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Georgia/Russia: A Year Later, Justice Still Needed

EU-Funded Report Stirs Debate About War’s Origins, but Civilians Still Waiting for Justice

(New York) - The international community should press Georgia and Russia to bring to justice those who violated the laws of war, causing many civilian deaths and injuries and widespread destruction of civilian property in last summer's short but deadly conflict, Human Rights Watch said today. As an EU-funded independent, international fact-finding mission on the conflict in Georgia published its report on September 30, 2009, the lack of accountability is striking.

"The international community is largely focusing on who fired the first shot, but the need for justice should not be ignored," said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The people whose lives were ruined by fighting are still waiting for justice. It's hard to imagine how there could be any real reconciliation without it."

The Fact-Finding Mission's 1,129-page report on last year's armed conflict between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia found that international human rights and humanitarian law violations were committed by Georgian, Russian, and South Ossetian forces. The violations included indiscriminate attacks by the Georgian and Russian militaries and a widespread campaign of looting and burning of ethnic Georgian villages, along with ill-treatment, beating, hostage-taking, and arbitrary arrests by South Ossetian forces. The report also found that the Russian military failed to prevent or stop violations by the Ossetian militia.

The report states that Georgian authorities had opened an investigation into human rights violations, but that it made little progress, allegedly due to Georgia's lack of access to South Ossetia. It says that Russian authorities had conducted investigations into alleged violations only by the Georgian military, had dismissed reports of human rights violations by Russian forces, and had proposed that alleged victims of human rights violations turn to the courts.

"There's no excuse for the failure to carry through with meaningful investigations," said Cartner. "They need to be prompt, thorough, independent, and impartial, and most of all, they should lead to successful prosecutions."

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