Witnesses Say Georgia Targeted Civilians in August War

Ever since the Georgian shelling of Tskhinvali sparked its brief August war with Russia, both sides have claimed loudly and consistently that the other has committed war crimes. This has included over 3,000 complaints filed with the European Court of Human Rights regarding action in South Ossetia. The complaints have largely been shrugged off by the international community as politically motivated however.

Now the BBC has completed what it says is the “first unrestricted visit to South Ossetia by a foreign news organization since the conflict,” and has gathered considerable evidence of Georgian war crimes during the fighting. Among other things, Georgian tanks are accused of firing directly into apartment buildings and fleeing civilians were fired upon while trying to flee the fighting.

The deliberate targeting of civilians would violate the Geneva Conventions. The BBC also reports that the attacks inspired post-war “revenge” attacks against ethnic Georgian civilians in the region, many of whom have been chased from their homes by angry Ossetians.

The issue was raised with the Georgian government by UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, and Georgian President Saakashvili strongly denied the charges, adding “there were certainly war crimes committed, certainly not by us.”

Perplexingly, President Saakashvili described the destruction of villages which “were not Georgian villages” populated by ethnic Ossetians. The statement is confusing as the president has repeatedly claimed that the breakaway enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are part of Georgia while vowing to retake them to ensure the “unification of Georgia.”

Russia has recognized South Ossetia as independent and offered a guarantee to defend them against future Georgian attacks. The United States has condemned Russia and vowed to use its position on the UN Security Council to ensure that South Ossetia is never seen as independent in the eyes of the international community.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for Antiwar.com. He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.