Mon Sep 1, 2008 1:34pm EDT
By Robert Evans
GENEVA (Reuters) - At least 14 people were killed by cluster bombs during the Georgia-Russia war over South Ossetia in August according to experts in the conflict region, a leading human rights group said on Monday.
Some of the victims were clearly killed in Russian air raids although Moscow has denied that it used the weapon which divides before impact into a large number of bomblets, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
The group's arms division researcher, Bonnie Docherty, told a news briefing that Georgia had now admitted that it used the lethal weapon, which more than 100 countries have agreed to ban, once during the conflict.
"Attacks with these weapons that do not discriminate between combatants and non-combatant civilians are a violation of international humanitarian law," she said.
Docherty said Russian attacks on the village of Ruisi in Georgia on August 12, when Russian forces were driving Georgian troops from an area south of the South Ossetia border, killed at least 3 civilians and wounded 5.
One the same day, at least 8 civilians died and dozens were wounded in another Russian air attack on the town of Gori, she added, quoting HRW researchers who were on the ground from the moment Russian troops crossed into Georgia proper on August 8.
Docherty said HRW had received an e-mailed letter from the Georgian Defence Ministry admitting that it had used M85 cluster weapons in one attack near the Roki tunnel between Russia and South Ossetia at the start of the conflict.
Hundreds of M85s -- mainly produced by Israel which has helped arm Georgia -- which Russia is not known to possess, also littered the town of Shindisi in Georgia, but HRW monitors were not sure who they belonged to, she added.
Docherty appealed to both Georgians and Russians to cooperate fully with demining teams from Europe already in the area in clearing the many thousands of bomblets, which often do not explode immediately but kill and maim later.
She said bomblets littered many fields where harvesting was due to start, posing a severe risk to life and limb of farmers.
Many countries are due to meet in Oslo in December to sign up to a treaty banning cluster weapons negotiated outside the framework of the United Nations and endorsed by 107 nations in Dublin in May.
Russia, the United States and China have declined to join it, but many other military powers, including Britain, France and Germany, have said they will come in at a meeting of signatories in Oslo in December.
Georgia: Civilians Killed by Russian Cluster Bomb ‘Duds’
More Attacks Confirmed; Unexploded Ordnance Threatens Many
(Tbilisi, August 21, 2008) – Georgian and Russian authorities should take urgent measures to protect the civilian population in Georgian villages from unexploded ordnance left by Russian attacks, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch researchers documented additional Russian cluster munitions attacks during the conflict in Georgia, refuting Russia’s earlier denials that it used the weapon.
Human Rights Watch researchers saw and photographed unexploded submunitions from cluster munitions in and around the villages of Shindisi, in the Gori district of Georgia. Residents from Shindisi and the nearby Pkhvenisi village told Human Rights Watch researchers there are hundreds of unexploded submunitions in the area. Submunition “duds” are highly dangerous and can explode if picked up or otherwise disturbed.
“Many people have died because of Russia’s use of cluster munitions in Georgia, even as Moscow denied it had used this barbaric weapon,” said Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch. “Many more people could be killed or wounded unless Russia allows professional demining organizations to enter at once to clean the affected areas.”
Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that on August 8, 2008, Russian air strikes on Georgian armored units located near Shindisi and Pkhvenisi were followed by extensive cluster munition strikes that killed at least one civilian and injured another in Shindisi. At least two more civilians were killed and five wounded in the following days when they handled unexploded submunitions, including an incident 10 days after the initial strikes. As of August 20, Shindisi and Pkhvenisi areas remain under Russian control.
Human Rights Watch called upon Russia to immediately stop using cluster munitions, weapons so dangerous to civilians that more than 100 nations have agreed to ban their use. Human Rights Watch also called on Russia to provide precise strike data on its cluster attacks in order to facilitate cleanup of areas contaminated by submunitions. Human Rights Watch called on Georgia to undertake an immediate risk education program for its population, including radio and television announcements about the dangers of submunitions.
In Shindisi, Human Rights Watch researchers saw unexploded dual purpose (anti-armor and antipersonnel) submunitions, commonly known as Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munition (DPICM) submunitions.
“Highly dangerous unexploded bomblets now litter farms, roads, and pathways in Shindisi and Pkhvenisi,” said Garlasco. “People remaining in these areas don’t realize the dangers these submunitions pose and are at serious risk of injury or death if they handle, or even approach, the bomblets.”
