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Letter to President Nicolas Sarkozy in Advance of the September 1 Emergency Summit

President Nicolas Sarkozy  
Monsieur le Président de la République  
Palais de l'Elysée  
55, rue du faubourg Saint-Honoré 75008 Paris  
Brussels, August 26, 2008  
 
Dear Mr. President,  

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We are writing in advance of the emergency Summit of EU Heads of State and Government to be held on September 1st, to urge you to take very concrete steps to: enhance the protection of civilians in areas affected by the armed conflict between Russia and Georgia; facilitate the safe and voluntary return of the thousands of displaced; and, to advance accountability for serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict.  
 
The armed conflict between Russian, Georgian, and Ossetian forces was deadly for civilians. Hundreds of civilians were killed and injured by the indiscriminate and disproportionate force used by Georgian and Russian forces. In some cases, convoys of civilians fleeing conflict zones appear to have been targeted directly. Russian forces have violated international humanitarian law by using cluster munitions in areas populated by civilians. After Georgian forces were pushed back by Russian forces, ethnic Ossetian militias looted and torched the homes of many ethnic Georgians in both South Ossetia and in the Gori district of Georgia, beating and killing ethnic Georgian residents in some cases.  
 
In your meeting on September 1st, we call on you to take up the following recommendations: 1) Dispatch an EU ESDP Mission to Georgia to protect civilians, ensure access for humanitarian efforts, and facilitate the safe return of the displaced; 2) Issue a strong reminder concerning the belligerent parties’ obligations under international humanitarian law; 3) Insist on accountability for serious human rights and international humanitarian law violations; 4) Encourage the OSCE Chairman-in-office to appoint a special representative to monitor and report on compliance with international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict.  
 
1) Dispatch an EU ESDP Mission to Georgia to protect civilians, ensure access for humanitarian efforts, and facilitate the safe return of the displaced  
As Russian forces withdraw from areas in Georgia, there is an urgent need for the deployment of an international security mission to help protect civilians and create a safe environment in which the displaced can return home in safety and dignity, and in which humanitarian assistance can reach those in need.  
 
An international mission to protect civilians in Georgia is a job well-suited for the European Union. An EU ESDP mission could contribute significantly to the protection of civilians in areas from which Russian forces have formally withdrawn, including those areas that still have Russian checkpoints. Our researchers on the ground have found that in these areas, civilians live in constant fear that the Ossetian militias that looted and torched their homes will return. Their fears are accentuated by the palpable lack of law and order, due in part to the refusal by Russian forces to allow Georgian police to enter these areas.  
 
An ESDP mission can be deployed relatively quickly, which is essential given the perilous security situation. In helping to provide security, an ESDP mission would boost the confidence of the civilian population and make it possible for people displaced from Gori and Znauri districts to return swiftly and safely to their homes.  
 
Georgian government officials have already publicly stated that Georgia would welcome the urgent deployment of an EU ESDP mission. Speaking recently at a meeting with members of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, the Security and Defence Subcommittee and the Delegation for Relations with the South Caucasus, Georgia’s Foreign Minister, Ms. Eka Tkeshelashvili, urged the EU to dispatch an ESDP mission.  
 
We urge the EU to engage at the highest political and diplomatic levels to convey the message that such a mission is in Russia’s interests, as it contributes to security in all respects in areas close to Russia’s forces.  
 
2) Issue a strong reminder concerning the conflicting parties’ obligations under IHLRussia is obligated under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and their property in areas under effective Russian military control. While Russian forces took some measures to stop looting in several villages in South Ossetia, they failed to do so in the Gori district of Georgia. As a result, as noted above, looting, arson attacks, and abductions by militias terrorized the civilian population and forced them to flee their homes.  
 
Human Rights Watch has interviewed civilians from the city of Gori and surrounding villages who described how armed Ossetian militias attacked their cars and kidnapped civilians as people tried to flee militia attacks on their homes following the Russian advance into the area. Kidnapping and enforced disappearances are prohibited under international law and may amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes, depending on the circumstances in which they occur. Human Rights Watch researchers in South Ossetia also saw homes belonging to ethnic Georgians still burning from fires set by Ossetian militias, and witnessed armed Ossetian militia members in camouflage fatigues looting household items from the village of Nizhnie Achaveti. International humanitarian law strictly prohibits looting or pillaging as war crimes. Russian forces have also denied access to some humanitarian missions seeking to assist citizens.  
 
Human Rights Watch has documented Georgian forces’ use of indiscriminate and disproportionate force, including the indiscriminate use of Grad multiple launchers and tank fire, during their assault on Tskhinvali and neighboring villages on August 7/8, which caused numerous civilian casualties and extensive destruction. In Tskhinvali, Human Rights Watch saw numerous severely damaged civilian objects, including a hospital, apartment buildings, houses, schools, kindergartens, shops, administrative buildings, and the university.  
 
