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Counting the civilian cost of the Georgia-Russia conflict

Georgia video

© Amnesty International

18 November 2008

The five-day war between Georgia and the Russian Federation has had serious and lasting consequences for the civilian population caught in the crossfire.

A new Amnesty International report, Civilians in the line of fire: The Georgia-Russia conflict, says that over 20,000 ethnic Georgians are still unable to return to their homes in South Ossetia, while many of those, on both sides of the conflict, who have gone back have found their homes pillaged or destroyed..

Published 100 days after the conflict, the report is based on several research missions to the main areas of the conflict carried out as early as August and as late as October 2008. It says that all parties failed to take necessary measures to protect civilians from the hostilities of 7-13 August.

Evidence gathered for the report also strongly suggests that serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed by all parties, both during the course of the conflict and in its aftermath.

Villages and residential areas in towns were bombed and shelled, and some civilians reported being bombed while fleeing their villages.

The overall number of civilian deaths outnumbered that of combatants and, in communities across the conflict divide, homes, hospitals, schools and other mainstays of civilian life were damaged or destroyed.

Extensive pillaging and arson by militia groups loyal to South Ossetia wrought large-scale destruction to several Georgian-majority settlements on territory controlled by Russian armed forces at the time.

Cluster bombs were fired on and near inhabited areas by both Georgia and Russia, resulting in numerous civilian casualties and the contamination of large areas of land with unexploded ordnance. They continue to present risk as civilians return home after the conflict.

The conflict displaced nearly 200,000 people at its peak and leaves a legacy of long-term displacement. The security situation along the de facto border dividing South Ossetia from the rest of Georgia remains extremely tense, meaning that tens of thousands are unable to return home in the foreseeable future.

"A new twilight zone has been created along the de facto border between South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia, into which people stray at their peril," said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International. "Looting, shooting, explosions and abductions have all been reported in the last few weeks."

The Georgians and the Russians have accused each other of war crimes for their conduct during the conflict. As the war recedes, Amnesty international is calling for the parties to the conflict to investigate all allegations thoroughly, impartially, and to bring those responsible to justice.

Given the evidence of serious violations of international law by all parties to the conflict, Amnesty International also calls on all parties to agree to an enquiry by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC) and to report publicly on its findings.
 
"International monitors must be allowed to go to all places and all sides need to intensify their efforts to guarantee the safe return of displaced people without discrimination," said Nicola Duckworth, "There can be no reconciliation, and no lasting peace, without truth and accountability."

Amnesty International is further calling on all parties to take the necessary measures to guarantee the security of all persons in the conflict-affected areas and ensure conditions allowing displaced persons to return in safety and dignity.

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