Human Rights Watch first reported on Russian use of cluster munitions in Georgia on August 15, after it identified strikes on Gori and Ruisi on August 12 that killed at least 11 civilians and injured dozens more. Russia subsequently denied any use of cluster munitions. Colonel General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy head of the Russian General Staff, stated on August 15, “We did not use cluster bombs, and what’s more, there was absolutely no necessity to do so.”
Zura Tatrishvili, 62, showed Human Rights Watch researchers an unexploded submunition that he had picked up without realizing that just touching it could make it explode. “We were playing with them, as were the Georgian soldiers,” said Tatrishvili. “It was only when one of the bombs exploded after a soldier threw it that we understood that they were dangerous.” Even now, Tatrishvili continues to keep his livestock in a pen with unexploded submunitions, demonstrating the need for clearance as well as education.
During the attack on August 8 in Shindisi, Vano Gogidze, 45, was killed and his relative, Dato Gogidze, 39, was injured. Also in Shindisi, Ramaz Arabashvili, 40, was killed and four people were wounded when a submunition that they had gathered from a field exploded on August 10. On August 18, in Pkhvenisi, Veliko Bedianashvili, 70, died when a submunition exploded in his hand. “There are so many of these lying around. The fields are full of them,” said his son, Durmiskhan Bedianashvili.
Zviad Geladze, 38, showed Human Rights Watch researchers fields contaminated with submunitions. He estimated the submunitions covered an area extending at least one kilometer through his farm. The fields are full of produce ready to harvest. Because humanitarian agencies continue to lack access to much of the Gori region, fields like Geladze’s may provide residents of the region with their only food source.
Cluster munitions contain dozens or hundreds of smaller submunitions or bomblets and cause unacceptable humanitarian harm in two ways. First, their broad-area 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 years to come.
Under international humanitarian law, indiscriminate attacks including attacks in populated areas with weapons that cannot be targeted solely at military targets are prohibited. Russia has an obligation not only to cease any such attacks, but also to take all necessary measures now to ensure the safety of the civilian population in areas over which it exercises effective control.
Human Rights Watch called on Georgia, which is known to have cluster munitions in its stockpiles, to join the international move to ban the use of cluster munitions and to publicly undertake not to use such weapons in this conflict. Human RIghts Watch has also called on Russia to join the convention. Neither Russia nor Georgia was part of the Oslo Process launched in February 2007 to develop a new international treaty banning cluster munitions. In May 2008, 107 nations adopted the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which comprehensively bans the use, production, trade and stockpiling of the weapon. It will be open for signature in Oslo on December 3.
Заявление министерства обороны Грузии:
Georgian Ministry of Defence's Response to the Human Rights Watch Inquire about the Usage of M85 Bomblets
Georgian armed forces have GRADLAR160 multiple launch rocket system and rockets of MK4 LAR160 type (with M85* bomblets) with the range of 45 kms.
These rockets were never used against civilians, civilian targets and civilian populated or nearby areas during the conflict with Russia, in South Ossetian region or beyond. The Gradlar system was used against Russian military equipment and armament marching from Rocki tunnel to Dzara road.
There were no Gradlar systems or rockets deployed in Shindisi at any moment during the hostilities or afterward. Shindisi was one of the last positions that Georgian army was holding before the disengagement and complete withdrawal from the war theatre.
No GRADLAR launchers have been destroyed during the war by enemy forces.
Since the moment of withdrawal of Georgian troops from Shindisi, Georgian armed forces have not used artillery.
The discovery of M85 bomblets in Shindisi raises a lot of suspicion, especially if there are no signs of damage caused by these bomblets. This fact demands proper investigation and Georgian side is ready to participate in and provide all necessary assistance for the conduction of such investigation. If needed, for the investigation purposes, we can provide the name of the supplier company.
We would like to receive some more information from and examine the evidence in possession of HRW in this regard.
* - M85 dual-purpose bomblet has unique self-destruction mechanism. This important safety feature is designed to ensure that no armed duds will be left on the battlefield to endanger advancing friendly troops or civilian population; safety mechanism makes it impossible manually to arm duds inadvertently, and a highly sensitive impact fuse functions at steep angles of impact and at lower impact velocities and do not pose a seriouse threat to civilians