The Encyclopedia is a project of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights launched on 2 December 2013. The Enyclopedia aims to provide accurate, up-to-date information on weapons, the effects of their use, and their regulation under public international law, in a format that is accessible to non-specialists.+ Find out more
Some of the most serious allegations by all sides in the August 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia related to indiscriminate attacks and the deliberate targeting of civilians. Such allegations focused inter alia on the use of certain types of weapons having indiscriminate effects.
Russia reported the “large-scale and indiscriminate use of heavy weapons and military equipment by the Georgian side against the civilian population of Ossetia on the night of 7 to 8 August” including the “shelling of residential areas and infrastructure facilities” and the use of “multiple launch rocket systems that cause massive civilian casualties when used in populated areas and inflict large-scale damage to vital civilian facilities.” Georgia claims that “the Russian Federation has failed to meet this duty by indiscriminately bombing and shelling areas which were not legitimate military targets, and by utilizing means of warfare, such as landmines and cluster bombs, in a manner which failed to distinguish between civilians and combatants.” IIFFMCG Report, Vol. II, 2009, 337-8 (footnotes omitted).
The IIFFMCG therefore deemed it necessary to address the issue of the types of weapons used and the ways in which they were used, focusing on the use of cluster munitions and GRAD rockets in populated areas.Neither Georgia nor Russia was a party to an international treaty prohibiting the use of multiple launch rocket systems or of cluster munitions at the time of the events.
The Mission considered that 'GRAD multiple rocket launching systems and cluster munitions are the two types of weaponry considered particularly dangerous for non-combatants because of their indiscriminate deadly effects'IIFFMCG Report, Vol. I, 2008, 28 and found that during the' Georgian offensive on Tskhinvali cluster munitions on whatever scale and GRAD MLRS were both used, amounting to indiscriminate attacks by Georgian forces, owing to the uncontrollable effects of such weaponry and its use in a populated area.IIFFMCG Report, Vol. I, 2008, 28
Georgian admitted using cluster munitions, 'specifically the GRADLAR160 missile system and the MK4 LAR160 type missiles with M-85 cluster bombs'.IFFMCG Report, Vol. II, 2009, 341. For more detail on Georgia's alleged use of cluster munitions, see Human Rights Watch, Up in Flames, 2009, 66.
Russia denied using cluster munitions in spite of several independent reports confirming such use, including a commission of inquiry set up by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That commission found that 'Russian forces had used an Iskander SS-26 missile carrying cluster munitions'. Information collected by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also supported the claim that cluster munitions were used by Russia in populated areas.IIFFMCG Report, Vol. II, 2009, 341 and 343. See also, ibid. Vol. I, 28. Amnesty International found 'AO 2.5 RTM cluster munitions (dropped from planes in RBK 500 bombs) and Uragan fired M210 bomblets' around several villages north of Gori. Amnesty International, Civilians in the Line of Fire, 33-4. For more detail on cluster munition use during the conflict, see Human Rights Watch, A Dying Practice, 2009.
The Mission found that:
The use of artillery and cluster munitions by Russian forces in populated areas ... led to indiscriminate attacks and the violation of rules on precautions.IIFFMCG Report, Vol. II, 2009, 343.
The evidenced use in populated areas by Russia of cluster munitions, a weapon which, by virtue of its wide area coverage and its unexploded duds, demonstrates that the obligation to take all feasible precautions in the choice of means of warfare was not systematically respected.IIFFMCG Report, Vol. II, 2009, 349.
As one of the main findings under IHL and HRL, the Mission listed:
Dangers posed by explosive remnants of war, notably unexploded munitions from cluster bombs, also need to be addressed.IIFFMCG Report, Vol. II, 2009, 431.
And among 'lessons learned', the Mission identified the following:
One of the incidents analysed by the Mission was the attack by Georgian forces on the South Ossetian Central Republican Hospital in Tskhinvali with GRAD rockets. According to the organisation Human Rights Watch, that attack 'severely damaged treatment rooms on the second and third floors'. Human Rights Watch, Up in Flames, 2009, 42. The Mission concluded that 'the damage caused to hospitals by GRAD rockets or artillery shelling resulted from the use of inaccurate means of warfare'.IIFFMCG Report, Vol. II, 2009, 330.
The IIFFMCG also gathered information according to which Georgian artillery conducted 'a massive area bombardment' of Tskhinvali, including with a BM-21 "GRAD" multiple rocket launcher system:
Shortly before midnight the centre of Tskhinvali came under heavy fire and shelling. OSCE [Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe] observers assessed that this bombardment originated from MLRS GRAD systems and artillery pieces ... Narratives of the first hours following the offensive indicate intense shelling with incoming rounds exploded at intervals of 15 to 20 seconds. Within 50 minutes (8 August, 0.35a.m.) the OSCE observers counted more than 100 explosions of heavy rounds in the town, approximately half of them in the immediate vicinity of the OSCE field office which was located in a residential area. The OSCE compound was hit several times, and damaged.IIFFMCG Report, Vol. II, 2009, 339 (footnotes omitted).
The Mission concluded that
during the offensive on Tskhinvali the shelling in general, and the use of GRAD MLRS as an area weapon in particular, amount to indiscriminate attacks by Georgian forces, owing to the characteristics of the weaponry and its use in a populated area. Furthermore, the Georgian forces failed to comply with the obligation to take all feasible precautions in the choice of means and methods of warfare with a view to avoiding, and in any event to minimising, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects.IIFFMCG Report, Vol. II, 2009, 340.
Last updated on: 03 June 2014