUM] [cite web |url=|title=Новая Газета Лента событий | Южная Осетия. Журналисты, находящиеся в Цхинвали, взывают о помощи] On 10 August the Russian Ambassador in Tbilisi claimed that "at least 2,000" people had been killed, and the chief of Russian ground forces said that the Georgian shelling has destroyed "all the hospitals" in Tskhinvali. [ [ Death toll in South Ossetia reaches 2,000] "Russia Today"] Human Rights Watch documented the damage caused to the hospital building by a rocket believed to have been fired from a Grad multiple rocket launcher which hit the hospital, severely damaging treatment rooms on the second and third floors. One doctor told Human Rights Watch that she could not leave the hospital because of the heavy shelling that went on for 18 hours. The staff had to move all the patients into the hospital basement because of the constant shelling, where they continued to operate until 13 August, when all the patients were evacuated to Russia.

According to western media sources who had begun arriving in the city and were toured by the Russian military on 12 August, " [s] everal residential areas seemed to have little damage", while the heaviest hit appeared to be buildings in and near the government district. [ Heavy damage in Tskhinvali, mostly at gov't center] , Associated Press, 12 August 2008] Citation broken|date=September 2008 Russia reported that 20% of some 7,000 buildings in Tskhinvali suffered any damage, half of which were beyond repair.

From 8 to 13 August, the Tskhinvali hospital treated 273 wounded, both military and civilians. Forty-four bodies had been brought to the hospital; these represented the majority of Ossetians killed in Tskhinvali, because the city morgue was not functioning due to the lack of electricity. On 14 August South Ossetian officials claimed they have identified 200 corpses of South Ossetian civilians, saying that 500 are missing; at the same time, Russian investigators said they had identified a total of 60 civilians killed during the fighting. [ Russians launch 'genocide' enquiry] , Agence France Press, 14 August 2008] By 18 August, following an investigation in South Ossetia and amongst refugees, the number of dead civilians identified was put by Russia at 133; [ [ Russia scales down Georgia toll] , BBC News, 20 August 2008] nevertheless, South Ossetian officials said 1,492 people died. [ List of killed South Ossetian ciizens as of 04.09.08] , Список погибших граждан Южной Осетии на 04.09.08, 4 September 2008 ru icon; [ Russia scales down Georgia toll] , BBC News, 20 August 2008; [ Russia says some 18,000 refugees return to S. Ossetia] , RIA Novosti 21 August 2008] . On a Russian blog the higher number was defended by an eye witness. []

HRW entered the mostly deserted Tskhinvali on 13 August and reported that it saw numerous apartment buildings and houses damaged by shelling. It said some of them had been hit by "inherently indiscriminate" weapons that should not be used in areas populated by civilians, such as rockets most likely fired from BM-21 "Grad" multiple rocket launchers. Since Georgian and Russian forces use identical Soviet-era weapons systems including "Grad" rockets, HRW couldn't definitely attribute specific battle damage to a particular belligerent, but witness accounts and the timing of the damage would point to Georgian fire accounting for much of the damage. In Tskhinvali, HRW saw numerous severely damaged civilian objects, including a hospital, apartment buildings, houses, schools, kindergartens, shops, administrative buildings, and the university. However, the group also noted that Ossetian militias in some neighborhoods took up defensive positions inside civilian apartment buildings, which drew fire from Georgian forces.

On 18 August South Ossetians alleged that they "estimate 500 Ossetian civilians were kidnapped and taken away by Georgian forces from the south of Tskhinvali". Georgian government answered: "They want to exchange [Georgian hostages] for our hostages. The problem is we don't have any hostages so we can't do any exchange." By 20 August the South Ossetian estimate was scaled down to some 170 "peaceful citiziens" allegedly held by Georgia.icon ru [ У Грузии обнаружили 170 пленных осетин] , Lenta.Ru, 13:20:49]

On August 26, Russian investigators said they found evidence of genocide by the Georgian military against South Ossetians. The Head of Russia's Investigative Committee, Aleksandr Bastrykin, said that witnesses reported that Georgian soldiers were throwing cluster bombs into shelters where civilians were hiding. He also said that investigators came across the body of a pregnant women shot in the head. [ [ We have evidence of genocide - Russian investigators] Russia Today retrieved on 27-08-08]