Human Rights Watch research has also revealed that Russian forces have violated international humanitarian law by using cluster munitions in civilian populated areas. Cluster munitions are large weapons that contain dozens or hundreds of smaller submunitions or bomblets. They cause unacceptable humanitarian harm in two ways. First, their broad effect kills and injures civilians indiscriminately during strikes. Second, many submunitions do not explode, becoming de facto landmines that cause civilian casualties for months or even years to come. Human Rights Watch has uncovered evidence that:
  • On August 12, 2008, Russian aircraft dropped RBK-250 cluster bombs, each containing 30 PAB 2.5M submunitions, on the town of Ruisi in the Kareli district of Georgia. Three civilians were killed and five wounded in the attack.
  • On August 12, 2008, a cluster strike in the center of the town of Gori killed at least 8 civilians and injured dozens.
  • In one village of Gori district Human Rights Watch researchers saw unexploded dual purpose (anti-armor and antipersonnel) submunitions, commonly known as Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munition (DPICM) submunitions.
  • Villagers from two villages of Gori district told Human Rights Watch that there are hundreds of unexploded submunitions in the area. Civilians are handling “duds” without realizing that they can explode at the slightest touch.
We call on the European Union to take concrete steps to enhance compliance with international humanitarian law by publicly and privately urging:
  • Russian authorities to immediately allow professional demining organizations to enter and clean cluster munitions affected areas. The user of the weapons is responsible under Protocol V of the Convention on Conventional Weapons to assist with clearance.
  • Georgia and Russia to conduct risk reduction education to ensure awareness among civilians living in or around cluster munitions contaminated areas of the risks posed by such remnants and by other unexploded ordnance. In particular, urge Georgia to broadcast radio and television announcements about the dangers of submunitions.
  • Russia to provide precise strike data on its cluster attacks in order to facilitate clean up of the inevitable lingering contamination from cluster bomb submunitions that failed to explode on contact but remain deadly.
  • Russia to ensure that South Ossetian forces and volunteer militia respect international humanitarian law including the prohibitions on pillaging,destruction of civilian property, and attacks on civilians. Reminding Russia that in the territory over which it exercises effective control, it is obligated to ensure the safety and well being of the civilian population and it may be held liable for the actions of South Ossetian forces and volunteer militia operating in that territory.
  • Russian and Georgian authorities to provide full cooperation to and access for humanitarian relief operations to civilians who choose to remain in conflict areas. Russian and Georgian authorities must allow for the recovery of the dead and the return of corpses to loved ones.
  • Immediately release of all hostages and unlawfully detained persons.
3) Insist on accountability for serious human rights and international humanitarian law violations  
In September of 2003, Georgia ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and thus the Court has jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Georgia by any party to the conflict. On August 20, the ICC Prosecutor “confirmed that the situation in Georgia is under analysis by his office.”  
 
Combating impunity and accountability for war crimes are stated EU priorities. The EU must insist on justice, whether crimes are committed on other continents or in its own neighborhood. Each time the EU supports ICC engagement in situations under its jurisdiction, the EU raises the bar for accountability, strengthens its own commitment to the Court, and enables the Court to be a powerful deterrent against war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Emphasizing the potential role of the ICC as a deterrent for grave abuses also serves to fulfill the prevention aspect of the EU’s responsibility to protect.  
 
The EU should call on parties to the conflict to undertake credible and transparent investigations into human rights and international humanitarian law violations and to hold those responsible accountable. It should also remind all parties to the conflict that, where there is no ability or will to prosecute the crimes in a domestic court, the ICC has jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity during this conflict, no matter the nationality of the perpetrator or victim.  
 
4) Encourage the appointment by the OSCE Chairman-in-office of a special representative to monitor and report on compliance with international humanitarian law  
Finally, there is an acute need for effective international monitoring and reporting of compliance with international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict in Georgia. Such a fact-finding mechanism would be an important tool to deter further abuses, to clarify and dismiss rumors, to assist accountability efforts, and, it would help provide a solid foundation for future confidence building measures and political negotiations.  
 
There are several options with regard to international monitoring and reporting mechanisms. One which has proven effective and quick in the past has been the appointment by the OSCE Chairman-in-Office of a special representative, supported by a team of seconded experts. We understand that the Finnish OSCE Chairman-in-Office has been offered very concrete support in terms of a Special Representative supported by international humanitarian law experts who could be dispatched immediately to Georgia  
to monitor and report on compliance with international humanitarian law. Human Rights Watch strongly encourages the Finnish OSCE chairman-in-Office to accept such an offer and calls on the EU to support the efforts of the special representative should he/she be appointed.  
 
We believe that such an effective OSCE CiO monitoring and reporting mechanism would compliment other human right efforts undertaken by e.g. the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights and possibly by UN mechanisms.  
 
We thank you for your attention to this important matter.  
 
Yours sincerely,  
 
Lotte Leicht  
EU Director  
Human Right Watch  
 
Holly Cartner  
Director  
Europe and Central Asia Division  
Human Rights Watch  
 
CC:  
EU High Representative, Mr. Javier Solana  
President of the European Parliament, Mr. Hans-Gert Poettering  
EU Special Representative for the Caucasus, Mr. Peter Semneby  
President of the European Commission, Mr. Manuel Barosso  
Foreign Policy and Security Advisors  
Ambassadors to the Political and Security Committee
 

 
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