Amnesty International Satellite Images Reveal Damage to South Ossetian Villages After Major Fighting Ended

For Immediate Release

Amnesty International USA
Contact: 

Sharon Singh, AIUSA, 202-544-0200x289, ssingh@aiusa.org or
Ginger Pinholster, AAAS, 202-326-6421, gpinhols@aaas.org

Amnesty International Satellite Images Reveal Damage to South Ossetian Villages After Major Fighting Ended

WASHINGTON - Amnesty International USA
(AIUSA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
released today a damage assessment of 24 villages around the South Ossetian
capital of Tskhinvali. It reveals that 424 structures--including homes
and offices--sustained additional damage after the end of large-scale hostilities
in South Ossetia on August 10, 2008. AIUSA and AAAS obtained the images
from August 10 and August 19 through commercially available satellite imaging.
The assessment is based on a comparative analysis of the two images.

" These images do not lie: the additional
destruction shown from August 10 to August 19 must be used to establish
who had responsibility for protecting civilians from attacks by militia,"
said Ariela Blatter, Amnesty International USA's director for the Satellites
for Human Rights Project. "The destruction of civilian infrastructure
highlights the need for the international community to undertake an independent
investigation of abuses during the conflict, with the complete support
of all parties involved."

The satellite images show that the majority
of the damage in Tskhinvali was sustained on or before August 10--likely
during the intense fighting between the Georgian and Russian militaries
around August 8.  The images also support Amnesty International assessments
on the ground that more than 100 civilian houses in Tskhinvali were hit
by shelling during the initial Georgian bombardment.

However, a number of villages near Tskhinvali
(to the east and south) show additional damage on August 19, after the
majority of the hostilities ended.  The village of Tamarsheni, for
example, which was mostly inhabited by ethnic Georgians before the conflict,
shows no damage at all on August 10. Nine days later, the analysis identified
152 damaged structures, a large proportion of the total number of structures
in the village.

These two images also reveal signs of significant
military activity including tracks from presumed movement of military vehicles
and 455 crater images from shelling, all between August 10 and 19.

The satellite image from August 19 shows
fire damage that supports eyewitness accounts--documented by Amnesty International--of
arson attacks by South Ossetian forces, paramilitary groups and privately
armed individuals on
property owned by ethnic Georgians. During these attacks, several residents
were threatened; some were killed. Amnesty International is concerned that
Russian forces failed to take effective measures to protect civilians and
their property from such abuses in areas under their control.

The satellite image analysis also indicates
the level of reconstruction necessary before tens of thousands of people
displaced by the August conflict can return to South Ossetia. It is estimated
that there are 22,000 individuals displaced from South Ossetia, whose voluntary
return requires, among other things, the restoration of security and the
reconstruction of destroyed property.

"The U.S. government must uphold its
commitment and continue funding pressing humanitarian needs in the next
administration," said Daphne Jayasinghe, Amnesty International USA's
acting Europe and Central Asia advocacy director. "It must ensure
that the majority of this funding supports the protection of human rights
of those displaced by the August conflict."
 
The images from South Ossetia are part of
a joint human rights monitoring effort between Amnesty International and
AAAS, which is funded by a grant from the Oak Foundation.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning
grassroots activist organization with more than 2.2 million supporters,
activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human
rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates
and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice,
freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

The American Association for the Advancement
of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and
publisher of the journal Science (www.sciencemag.org).
AAAS was founded in 1848, and serves 262 affiliated societies and academies
of science, reaching 10 million individuals.

 

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