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Is there evidence that Georgian Government committed war crimes?

26.11.2008
By Jeffrey K. Silverman & Ian Carver

President Mikheil Saakashvili and the Georgian Government used cluster bombs, a weapon banned by almost every other country under international Conventions, which both Georgia and Russia have not signed, on their own citizens and territory during the Georgian-Russian war of early August. Not merely in South Ossetia, as they themselves have admitted, but in what is now called ‘Georgia proper,’ the area OUTSIDE South Ossetia and Abkhazia which everyone acknowledges as Georgian. Human Rights Watch has also investigated this matter and their findings support the evidence that we discovered in the Georgian village of Brosleti, located in what was then the Russian-controlled buffer zone, as published in the Georgian Times and the Human Rights Center. However, the main focus of our conclusions is based upon HRW’s detailed investigation.

The Georgian Government is clearly not embarrassed by this. But if its actions were intentionally criminal, and if treated as war crimes may prove the final nail in the coffin of the country’s leadership, both civilian and military.

Between mid August and early October 2008, two freelance journalists, American Jeffrey Silverman and Briton Antony Butts first discovered the use of cluster bombs outside of South Ossetia. Later, American freelance photographer Ian Carver documented with photos the cluster bombs as part of an undercover investigations behind Russian lines, seeking the extent to which cluster bombs had been used by the Georgian forces on civilian and military targets outside the zones of conflict.

The collective work has provided film footage of the horrors of war, detailed descriptions of looting,  a record of case histories of ethnic cleansing by South Ossetian paramilitaries, information on what actually happened to abandoned “weapons stocks” and documentation of the actual sources of various weapons and the extent of human rights violations. Most importantly, it has posed a number of questions about the use of cluster bombs by Georgian forces, which the Georgian Government is finding it difficult to answer.
Some of Ian Carver’s photos of cluster bombs have already been posted on internet sites and shared with various human rights organizations. Recently completed expert analysis of a sample of these photographed “duds,” undertaken by US intelligence and military experts, gives much insight into the type and origin of these explosive devices. The actual analysis has not been denied by Georgia, merely some aspects of our interpretation of it.

What we found

EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) experts from around the U.S., including people with many years of experience in the military, law enforcement, federal agencies and intelligence services, examined the provided photos of cluster bombs and their delivery systems. None of the experts, however, would allow their names to be used as they are still working for various agencies.

Although there was no “single consensus,” the overall conclusion from the ‘chain-of-analysis’ was that the photographs provided depicted M85 cluster bombs. No information was provided on where they were made, who used them or how, but this was not expected. As an American defence contractor working for the Georgian Government has confirmed, “none of the people had access to any information other than that they [the bombs] were found in Georgia. None who responded would be otherwise authorized, nor would they be permitted to allow their names or positions to be used, particularly for such a purpose.” The location of cluster bombs outside South Ossetia is confirmed by various media outlets and by a recent Human Rights Watch report. 

What they do

Some of the experts believed that the photographed canister [delivery mechanism] which had contained the cluster bombs was possibly a Russian BM-21. This is made in a number of countries, including Bosnia, Iraq and the former Yugoslavia, each version based on the original Russian design. Such sub-munitions are often fired from an M87 Orkan delivery system. One of the experts wrote that these clusters can be very sensitive and have been known to be detonated by a strong breeze. “The M85 is very sensitive, and has a self-destruct mechanism. Various versions are manufactured by a number of countries, including the US, Russia and Israel. The Israeli Industries M85 DPICM is basically a U.S. M42/M77, but instead of having the M123 fuse, it is equipped with a self-destruct fuse, which is a pyrotechnic delay mechanism. The NATO (i.e., German) version of this bomblet is the DM1383.”

Other experts described the detailed dimensions and offered the following delivery and detonation commentary: “These scatterable sub-munitions could be delivered in conjunction with anti-tank sub-munitions. Most likely they were delivered by an aircraft but they have been known to be delivered by artillery rounds, i.e. 105mm and above. The altitude of delivery is not a huge factor due to the arming ribbon (the white or red strap on top of the ordnance). The arming ribbon stabilizes the ordnance, orienting it down all the way on its descent. It also pulls up the firing pin, releasing the safety clip, resulting in what is called a ‘direct arming’.”

