Georgia-Russia war: One year on thousands still can't go home-New report

Fresh call for war crimes investigation

Exactly one year on from the outbreak of last summer’s war between Georgia and Russia, thousands of civilians from both sides are still unable to return to their homes, said Amnesty International today (7 August), as it published a new report documenting the effects of the week-long conflict.

Amnesty’s previous research has found significant evidence that war crimes were committed after fighting broke out on the night of 7-8 August 2008, and the organisation is calling on all parties to the conflict to allow independent investigations into allegations that their forces committed crimes under international law.

During the war Georgian forces did not appear to take appropriate precautionary measures to protect civilians, dozens of whom were killed in their initial assault on Tskhinvali, the capital of Georgia’s breakaway region South Ossetia. Meanwhile, South Ossetian militias reportedly looted and destroyed houses in several Georgian-majority villages, amid reports that Russian forces failed to prevent this. Russian aerial and artillery attacks also hit villages and towns, with reports that some attacks may have either been indiscriminate or directly targeted at civilians. Both Georgia and Russia used cluster bombs.

Amnesty conducted extensive research in the region last month and its 43-page report, Civilians in the aftermath of War: the Georgia-Russia conflict one year on, highlights the ongoing effect of the war on civilians. Nearly 200,000 people were displaced by fighting: of the 38,500 people who originally fled South Ossetia for Russia, all but an estimated 4,000 are now thought to have returned; however 30,000 of the estimated 138,000 ethnic Georgians displaced by fighting have been unable to return to their homes; of these, 18,500 ethnic Georgians who fled South Ossetia and Akhalgori District are facing long-term displacement.

Amnesty’s report documents the fragile security situation against which people are trying to rebuild their lives. It also stresses that no one has been held accountable for possible war crimes.

Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Director Nicola Duckworth said:

“The authorities on all sides of the conflict have the responsibility to guarantee the rights of those forced to flee their homes to return in safety and dignity and to be in control of their destiny.

“To date, no one has been brought to justice either by the Georgian or Russian authorities in relation to serious violations of international or national law during the conflict and its immediate aftermath. There can be no reconciliation, and no lasting peace, without truth and accountability.”

Most of the displaced people in Georgia have been provided with alternative accommodation or compensation. Eighteen thousand people now live in 36 new urban or rural settlements, provided with basic furniture and facilities. However, as they told Amnesty, their biggest problems remain the remoteness of some of the newly-built settlements - depriving the inhabitants of easy access to hospitals, schools and places of work. Many are now dependent on humanitarian aid.

The entire situation is aggravated by a reduced capacity for international scrutiny after the closure of UN and OSCE monitoring missions. The only internationally mandated monitors - from the EU - cannot enter areas controlled by the de facto authorities in South Ossetia and the other breakaway region of Abkhazia.

Read the full report: " Civilians in the aftermath of war: The Georgia-Russia conflict one year on " (PDF)

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