Human Rights Watch on South Ossetia – Part 2 (video)

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Tatyana Lokshina, a researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW) who just returned from South Ossetia, describes the conclusions of her investigation there. In the second part of her interview, Lokshina discusses looting in South Ossetia, and what human rights organizations in the area were able to accomplish during their visit.

According to the latest HRW report, the number of casualties in South Ossetia was grossly exaggerated by Russian officials. Russian authorities also scaled down their estimates on August 22nd by more than 10 times. Video prepared by Dmitri Borko.

South Ossetia: Crimes and Myths. Part 2
August 20, 2008
Source: /
translation/subtitles by:

Watch Part 1 of the interview

(interviewer) in connection with the looting, which is now eagerly being discussed on both sides.

(TL) So, looting happens… Well, looting can be different, actually, and in the context of this story, one can speak about two types of looting. One is completely normal looting, right, the standard war-time looting, when militiamen, in this case, right, or simply people, men, go into abandoned houses, and steal everything that they see and everything that they like out of there. There is a different kind of looting, completely targeted, which we also documented there, this is looting directly in the Georgian villages, which have for a number of years existed practically as enclaves on the territory of South Ossetia. And this looting, by our observations, was, well if not organized, then highly systematic and targeted.

We drove on this road to the city.. got stuck in an enormous traffic jam. And when, before we were stuck in this traffic jam, we drove through several Georgian villages. We saw several burning buildings, some of which were already just embers. We saw looters, undoubtedly militiamen, running into houses, carrying furniture out of there, carrying rugs, carrying some kind of household appliances, like vacuum cleaners, televisions.

They load this into their cars, very happy with themselves, shouting, laughing, very joyful to all that is happening.

And in that hour that we were stuck in the traffic jam, dozens of burning houses appeared in these villages. Just in the hour that we spent on the road.

Yes, here I should immediately explain that the people, the residents, left the villages, for the most part. But as usually happens in war, the oldest and the most helpless are exactly the ones who remained. There were few of them. In the four villages we visited, you could gather, well, 20 to 30 people, no way there were more. No way there were more. But none the less, these are absolutely desolate old people, who remained without food, without water, in burning villages.

We spoke with three such people. For two of them, militiamen had burned down their houses. One old woman, they literally burned her house, that is, set her house on fire an hour before we began speaking with her. She just stood there, wringing her hands against the background of her house, which blazed like a torch, literally. An old man, who was 74 years old, if I’m not mistaken, who we also spoke with, for him, on the eve of our drive on this, in truth, terrifying road, a group of militiamen went into his house, and started to take some things out. He tried, well, not to resist them, how could he resist them, right, a single old man against several armed people. But to say something to them, “Don’t touch this. Don’t touch this.” On that spot, they set fire to his house.

They asked very much that the MES [Emergency Situations Ministry] somehow get involved in the situation. They asked very much that the international humanitarian organizations do something. And you know, as result, yes, everything somehow moved from a standstill. Because sometime, after a day, and of course we raised а tremendous uproar, the Russian soldiers put checkpoints on this road. Stopped letting the militiamen go, naturally, to these villages.

(interviewer) Were you able to do anything else there, on the ground?

As far as I understand it, from what the surrounding people told me later, there actually were some problems which we understood first, and spoke so loudly about, that something got off the ground. So, we really exerted all possible and impossible efforts so that the bodies of Georgian servicemen, which were laying in the street in 30 degree heat, be removed from the city. And all told, there were two different considerations that made it completely urgent to solve this problem. A purely sanitary sense, because ultimately, the risk of an epidemic was rising. Well, and a humanitarian sense.

When we first started interviewing the people there, these were people in a deep state of shock. They still didn’t completely understand what had happened, and how this could have happened to them. And here they come out of their home, and the first thing they see at their doorstep is a decomposing corpse. Well, what a big joy is it for them. On the other hand, these dead Georgian soldiers, they have relatives. And it should be said that after all our long shouts, some kind of movement happened on this spot, and the MES people took the bodies, put them in zinc, and somehow, temporarily buried them. We hope that afterwards, later, they’ll start turning these bodies over to Georgia.

We did not have time to attend to one issue, which concerns us very much, and we hope to pursue it, and that’s the problem of prisoners of war, ordinary prisoners, and I believe there may be such a thing as a problem of hostages.

(interviewer) What is the state of those injured in South Ossetia, in your evaluation.

One can speak of tens of victims, among the civilian, among the peaceful residents. But by no means thousands. And why we seized on these figures so much, and now we are severely being accused there that we are trying to, by playing into the hands of Saakashvili, and therefore in reality America, because we are in an engaged position. Since, how else could it be, we have an office in New York. That we are trying to lower the casualties.

We are trying to do exactly one thing. We are endeavoring that a sound count of these same casualties be carried out. And that instead of throwing accusations of genocide and ethnic cleansing into each other’s faces, that both Russia and Georgia finally came to their senses, counted their dead, counted their wounded, analyzed what is happening, and tried to find some kind of way out from this very bad situation. And if the highest officials continue to say that thousands of people have died, then this only complicates the way out of the crisis. Because the populace of that same Ossetia, will simply never be able to forgive the deaths of thousands of peaceful residents.