Georgia: UN calls for protection of civilians and access to victims of conflict

12 August 2008
Tents, blankets, other urgent supplies being unloaded from UN-chartered cargo plane

A senior United Nations humanitarian official has urged the parties to the conflict in Georgia, where fierce fighting in recent days has uprooted nearly 100,000 people, to do their utmost to protect civilians and ensure access for aid agencies.

Heavy fighting that erupted last Thursday between Georgian and South Ossetian forces have led to a large number of casualties and caused large numbers of civilians to flee to other parts of the country as well as to North Ossetia in Russia. Russian forces have become involved in South Ossetia, and in the separate region of Abkhazia in north-western Georgia, in recent days.

“I have been deeply concerned about the well-being of thousands of civilians in Georgia and the surrounding areas that have been caught up in this conflict,” Catherine Bragg, the UN’s Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said today in a statement.

In light of the recent announcement of a cessation of hostilities, she reiterated the call to all parties to the conflict to take appropriate steps to protect the civilian population, in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law.

Ms. Bragg also called for concrete steps from parties to the conflict to facilitate immediate access for international aid agencies to areas that have been out of contact since the start of the hostilities.

In that regard, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted that, because of security reasons, no UN agency has yet been able to carry out an assessment mission or aid operations in South Ossetia. UN agencies have, however, been able to get access to Gori, in central Georgia.

Meanwhile, the first UN humanitarian airlift – chartered by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – arrived earlier today in Georgia, bringing 34 tons of tents, jerry cans, blankets and kitchen sets for those in need. A second UNHCR flight is scheduled for tomorrow.

“The two flights will provide more than 70 tons of aid supplies for up to 30,000 people and will augment other relief items already distributed by UNHCR from its warehouses in Georgia,” the agency’s spokesperson, Ron Redmond, told reporters in Geneva.

According to the latest figures provided by Georgia and Russia, the total number of people uprooted in the conflict is approaching 100,000, UNHCR said. Officials in North Ossetia, Russia, say some 30,000 people from South Ossetia have arrived in that region.

The UN’s Resident Coordinator in Russia said that UN agencies there are in touch with the Government, as well as local authorities in North Ossetia. The agencies present in the area confirmed that the Russian authorities are providing adequate assistance to those in distress.

Georgian officials say a few thousand have fled into other parts of Georgia from South Ossetia, but a registration must be carried out to get an exact figure. Up to 12,000 are estimated by officials to be displaced within South Ossetia.

There are also movements elsewhere in Georgia, including from the town of Gori – just south of the boundary with South Ossetia. A UNHCR team which travelled to Gori on Sunday was told by local Government officials that up to 80 per cent of the population had left, fearing further attacks – that would amount to some 56,000 people from Gori on the move.

Over the weekend, UNHCR and its partners provided aid supplies to some 300 vulnerable Georgians from South Ossetia who had been transferred from Gori to the capital, Tbilisi.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has also begun providing critical humanitarian aid to more than 2,000 people displaced by the violence in South Ossetia, including a 10-day food ration to internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in shelters in Tbilisi.

Yesterday senior UN peacekeeping official Edmond Mulet told the Security Council that Russian forces have now entered Georgian areas outside the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as the 15-member body met for the fifth time since Friday morning to discuss the latest developments.

In another development, Georgia today instituted proceedings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against Russia for what it said were violations of the 1965 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) during the current conflict.

Georgia contends in its application that Russia, “through its State organs, State agents, and other persons and entities exercising governmental authority, and through the South Ossetian and Abkhaz separatist forces and other agents,” has violated its obligations under the convention during three distinct phases between 1990 and this month.

It asks the ICJ to order Russia to take all steps necessary to comply with its obligations and also seeks to ensure that the individual rights under CERD of all people on Georgian territory are fully respected and protected.


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