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.
Making a Minti
October 07, 2015 4:17 AM
While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Music Brings Generations Together

When musicians over the age of 50 headline a rock concert, you expect to see baby boomer fans in the audience. Boomer rock stars have boomer fans. Millennial rock stars have millennial fans. But this isn’t always the case. Take the Lockn’ Music festival which took place in mid-September in rural Arrington, Virginia. Here, Jacquelyn de Phillips discovered two generations of people who are considered quite different in the outside world, spending 4 days together in music-loving harmony.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke 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 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 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.

VOA Blogs