Continuing concern for civilians after hostilities in Georgia

Following the 16 August ceasefire agreement between Georgia and Russia, Amnesty International has called on all parties to the conflict to protect displaced civilians and refugees who fled during the hostilities, as well as those who remained in the areas where hostilities have taken place. The organization has also called on all parties to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches all victims of the conflict, whether in Georgia or in Russia, and to ensure that all who fled the hostilities can be guaranteed a safe and lasting return to their homes. Those who fled to other parts of Georgia and to North Ossetia, Russia, are in continued need of humanitarian assistance. Those who remained in South Ossetia and in parts of western Georgia where fighting has taken place, are also in need of humanitarian assistance. They also remain vulnerable to ethnically motivated attacks. On August 19, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated the number of people displaced by the hostilities at more than 158,700. Some 98,000 people were displaced in Georgia proper. This included most of the population of the city of Gori and surrounding villages in western Georgia. Displaced people in Georgia are living in municipal buildings, such as schools, as well as in camps in and around Tbilisi, the capital. Conditions in these centres vary greatly. Aid organizations reported difficulties in accessing civilians who remained in the conflict areas. The first UN humanitarian convoy was only able to enter the city of Gori on 17 August. Russian officials in North Ossetia indicate that some 30,000 people who fled South Ossetia are still in the Russian Federation, mainly in North Ossetia. Russian aid teams have reported that humanitarian assistance was needed in Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, because of the destruction of the infrastructure and of the local hospital. However, the Russian authorities only allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to the region on 20 August. ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger, said that there were “indications that there are important needs in the region that still have to be addressed”. Apparent indiscriminate attacks against civilians must be investigated Amnesty International is concerned that some of the bombardments both in South Ossetia and in parts of Georgia proper during the conflict may have amounted to indiscriminate or direct attacks on civilians, which constitute war crimes. There is still a lack of precise numbers of civilians killed during the conflict. On 20 August, Russian authorities reported that 133 South Ossetian civilians had been killed, and on 21 August Georgian authorities reported that 69 Georgian citizens, who were civilians, had been killed during the conflict. Amnesty International calls on all parties to the conflict to carry out prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigations into allegations of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and to bring the perpetrators to justice. Possible ethnic targeting Civilians in Georgia and the Russian Federation remain vulnerable to ethnically motivated attacks. Irregular armed groups, reported to have formed in and around the region of South Ossetia, have carried out human rights abuses. Houses in ethnic Georgian villages in South Ossetia have been burned and looted and there have been reports of civilians killed. Looting and burning of houses also took place in the Gori region of western Georgia. Amnesty International has called on all parties to the conflict to provide protection to civilians who may be subjected to inter-ethnic reprisals. The organization has also called on all sides to initiate prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigations into all allegations of abuses on the basis of ethnic identity and to bring the perpetrators to justice. Background On 12 August, Georgia and Russia agreed to a provisional French-brokered ceasefire, pending further negotiations. This followed five days of military hostilities in the disputed regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as well as within Georgia proper. The ceasefire agreement was signed by the presidents of Georgia and Russia on the 15 and 16 of August respectively. However, it wasn’t until 20 August that Russia began to withdraw its troops from Georgia, stating that all troops would be withdrawn back to positions set out in the agreement. It remains unclear how many prisoners of war are held by either side, although the first exchange of prisoners took place on 19 August.