Human Rights Activists Paint Complex Picture in South Ossetia



An independent human rights monitoring mission in South Ossetia paints a complex picture of propaganda, suffering, and ongoing threats to civilians in the breakaway region of Georgia.  VOA correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports from Moscow.

On September 8, the independent Russian human rights organization "Memorial," and the Moscow Branch of Human Rights Watch concluded a six-day visit to Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, and number of Ossetian, Georgian, and mixed villages in the breakaway region of Georgia.  

Speaking at a news conference in the Russian capital, representatives of the two organizations said the situation in the area is not as simple as presented by propagandists on either side of the conflict.  

The activists note a discrepancy between some official Russian and South Ossetian claims of 2,000 war dead and a figure of 137 fatalities provided by Investigative Committee in the Russian Prosecutor's office.  They say attempts to confirm a number was impossible, as one government committee referred them to another committee, which referred them back to the first.  There was also no evidence of thousands dead based on visits to local hospitals and graveyards.

Memorial representative Alexander Cherkasov also rejects as propaganda a story alleging Georgians herded residents of one village into a church and burned them inside.

Cherkasov says the human rights monitors went to that village and it turns out that nobody knew about the alleged atrocity.  He says villagers suggested perhaps it occurred elsewhere.

The human rights activists say they could not find any evidence in South Ossetian villages of torture, massacres, or other crimes against women, children and the elderly by Georgian forces.  However, Cherkasov says residents of Georgian enclaves were advised to leave by local pro-Georgian authorities before the outbreak of hostilities.  This, according to the activist, indicates the attack by Georgia was not spontaneous.

Cherkasov says there was a planned evacuation of people from the war zone.  That, he comments, is something to be welcomed, because civilians should not be subjected to bullets.  However, the activist raises the question of responsibility for people based on their status.  It is one thing if they are refugees, but if Georgia made them evacuees, that country, he says, should also be responsible for them.

The deputy director of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, Tatiana Lokshina, says there were few if any casualties in South Ossetia among people who found shelter in basements.  Most who died, however, were men who left safe areas in search of water and food.  She says others perished after acting on a rumor that a humanitarian corridor would be opened to allow Tskhinvali residents to safely leave town.  Instead, they drove into intense fighting and died.

Lokshina gives credit to Russian troops for preventing arson and looting in some of South Ossetia's Georgian enclaves, as well as for saving the lives of more than 100 Georgian civilians in mid-August.  However, she says Russian forces have since removed their checkpoints around Georgian villages.

At the same time, Lokshina says South Ossetian authorities are not defending the security or property of civilians left in those villages.  She says the villages she visited with Alexander Cherkasov have been burned to the ground.

The activists say Georgian homes in South Ossetia continue to be set on fire.  They say some elderly Georgians, mixed Georgian and Ossetian families, and even pure Ossetians remain at risk in Georgian villages.  Tatiana Lokshina describes the situation in those villages as acute, and calls on Russian forces to protect the civilians and whatever property remains there.  

Memorial and Human Rights Watch representatives note their latest report is strictly about South Ossetia.  They say separate information will be provided about the situation in Georgia.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs