Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Russia and Georgia to probe into “violations of the laws of war” committed by all the parties in the August war.
The rights group said on January 23 in its 200-page report - Up in Flames: Humanitarian Law Violations in the Conflict Over South Ossetia – that both Russia and Georgia used “indiscriminate and disproportionate” force and the South Ossetian forces conducted “campaign of deliberate and systematic destruction of certain ethnic Georgian villages in South Ossetia.”
“Focusing on who started the war or who committed worse atrocities, as some observers are, misses the point, which is the urgent need to hold all who are responsible accountable and to allow displaced people to return home safely,” Rachel Denber, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said.
The report says that the Georgian forces carried out indiscriminate attacks by their “extensive use in civilian areas of multiple-rocket launching systems.”
“The use of Grad rockets - which are indiscriminate when used in areas populated by civilians - shows that Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia with blatant disregard to the safety of civilians,” Denber said.
It also said that the group has documented “a number of cases” in which Russian forces opened fire on civilian vehicles, killing or wounding civilians. It also said that the Russian forces used indiscriminate aerial, artillery, and tank fire strikes, “killing and wounding many civilians.”
The report blames Russia for a failure in its duty under international humanitarian law as an occupying power to ensure, “as far as possible, public order and safety in areas under its effective control.”
“Instead of protecting civilians, Russian forces allowed South Ossetian forces who followed in their path to engage in wanton and wide-scale pillage and burning of Georgian homes and to kill, beat, rape, and threaten civilians," Denber said. “Such deliberate attacks are war crimes, and if committed as part of a widespread or systematic pattern, they may be prosecuted as a crime against humanity.”
According to the report the South Ossetian forces, “at times together with Russian forces,” arbitrarily detained at least 159 ethnic Georgians. It also says that the South Ossetian forces killed at least one detainee and subjected nearly all of them to inhuman and degrading treatment and detention conditions.
At least four Georgian prisoners of war have been tortured and at least three were executed by the South Ossetian forces, according to the report. It also says that the Georgian forces beat and ill-treated at least five of the 32 Ossetians detained in August.
“Both Georgia and Russia should undertake an impartial and thorough investigation into abuses committed by their forces,” Denber said. “Russia should also do so for the crimes committed by South Ossetian forces, since Russia exercises effective control over South Ossetia. Russia and Georgia must ensure that those who committed these crimes are brought to justice and provide appropriate redress for numerous victims of the conflict.”