Thousands remain displaced a year after Georgia/Russia conflict

The Russia-Georgia conflict, 17 November 2008

© Amnesty International

7 August 2009

One year on from the war between Georgia and the Russian Federation, thousands of civilians remain stranded from their homes with little prospect of imminent return.

An estimated 30,000 people, mostly ethnic Georgians, are displaced, according to a new Amnesty International report released on Friday. An omnipresent sense of tension and insecurity in the South Ossetia region prevents many more from returning home and carrying on with their lives.

“Hundreds of thousands of people have to face a new reality created by the conflict and the authorities have the responsibility to make the transition as smooth as possible. They are also responsible for providing justice and reparation for the victims,” said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

“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.”
 
Around 192,000 people were displaced during the war that began on the night of 7-8 August 2008. Of the 38,500 people who left South Ossetia for the Russian Federation, all but an estimated 4,000 are said to have returned.

However, 30,000 of the estimated 138,000 ethnic Georgians displaced by the conflict 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.   

Remote settlements
Most of the displaced people in Georgia have been provided with alternative accommodation or compensation. Many told Amnesty International that the biggest problem they face is the remoteness of their newly built settlements, which deprive residents of easy access to hospitals and schools. Most importantly, it means they are unable to work and are dependent on humanitarian aid.

In the region of conflict, some areas have become virtually depopulated due to security concerns. Many ethnic Georgians returning to areas adjacent to South Ossetia no longer have access to their land because it lies in South Ossetian-controlled territory, or because the area has not been cleared of explosives. The lack of clarity of the demarcation line between Georgia and South Ossetia established after the war is a further source of tension.

This climate of insecurity has been heightened by the reduced capacity for international scrutiny in the region. The monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, plus the UN's mission in the breakaway Abkhazia region, have both been closed.

The only internationally mandated monitors, those of the European Union Monitoring Mission, currently cannot enter areas controlled by the de facto authorities in South Ossetia (and Abkhazia).

“The authorities on all sides of the conflict must ensure the security of all those residing in areas affected by the conflict and of those who had to flee but now wish to return to their homes.  Political concerns should not prevent the parties to the conflict from implementing their obligations under international law to ensure the rights of the people under their control,” Nicola Duckworth said.

Amnesty International's Research
Amnesty International’s research immediately after the conflict found significant evidence that war crimes and possible crimes against humanity had been committed during the conflict and its aftermath.

Georgian forces did not appear to take appropriate precautionary measures to protect civilians, dozens of whom were killed, in their assault on Tskhinvali on the night of 7-8 August 2008.  

South Ossetian militias reportedly looted and destroyed houses and property in several Georgian-majority villages of South Ossetia, amid reports that Russian forces failed to take adequate action to prevent such actions.

Russian aerial and artillery attacks also hit villages and towns amid reports that some attacks may have either been indiscriminate or directly targeted at civilians. Both Georgia and Russia used cluster bombs.

“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” Nicola Duckworth said. “There can be no reconciliation, and no lasting peace, without truth and accountability.”

Amnesty International has called on the parties to the conflict to take measures to ensure prompt, independent, thorough and impartial investigations into allegations that their respective forces committed crimes under international law during the conflict, including war crimes. 

Civilians in the aftermath of war: The Georgia-Russia conflict one year on

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Index Number: EUR 04/001/2009
Date Published: 7 August 2009
Categories: Georgia, Russian Federation

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