The UN refugee agency, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that thousands of refugees left South Ossetia, mostly for North Ossetia-Alania in Russia within the first days of the conflict. [cite web|url = |title = Security Council meets again to discuss violence in South Ossetia, Georgia |accessdate = 2008-08-09] On 10 August, HRW obtained official figures on the number of displaced persons tallied by the Russian government agency in Vladikavkaz, according to which, the Federal Migration Service registered 24,032 persons who crossed the border from South Ossetia into Russia. However, 11,190 of those went back after the Russian intervention in the war; the government stated that “the overall number [of the displaced] was decreasing because of the people who return to join to volunteer militias of South Ossetia”; furthermore, the figures cannot be considered accurate, as many people cross the border back and forth and thus get registered two or more times. [ [ North Ossetia: Georgia/Russia: Update on Casualties and Displaced Civilians] , Human Rights Watch, 10 Augus 2008] On 15 August the UNHCR, relying on figures provided by Georgian and Russian officials, said at least 30,000 South Ossetians have fled across the border into North Ossetia. [ [ U.N.: 115,000 displaced by Georgia conflict] , CNN, 15 August 2008] On 16 August, Russia put this number at over 10,000 refugees, indicating that majority had returned. [ [ Cases of killing, genocide in SOssetia united in single legal action] , Itar-Tass, 16 August 2008.]


Most refugees in the conflict are ethnic Georgians. Before the war started, one estimate of the population of Georgians living in South Ossetia was 18,000 people, or one quarter of the population of the break-away icon [ Кокойты не пустит грузинских беженцев обратно в Осетию] ,, 15 August 2008] On 15 August UNHCR said that up to 15,000 ethnic Georgians have fled into the other parts of Georgia from South Ossetia. [ [ Georgia: UN continues to press for humanitarian access to victims] , United Nations, 15 August 2008] In addition, as of 15 August, some 73,000 people were displaced in Georgia proper (most of them from the city Gori); many also fled from Abkhazia. [ UNHCR secures safe passage for Georgians fearing further fighting] , UNHCR, August 15 2008] Most had no possessions with them, save for the clothes they were wearing when they fled, and were crammed into makeshift centres without even basic amenities. [ The new Cold War: Crisis in the Caucasus ] , "The Independent", 17 August 2008] By 19 August the UNHCR figure of the displaced persons rose to 158,000, the vast majority of them ethnic Georgians. [,25197,24203940-2703,00.html Russia trains its missiles on Tbilisi] , AFP, August 19 2008]

Between 9 and 12 August, residential districts and a media center in the Georgian city of Gori were attacked by Russian Air Force, killing and injuring numerous civilians (including several journalists, among them the Dutch cameraman Stan Storimans who died). [ [ Russian jets attack Georgian town] , BBC News, 9 August 2008] [ [ Georgia conflict: Screams of the injured rise from residential streets] , "The Telegraph", 10 Aug 2008] [ [ Russia/Georgia: Investigate Civilian Deaths: High Toll from Attacks on Populated Areas] , Human Rights Watch, August 14 2008] On 15 August U.S. Human Rights Watch said it had collected evidence of Russian warplanes using RBK-250 cluster bombs, each containing 30 PTAB 2.5M submunitions; rights group urged Russia to stop using the weapons, which 107 nations have agreed to outlaw. [ [ Georgia: Russian Cluster Bombs Kill Civilians] , Human Rights Watch, August 14 2008] [ [ Group: Russians drop cluster bombs in Georgia] , CNN, August 15 2008] On the same day, Russian General Nogovitsyn claimed: "We never use cluster bombs. There is no need to do so." [ [ Russia "used cluster bombs" in Georgia - rights group] , Reuters, August 15 2008] During the final strikes, an air-to-ground missile smashed into the Gori hospital with deadly effect. On August 21, HRW reported that civilians continued to be killed and injured later due to contact with unexploded cluster munitions in Gori and at other locations. [ [ More Attacks Confirmed; Unexploded Ordnance Threatens Many] , Human Rights Watch, August 21 2008] . Georgian military used Israeli-made M85 cluster munition against targets in South Ossetia, but according to the Georgian Ministry of Defense, they were used only on military targets. [ [ MoD Says it Used Cluster Bombs, but not in Populated Areas] Civil Georgia 1 September 2008] According to statement wich was announced on September 1, "Human Rights Watch has not independently confirmed this information, but has reported Russia’s use of cluster munitions during the fighting" ... it "is continuing to investigate use of cluster munitions by both Georgia and Russia." [ [ Georgia: Join Treaty Banning Cluster Munitions] , Human Rights Watch, September 1 2008]

On 10 August Georgia charged that ethnic cleansing of Georgians was occurring behind Russian lines.cite news
title=Georgian Troops Withdraw From South Ossetia, Russia Bombs Tbilisi Airport
coauthors=Giorgi Lomsadze
] On 12 August HRW researchers in South Ossetia claimed that they witnessed at least four ethnic Georgian villages still burning from fires set by South Ossetian militias and witnessed looting by the militias. A HRW researcher said that "the remaining residents of these destroyed ethnic Georgian villages are facing desperate conditions, with no means of survival, no help, no protection, and nowhere to go." [ Georgian Villages in South Ossetia Burnt, Looted] , Human Rights Watch, August 13 2008] On 13 August an interviewed South Ossetian officer said that the forces "burned these houses (...) to make sure that they [the Georgians] can’t come back." HRW also learned from an Ossetian officer about the summary execution of a Georgian combatant, and that the looters, who were "everywhere" in the Georgian villages in South Ossetia, have been "now moving to Gori". [ Russia/Georgia: Investigate Civilian Deaths: High Toll from Attacks on Populated Areas] , Human Rights Watch, August 14 2008]

