Human Rights Expert Explains the Conflict in South Ossetia (video)

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Tatyana Lokshina, a researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW) who recently returned from South Ossetia, describes the conclusions of her investigation there. According to the latest HRW report, the number of casualties in South Ossetia was grossly exaggerated by Russian officials. On August 22nd, Russian authorities scaled down their estimates by more than 10 times.

South Ossetia: Crimes and Myths. Part 1
August 20, 2008
Source: /
Video prepared by Dmitri Borko.
translation/subtitles by:

Watch Part 2 of the interview.


(Tatyana Lokshina speaking)

You know, this was a situation where, just now, there was very heavy shelling, just now there was a very short but nonetheless war, and both official and unofficial people wanted very much to tell what had happened to them.

Personally, I have worked very much in Chechnya in the past several years, and today, the problem there is that the level of fear among the populace is completely out of control, and everyone has long gone silent because of this fear, and it is extremely difficult to obtain information.

In Ossetia, everything was completely the other way around, any person was ready to tell their story, the story of their family, the story of their neighbors, anything you wanted.

The only thing was, and this relates to the issue of information, and the collection of information, or how to do it correctly or incorrectly.

So you come to any house, a house that has been destroyed by shelling, and there were quite a few of those there.

Not the 70% that the MES (Emergency Situations Ministry) claimed, no way near 70, but many.

The city, in the Center and South suffered serious enough destruction, and so you walk into one of these little courtyards, with its box-like houses, houses with holes from Grad [missiles], with torn-apart apartments, houses that are actually seriously damaged, their residents are sitting there, and you walk up to these residents and tell them:

“Were you here during the shelling?”


“Tell me what happened here, these days when the war was going on.”

And immediately, and of course these people have been sitting in basements for several days, they are exhausted, they are under immense stress, and they start to relate what happened very emotionally.

The first thing they tell you, of course, is that the Georgians are just fascists.

This isn’t a nation, but a disgrace, and there should be no more Georgians on the earth, because they’re such fascists, and that this was worse than what the Germans did during the Great Patriotic War [WWII].

So you ask:

“What did they do?”

Well, they start telling you how they ran over infants with the caterpillar belts of their tanks, how they raped women, how they put young men against a wall and shot them in front of their mothers.

Then, when you ask more directed questions, you learn that the person you’re speaking with didn’t see this himself, but someone else told it to him.

And who was it that told him?

Well, let’s say it was Vasya from the neighboring street.

Then you go to the neighboring street, and look for Vasya for a long time.

You find Vasya and tell him:

“Well, you know Fedya said you had witnessed this nightmare, and it’s just.. my oh my..” or however it’s customary to do it.

They click their tongues there as they do in Chechnya.

“And tell me, Vasya, what was the nightmare.”

Vasya starts to tell you approximately the same thing, and then it turns out he also didn’t actually see it, and who saw it was some, I don’t know, Stepa.

Stepa also didn’t see it, and so on indefinitely.

In truth, we found a great deal of evidence, completely solid proof that indiscriminate weapons were used there, that Grad [missile systems] were used there, which were used to shell residential blocks.

That much of the destruction of the city was precisely the result of Grad missiles.

There are rockets laying around, and fragments of rockets laying around, we photographed them, we understand approximately how and where they hit, and from which side they flew.

And without a doubt, they flew from the Georgian side.

Well, I’m saying this now in advance, because at the moment there are various speculations.

For instance, all of a sudden, that maybe it was Russia that bombed everything to spite Georgia.

Mr. Saakashvili told CNN that Russia leveled Tskhinvali from the face of the earth, and to discover this, they should look at reports by Human Rights Watch, although Human Rights Watch never said anything of the sort.

Which is just wonderful.

Yes, shelling was done with Grad missiles, yes it came from the Georgian side.

Yes, tanks rolled into the city.

The army acted in, pardon the cliche, the Chechen scenario.

And specifically, first in the population centers, and I’m not just speaking about Tskhinvali, but let’s say the villages that we were in.

First a bombardment took place, then, after a massive shelling, the armored vehicles moved in.

And after the armor, the infantry forces walked in.

On the level of the shelling, and the armor, genuinely, the rights of the civilian population were violated.

Weapons were used which in no case can be used.

There were direct tank attacks on residential buildings, and on the building’s basements.

And in the basements sat those same children, women and old men who didn’t leave the city.

There were many bad things.

But from the point of view of the atrocities that, supposedly, were committed by individual Georgian soldiers, the infantry, we did not find any information from first-person sources.

There are very many rumors, very many appalling stories, but I do not have proof of it as of yet, though I expect to return to the region, and maybe I will find it.

Naturally, if I find it, I will in no case conceal it.

And in the villages, say in the village of Khitogorovo, which is 6 kilometers, if I’m not mistaken, from Tskhinvali.

When the infantry troops came in, the infantry, judging by everything, the foot soldiers were certain that there were very many [Ossetian] militiamen in the village.

I don’t know where they got this information.

They were shooting, from machine guns, at all the entry-ways, simply in a row, as they moved through, and several people died there, whose relatives we spoke with.

All of this happened.

I surmise that the Georgian side, in response to such allegations from Human Rights Watch, will say:

“What peaceful residents?”

“What residential blocks?”

“In every block, there were militiamen.”

You know, I don’t deny that there were undoubtedly militiamen in every block.

And the militiamen defended the houses.

They also don’t hide this.

And say completely calmly:

“We have wives here, we have children here, our relatives are here.”

“These are our houses, what else are we supposed to do?”

Their family members tell of the same thing.

“Of course, our boys, this is their responsibility.”

But even the presence of militiamen, right, in residential quarters, from the point of view of international law, does not justify neither the use of Grad installations, nor direct tank hits on apartment buildings.

In the same village of Khitogorovo, I was told that when the infantry marched in, they shot up all the entry-ways, several people died.

And several of these Georgian foot soldiers, they walked into one courtyard, of course they were going into all the yards, looking for armed men, looking for weapons.

And in the courtyard were sitting, well, an old man and an old woman. Just an old man and an old woman. Completely stunned by the shelling, completely lost.

And the foot soldiers are really young guys, to tell the truth, not more than 20 years old, and they stood up straight, having walked into the courtyard, and, horror-stricken, stared at these old-timers.

And said, “What are you doing here?”

And those replied, “What do you mean, we live here.”

“We thought there were only military people here.”

In principle, there are a good number of such stories, so there is a basis to believe that many Georgian soldiers, in striking houses and courtyards, saw their situation as a standoff against militiamen, never stopping to think that there could be peaceful people there.

It is possible that they were fed fables that the peaceful people had long since left.