The humanitarian organization, Human Rights Watch accuses Russia of using cluster munitions in Georgia during fighting between the two countries over Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia earlier this month. Russia disputes those charges. Human Rights Watch also says Georgia has admitted using the weapons in its drive against South Ossetia. The group says a number of civilians were killed and wounded by these weapons. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.
Russia denies using cluster munitions in Georgia. But, Human Rights Watch Researcher, Bonnie Docherty, says her group has firm, well-documented evidence that Russia used these weapons in several areas.
She says the strikes occurred in and near populated areas, posing a threat to civilians.
"The cluster munitions cause civilian casualties at the time of attack because of the broad dispersal of the sub-munitions. They cause civilian casualties after the attack because of the unexploded duds that were left behind. In this case, Human Rights Watch has documented at least 14 civilians killed and dozens more injured in four villages alone. The indiscriminate attacks violate international humanitarian law and show that irresponsible use is the norm and not the exception," she said.
While Human Rights Watch has documented four affected villages, Docherty says its investigators have heard reports of at least nine villages having been targets of cluster munitions.
She says Georgia initially denied having used cluster munitions. But, she says, this past weekend, the Georgian government formally admitted that it used these weapons in certain locations between the Roki tunnel and Dzara road. This area links Georgia's South Ossetia with North Ossetia, which is Russian territory.
Docherty says cluster munitions continue to kill and injure civilians long after a conflict has ended. She says these weapons affect livelihoods as well as lives of Georgian civilians.
"The sub-munitions litter the fields ready to be harvested and locals are forced to choose between risking their lives harvesting contaminated fields and risking their lives from poverty and starvation by choosing not to do so," she added. "We call on Georgia and Russia to facilitate the de-miners work."
Docherty says, so far, humanitarian de-miners have not been able to access the contaminated areas.
Human Rights Watch is calling on Russia and Georgia to grant de-miners access, and to provide them with the information, financial and material assistance to facilitate their work.