On 12 August Associated Press (AP, U.S. source) journalists toured by the Russian military through Tskhinvali claimed that they witnessed numerous fires in what appeared to be deserted ethnic Georgian neighborhoods and saw evidence of looting in those areas; they said that while a Russian army officer touring claimed said some of the buildings had been burning for days from the fighting, in fact none of the houses was burning before more than 24 hours after the battle for the city was over. By14 August, already after the official ceasefire, many international media outlets reported Georgian government and refugee stories that Ossetian and often also other pro-Russian irregulars (including reports of Cossack and Chechen paramilitaries, and even some Russian regular soldiers) were looting and burning Georgian villages in South Ossetia and near Gori. [ru icon [ Новые Известия. "Мне стыдно за своих товарищей". Югоосетинский спецназ и ополченцы зачистили грузинское село] , "Novye Izvestiya", August 13 2008] [ [,0,5606654.story Burning, looting terrorise Georgians] , "Chicago Tribune", August 14 2008] [ [,0,2943521.story Georgians, bewildered and broken] , "Los Angeles Times", August 14 2008] [ [ Amid promise of peace, Georgians live in terror] , "The Guardian", August 14 2008] [ Georgian villages burned and looted as Russian tanks advance] ", "The Guardian", August 14 2008] [ [ Destitute and traumatised, the refugees forced to flee South Ossetia] , "The Independent", 14 August 2008] [" [ A Convoy Heads for Gori to Investigate Rumors of Plunder] ", "The Washington Post", August 14 2008] Some of the emerging stories featured reports of atrocities, including kidnapping, rape and indiscriminate murder. These reports could not be independently confirmed; as BBC News summed it up on 14 August, "The testimonies of those who have fled villages around South Ossetia are consistent, but with all roads blocked and the Russian military now in charge of the area, the scale of alleged reprisal killings and lootings is difficult to verify." [ [ Georgians fear revenge attacks] , BBC News, 14 August 2008] The new waves of Georgian refugees bringing reports of the widespread pillage and "revenge" killings in the territories occupied by the Russian forces kept coming over the next days. [ [ Signs of looting, ethnic cleansing in conflict] , "The New York Times", 15 August 2008] [ [ Looting and ethnic cleansing against Georgian enclaves] , "International Herald Tribune", 15 August 2008] [ [ Civilians allege militias raped and killed] , "The Herald", August 16 2008] [ [ After the Battle, Anger Follows Ethnic Lines] , "The New York Times", August 16 2008] [ The new cold war hots up] , "The Sunday Times", August 17 2008] [ [ A dirty little war in Georgia] , "The Guardian", Aug 18 2008] [ [ Judgement day dawns after Russia pledges to quit Georgia] , "The Guardian", 18 August 2008]

On 13 August Russian interior minister Rashid Nurgaliev said there would be "decisive and tough" measures taken against looters; according to Russia's Interfax, two looters were executed by firing squad in South Ossetia. [" [ Russian pullback in doubt as Condoleezza Rice and US aid troops head for Georgia] ", "The Times", August 14 2008] Nevertheless, on 15 August, "The Daily Telegraph" reporter witnessed South Ossetian irregulars continuing to loot and pillage around Gori, often with the encouragement of Russian troops, including a Russian officer shouting to "take whatever you want." [ [ Russia destroying military bases in Georgia] , "The Daily Telegraph", 15 August 2008] Vehicles were even carjacked from the UN aid officials by paramiliaries while Russian soldiers watched. [ [ Russian Army Stands By As Mayhem Reigns in Gori] , "The Wall Street Journal", August 15 2008] According to HRW, Russian military had indeed blocked the road from Java to Tskhinvali in an effort to prevent further attacks there, and by 14 August, researchers saw no more fires in this area; however, looting and burning of Georgian villages has continued in ethnic Georgian villages in Georgia's Gori district. [ [ Burning and Looting of Ethnic Georgian Villages in South Ossetia] (photography evidence), Human Rights Watch] On August 13, Major General Vyacheslav Borisov, the Russian commander in Georgia, was quoted as saying that "now Ossetians are running around and killing poor Georgians in their enclaves." [ [ Looting and ethnic cleansing against Georgian enclaves] , "International Herald Tribune", August 15 2008] Also on 15 August, the Russia-allied president Eduard Kokoity of South Ossetia, in the interview for "Kommersant", officially acknowledged that the alleged ethnic cleansing of South Ossetia was in fact committed against ethnic Georgians, saying that his forces "offered them a corridor and gave the peaceful population the chance to leave" and that the Ossetians "do not intend to allow" their return. [ S. Ossetia says Georgian refugees unable to return to region] , RIA Novosti, 15/ 08/ 2008] [ Mythmaking in Moscow: Georgia wasn't committing 'genocide,' and the Russians aren't keeping the peace] , "The Washington Post", August 16 2008]

