Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia

Now that the war's over, you'd think that South Ossetia would calm down. Right? Wrong. According to reports by Human Rights Watch, relayed by Radio Free Europe, the South Ossetian government and Russian troops have been engaged in a systematic campaign to burn the houses of South Ossetia's sizable Georgia minority (which, before the war, made up one-third of South Ossetia's population).

"For a month we have observed the systematic destruction of houses in Georgian enclaves and villages in South Ossetia," says Tatyana Lokshina, a Russia researcher with Human Rights Watch (HRW).

HRW has also released satellite images that show "widespread torching of ethnic Georgian villages" in the breakaway region.

The South Ossetian authorities don't deny what's going on, and de facto President Eduard Kokoity has implied that the ban on Georgians returning to their homes in South Ossetia is revenge for when Georgians supposedly did the same thing to South Ossetians after the wars in the early '90s.

In addition to expelling Georgians from their homes and then torching them, Georgian civilians have also faced torture, abuse, and "extrajudicial executions" in camps where they're being held.

"We have learned that hundreds of civilians from Georgia were detained in holding cells in South Ossetia. These included women and the elderly," HRW's Lokshina says. "We know that these people were held in inhuman conditions, crammed together in one space. They were practically not fed. They were forced to work. They cleaned streets. The men were forced to bury the corpses of Georgian soldiers."

According to a September 21 report posted on HRW's website, detained Georgian soldiers were punched, kicked, beaten with hammers, machine-gun butts, and metal rods, and were burned with cigarette lighters, starved, and threatened with execution. At least one soldier was executed with a shot in the back of the head and other detainees were forced to carry and bury his body.

"After fleeing our village, we spent a week hiding in the forest," Jemal Khetagashvili, a former civilian detainee, tells RFE/RL's Georgian Service. "But then the Ossetians found us and arrested us. We spent 10-12 days imprisoned in Tskhinvali. They forced us to work, to clean the streets and sidewalks."

No comments: