Human rights activists: exact war victims number still disputed

AFP Photo / Natalia Kolesnikova
The first reports about the number of victims came on August, 8 from the President of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity, who claimed a figure of 1400. The following evening, 9, Russian ambassador to Georgia Vyacheslav Kovalenko claimed that not less than 2,00

The HRW representative Tatiana Lokshina has said the number of the victims among civilians was counted in dozens and not in thousands of people, calling the figures of 2,000 'disinformation.'

“I have no idea, how Russian officials have got these figures! This information is not just unchecked but false!”

In a media briefing for Interfax news agency, Lokshina said that during her visit to war-torn South Ossetia, she witnessed about 40 dead, although admitting that many still remained in hospitals in Russia, South Ossetia and Georgia. Lokshina added that she was referring only to civilian victims, and not those among militiamen and military forces.

However, the leader of an alternative human rights movement called 'Opposition', Olga Kostina, has accused Lokshina of bias and of using false information.

“The 40 dead she saw in Tskhinvali are the 40 corpses she saw in the city morgue, which can hold only 50 corpses. And who were those 40?
Ossetians treat their dead with great respect. As a rule they bury them as soon as possible, and at that time, the heat was over 32 degrees. It is likely that the bodies she has seen were of people who died earlier, because the counting of the dead is still continuing.

And her second claim that she talked to some mythical physician who was seeing to the accommodation of the injured… There is no such a physician! Let her provide his name! I'm more than sure she will never produce any names. Madame Lokshina hasn't learned or seen anything.
She went there, saw the city morgue, said there were 40 bodies – and with this considered her mission's over! Hiding behind the name of a well-known organization, she hawks complete lies.”

Yet, two official lists of victims have already been published. One includes 311 names, dates of birth, causes of death, and burial locations, of South Ossetian citizens, so far confirmed killed in the fighting between August 7 and 12. The other official list includes the name of 54 additional civilian casualties of the conflict.

“I'd like Lokshina very much to answer a few simple questions,” – continues the 'Opposition' movement leader, – “The name of this physician who told her about the injured, for instance. When we were there last week we photographed the lists in the Republican hospital of Vladikavkaz. There are three pages of injured listed, with names typed or written in by hand. Some notes say a man is dead, some – he or she has left for Moscow in grave condition etc, etc. This hospital list alone counts 103 people. And this list is not a secret, everyone can see it by coming up to the hospital doors to know what's going on there.”

Lokshina, in support of her position, says that if the number of the victims is estimated as 2,000 or even more, then the lists of injured should be even longer: “But there is nothing of the sort! We have visited field hospitals in South Ossetia and in North Ossetia, where doctors were telling us about dozens, and never even hundreds, of injured,” - says Lokshina.

Not only Russian human rights activists are pointing the finger at HRW for underestimating the number of victims of the conflict. European Parliamentary envoy, Thomas Hammarberg, admitted, after his visit to South Ossetia in late August, that the figures arrived at by HRW didn't cover the scale of humanitarian disaster caused by Georgian aggression.

To settle the dispute among human rights activists will take time, as total casualty figures from the conflict are still being compiled, and official figures from Russia, South Ossetia and Georgia are unlikely to agree with each other soon.