PUBLIC AI Index: EUR 56/005/2008
11 August 2008
UA 220/08 Civilian lives at risk
The lives of civilians in the disputed region of South Ossetia and in Georgia are at risk. Heavy civilian
casualties have been reported as a result of fighting between Georgian and Russian forces which has
escalated over the past few days. Although reports of civilian dead and wounded vary, with numbers and
circumstances difficult to independently verify, media reports and footage indicates damage to homes and
other civilian targets as a result of the military attacks from both sides.
All parties to the conflict must not carry out direct attacks on civilians, their homes or other civilian targets.
Their military operations must also avoid indiscriminate attacks, that is, attacks which do not attempt to
distinguish between military and civilian targets, or attacks that have a disproportionate impact on civilians or
Georgia and Russia must also provide protection and safe passage to people fleeing from the conflict, and
allow unimpeded access to humanitarian relief for those in areas affected by the conflict. Thousands of
people are said to have already fled South Ossetia, including across the border into the Russian republic of
North Ossetia. International humanitarian law, in particular the protection of civilians, must also be
scrupulously observed in other related hostilities reported to be breaking out in the Kodori gorge, an area in
another disputed region of Georgia, Abkhazia.
After months of increased tension, and recent low-level hostilities, the conflict between Georgia and the
breakaway region of South Ossetia escalated in the early morning of 8 August 2008 into the most serious
confrontation since the civil war between the two was concluded through a truce in 1992. The ceasefire
agreement included the establishment of a tripartite peacekeeping force, with Russian, Ossetian and Georgian
On 8 August, Georgian troops launched what appears to have been a coordinated military offensive against the
capital of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali, in order to “restore constitutional order.” Dozens of civilian buildings
have reportedly been destroyed as a result of attacks by Georgian forces, including residential homes,
administrative buildings, a toy shop, university and the republican hospital.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev responded by sending further troops backed by tanks to reinforce those
already stationed in South Ossetia as part of the ceasefire with the stated aim to re-establish the status quo.
Additionally, on 9 August, Russian bombs hit a residential area in Gori, which lies just to the south of the
disputed region and is said to house Georgian military bases – again with reported civilian casualties. There
are reports of further air strikes by Russian forces in Georgia, including the Black Sea port of Poti as well as
other targets near Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi.
On 10 August Georgia reported that it had ordered its forces to cease fire and had pulled back its forces from