Both Russia and Georgia share blame for an “indiscriminate and disproportionate” use of force that violated humanitarian law during their August 2008 war, Human Rights Watch announced on Jan. 23. In a 200-page report, the watchdog group also took South Ossetian separatist forces to task for allegedly attempting to “ethnically cleanse” ethnic Georgian villages within the enclave. The report calls for individual “prosecution of war crimes where appropriate.” “The violations by one side of the laws of war do not justify or excuse violations by the other side,” said Human Rights Watch director Carroll Bogert said at a Tbilisi press conference.
The group called on Georgia’s government “to investigate and to determine command responsibility” for “serious violations of international humanitarian law” in the use of rocket launching systems “to pound Tskhinvali and neighboring villages.” Georgian officials contend that the army aimed at military targets, and believed Tskhinvali’s civilian population had already fled the area.
The organization also charged that Russia “failed overwhelmingly” in its “duty” to provide law and order in territories it occupied during the war. It condemned Russian forces for use of cluster munitions that continue months later to cause civilian deaths. The Russian General Prosecutor’s Office has stated that the matters are “under investigation.” (EurasiaNet, Jan. 23)