(PRAGUE, WASHINGTON, D.C.)
A senior human rights official told RFE/RL today that Russian troops "did not exercise sufficient care for civilian life or property in South Ossetia and other parts of Georgia" during the August conflict. Speaking to a Washington, D.C. audience via videoconference from RFE/RL's Prague headquarters, Dr. Anna Neistat of Human Rights Watch described the scarred cities, torched villages, dead civilians and displaced persons she encountered during a recent trip to the area. [Listen to the briefing
or read the transript
"To be sure, there was indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force on both sides of the conflict," said Neistat, whose team visited the region within days of the outbreak of hostilities in order to investigate violations of international humanitarian law. "However, the bulk of the looting and burning of property and attacks on civilians was conducted by South Ossetian militias and ordinary criminals who were allowed to operate in the areas controlled by Russian forces." [Download the Human Rights Watch Report]
Neistat's presentation included photos of burned-out homes, displaced persons, unexploded munitions, and dead civilians. [See the slideshow]
"The conflict may be over from a military perspective, but it is not done in the villages, where the ethnic Georgian population is at the mercy of South Ossetian militias," she said. "The truth is, many villages once inhabited by Georgians are now completely deserted or solely populated by South Ossetians."
Neistat said Human Rights Watch has no mechanism by which to count the number of displaced persons, but Vasil Sikharulidze, Georgia's Ambassador to the United States, said the Georgian government had registered 35,000 displaced people in the aftermath of the conflict, although there is no way of knowing for sure how many people had been forced out of their homes.
Sikharulidze, who participated in the discussion from RFE/RL's Washington office, also said Russia's decision to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the aftermath of the fighting "is a clear violation of international law."
"Right now, there are still 8,000 Russian troops remaining in Georgia, which is a violation of the cease-fire agreement," he said. "Georgians have to be united now and resist occupation."
About RFE/RL's Georgian Service
Since August, RFE/RL has been providing up-to-the minute news, analysis, photos and video of the conflict. RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau has deployed more than a dozen correspondents throughout Georgia. Their reports and blogs from the front lines are providing listeners and readers with an objective, reliable source of information.
RFE/RL's Georgian Service began broadcasting in March 1953 as part of Radio Liberty broadcasting to the Soviet Union. Over the years, it has established a tradition for high professional standards for its news reporting and is widely regarded as the only objective and unbiased source of information in Georgia.