Civilians suffer in Georgia conflict

With reports continuing to be published confirming the presence of ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia and adjacent districts of Georgia, there are disturbing accounts of Russian and South Ossetian forces having set up concentration or “detention” camps for civilians in the region. These camps appear to be similar in design and purpose to those created by Serb forces in Serb-controlled areas of Bosnia/Herzegovina during the Balkan wars pf the 1990s.

There are also reports, now being published by Human Rights Watch, which point to other atrocities. Tom Porteous, HRW’s London director, writes in an op-ed article published in the Guardian newspaper and on the HRW web site: “At the outset of this war, the Georgian military used indiscriminate and disproportionate force resulting in civilian deaths in South Ossetia. The Russian military has since used indiscriminate force in attacks in South Ossetia and in the Gori district, and has apparently targeted convoys of civilians, killing and wounding them as they have attempted to flee the conflict zones.” 

Porteous suggests that it may be time for the European Union to launch a civilian protection missionto complement and follow up the French-brokered  ceasefire that has already been declared:

In the past half decade the EU has deployed almost 20 missions under its European security and defence policy (ESDP). These have included full-blown military operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Bosnia, border-monitoring operations in Moldova and on the Gaza/Egypt border, ceasefire monitoring in Aceh in Indonesia, “security sector reform” missions in the Balkans, West Bank, Iraq and Afghanistan, and a civilian protection mission in Chad. In 2004, Brussels even despatched a civilian ESDP mission to Georgia to help the Georgian government to strengthen the rule of law. 

An ESDP mission has three obvious advantages in the current crisis in Georgia. First, it is easier and faster to deploy than a UN mission: time is of the essence in the current crisis. Second, it is not threatening and therefore stands a chance of being accepted by the Russians. In this context it should be made clear that any European deployment would have limited aims: it would most definitely not aim to take over from the existing peacekeeping arrangements in South Ossetia and Abkhazia but would assist Russia to withdraw in an orderly manner from those areas it agreed to withdraw from under the latest ceasefire agreement. Third, the EU is now reasonably experienced in the areas of “soft security” – border monitoring, policing and police training, civilian protection, strengthening rule of law – that an ESDP mission is likely to have to deal with in Georgia


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