Russian ("Novaya Gazeta") and British ("The Sunday Times") journalists embedded with the Russian and Ossetian forces reported that irregulars are abusing and executing captured Georgian soldiers and suspected combatants captured during the "mopping-up operations" in South Ossetia and beyond. [ru icon [ Грузия-200: «Головы не поднять. Под таким огнем я еще не был»] , "Novaya Gazeta", 13.08.2008]

On 16 August an AP (American news agency) reporter witnessed groups of Georgian forced laborers in Tskhinvali under armed guard of Ossetians and Russians; South Ossetia's interior minister Mikhail Mindzayev acknowledged this, saying that the Georgians "are cleaning up after themselves." [ [ Georgians doing forced labor in South Ossetia] , Associated Press, August 16 2008] "The Independent" reported that around 40 Georgian civilian captives, mostly elderly men, were "paraded" through the city and abused by South Ossetians. On 18 August South Ossetian leaders put the number of the hostages at more than 130, roughly half of them women and mostly former Georgian guest workers. [ South Ossetia holds civilian Georgians hostage] , "The Guardian", August 18 2008] The kidnapping of civilians by warring parties is a war crime according to the Article 3 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. [ Georgians held hostage by South Ossetia] , "The Daily Telegraph", 18 Aug 2008]

On 17 August HRW appealed to Russian authorities to "immediately take steps to end Ossetian militia attacks on ethnic Georgians" in the Gori district of Georgia and for the Russian military to ensure safe passage for civilians wishing to leave the region and for humanitarian aid agencies to enter. The organisation said hundreds of vulnerable civilians still in the area, including many elderly; they said they are afraid to leave after learning about militia attacks on those who fled. The UN, which has described the humanitarian situation inthe Russian military-controlled Gori as "desperate," has been able to deliver only limited food supplies to the city.Russia/Georgia: Militias Attack Civilians in Gori Region. Russia Should Curb Militias and Allow in Humanitarian Aid] , Human Rights Watch, August 17 2008]

The looting and burning of Georgian villages in South Ossetia continued long after the ceasefire agreement had been signed. In the end of August it was reported that the Georgian villages Achabetiug, Kekhvi, Tamarasheni, Ksuisi and Eregvi were still under attack of Ossetian looters. It was also reported that according to South Ossetian officials ethnic Georgian civilians in South Ossetia were "detained for their own protection" and bussed to the Georgian side. [cite news
title='Ossetia Is for Ossetians, Let the Georgians Suffer'
publisher=The Moscow Times

The Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs and the OSCE chairman Alexander Stubb twice visited the war-affected area in Georgia and accused the Russian troops of "clearly trying to empty southern Ossetia of Georgians." [ [ S Ossetia 'emptied of Georgians'] . The BBC News. 25 August 2008.]

On August 27, the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner accused the Russian troops of "ethnic cleansing, creating a homogeneous South Ossetia." [ [ Kouchner claims ethnic cleansing in Georgia] . Euronews. 2008-08-27.]

On August 29 2008, the recently returned IDPs to the villages north of Gori which are still under the Russian military control had to flee a renewed harassments by the South Ossetian militias. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said that some 2,300 Georgian villagers arrived in Gori because of security concerns. [ [ UNHCR: Buffer zone displaced registered, tell of militia intimidation] . Civil Georgia. 2008-08-29.] The UNHCR official reported that that Russian forces had set up 18 checkpoints between Gori and South Ossetia, which were "an obstacle to the humanitarian relief effort and to people trying to return to their homes." [ [ Tensions remain high in Georgia, Security Council hears] . The UN News Centre. 2008-08-28.]

On September 8 it was reported that Russian soldiers prevented international aid convoys from visiting Georgian villages in South Ossetia. Likewise the ambassadors of Sweden, Latvia and Estonia had been barred from visiting Georgian villages beyond Russian checkpoints on September 5. The purpose of their visit had been to deliver aid, assess the situation and verify allegations of ethnic cleansing in they area. In a statement they said the restrictions violated the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations and the cease-fire deal approved by Russia and Georgia. [cite news
title=Russia Turns Aid Convoy Away at Checkpoint
publisher=The Moscow Times


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