(New York, August 29, 2008) – Recent satellite images released by the UN program UNOSAT confirm the widespread torching of ethnic Georgian villages inside South Ossetia, Human Rights Watch said today. Detailed analysis of the damage depicted in five ethnic Georgian villages shows the destruction of these villages around the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, was caused by intentional burning and not armed combat.
The new satellite images, taken by a commercial satellite on August 19, were analyzed by experts of the Geneva-based UNOSAT program, which is part of the UN Institute for Training and Research and produces satellite-derived mapping in support of UN agencies and the international humanitarian community. UNOSAT experts identified visible structures on the images that were likely to have been either destroyed or severely damaged. The expert analysis indicates clear patterns of destruction that are consistent with the evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch researchers working in the region.
Click on image to see destruction of houses
- Destroyed ethnic Georgian villages (high resolution, 26.7MB)
- Destroyed ethnic Georgian villages (low resolution, 8.5MB)
- Human Rights Watch photo essay, "Burning and Looting of Ethnic Georgian Villages in South Ossetia"
“All of this adds up to compelling evidence of war crimes and grave human rights abuses,” said Denber. “This should persuade the Russian government it needs to prosecute those responsible for these crimes.”
The damage shown in the ethnic Georgian villages is massive and concentrated. In Tamarasheni, UNOSAT’s experts counted a total of 177 buildings destroyed or severely damaged, accounting for almost all of the buildings in the town. In Kvemo Achabeti, there are 87 destroyed and 28 severely damaged buildings (115 total); in Zemo Achabeti, 56 destroyed and 21 severely damaged buildings (77 total); in Kurta, 123 destroyed and 21 severely damaged buildings (144 total); in Kekhvi, 109 destroyed and 44 severely damaged buildings (153 total); in Kemerti, 58 destroyed and 20 severely damaged buildings (78 total); and in Dzartsemi, 29 destroyed and 10 severely damaged buildings (39 total).
Selected Accounts from Ethnic Georgian Residents
“[The Ossetians] had cars outside and first looted everything they liked. Then they brought hay, put it in the house and ignited it. The house was burned in front of my eyes.”
– Zhuzhuna Chulukhidze, 76, resident of Zemo Achabeti
“I was beaten and my house was looted by Ossetian militias three times during a single day. After they took everything and there was nothing more to loot, they brought petrol, poured it everywhere in the rooms and outside the house, and then put it on fire. They made me watch as my house was fully burned.”
– Ila Chulukhadze, 84, resident of Kvemo Achabeti
“They [Ossetians] came several times to my house and took everything they liked. Once there was nothing else to take, they poured petrol and put it on fire. I watched how they burned my house as well as my neighbors’ houses.”
– Rezo Babutsidze, 80, resident of Kvemo Achabeti
“Ossetians first took out everything they could from my house. Then they brought hay, put it in the house and put it on fire. They did not allow us to take even our documents. I saw how my house was completely burnt.”
– Tamar Khutsinashvili, 69, resident of Tamarasheni