See photo of cluster bomb with red ribbon: “The killing mechanism is produced by the Monroe Effect (Shape Charge), [named after Charles Monroe, the inventor of such shaped explosives back in 1885], as well as the fragmentation produced by the device’s casing. It is important to know that 95% of all sub-munitions contain a pyroforic liner (a chemical that produces fire). Thus, upon impact, inertia will drive the firing pin forward towards the detonator, initiating the shape charge, producing fragmentation and setting fire to any material in its immediate surroundings. The destructive yield for one is not that great, approximately 5 metres in radius.”

See photo of hole in roof and fire damage: aq jefri 2 the fire is in association with the explosion, as is clearly demonstrated. One M85 came through this roof and left a clear blast pattern. It is clear that if the explosion does not kill you the resulting fire will finish you off.

Another expert wrote that the delivery tube in the same picture is more likely from a DM 1385 grenade, a HEAT/FRAG dual purpose weapon, the tube being the individual housing for the DM 1385, which would have been placed inside an artillery launched DM662 projectile. Regardless of this difference of expert opinion, as another of the analysts commented, “This appears to be a dispensed grenade similar to the U.S. Military’s M42 multi-purpose grenade. These are definitely of military manufacture; however, they can also be used to produce an IED (improvised explosive device). The US model contains a small copper shaper charge capable of defeating light armour, as well as a small internal fragmentation sleeve, which can cause severe casualties to troops. These are generally used against light armour and dismounted troops and are effective against several types of vehicles, and in large quantities could produce significant damage to older type tanks.

“Most of these type rockets are ground launched and are used as a replacement for conventional artillery. These do have several characteristics of Russian munitions but could be U.S. manufactured, as NATO and the U.S. has provided the Georgians in the past with some technical support and munitions under various cooperation programs. Under these auspices they may have been able to procure the items.”
Georgia’s response to our findings

1) Press release

On September 1, 2008 the Georgian Ministry of Defence issued a press release in response to various concerns voiced by Human Rights Watch and other organizations about the alleged use of M85 cluster bombs, which confirms some of the suggestions made by the experts.

In response to the “concerns” about the discovery of M85 bomblets in Shindisi, [and perhaps other locations] the Ministry claimed that No GRADLAR launchers were destroyed during the war by enemy forces. It admitted that much suspicion has been raised, especially when there is no sign of any damage caused by these bomblets, but says the Ministry is willing to participate in an investigation and provide all necessary assistance. “If needed, for investigation purposes, we can provide the name of the supplier company,” reads the release.

The release confirms that the M85 dual-purpose bomblet has a unique self-destruction mechanism. It says that this important safety feature is designed to ensure that no armed duds will be left on the battlefield to endanger advancing friendly troops or the civilian population. The safety mechanism makes it impossible to manually arm duds inadvertently, and a highly sensitive impact fuse functions at steep angles of impact and lower impact velocities. The bombs therefore and do not pose a serious threat to civilians.
In 2003 M-85 bomblets were used by the UK during the war in Iraq.

2) Official letter

Maia Panjikidze, the Georgian Ambassador to The Netherlands, also provided in a “draft letter” to a European NGO, written by a PR firm retained by the Georgian Government, a response to grave concerns expressed over the use of such cluster bombs. The justification, albeit lame, behind the Government’s decision to use a weapon that is banned in most civilized countries, despite it being the Government of an aspiring NATO member country with European values, runs as follows:

“…noting your letter of September 5thabout the use by the Georgian army of M85 type cluster munitions during the recent Russian invasion. Over the past millennium, Georgia has been repeatedly invaded; in the last century alone Russia invaded us twice. Slowing down and ideally stopping invasions has therefore been a key objective of the Georgian armed forces for many centuries.

Today, the army procures cluster munitions and multiple rocket systems because they are ideally suited to the military task of stopping or at least slowing an infantry advance over open ground. One weapon the Georgian army selected for this task is the M85 bomblet, which in the Georgian Armed Forces is delivered exclusively as a rocket payload mounted on MK4 LAR160 rockets launched from a GRADLAR160 multiple launch system. The Georgian army chose the M85 munition in part because it offers the best self-destruct technology (a fact highlighted by Norwegian People's Aid, who says the M85 is "widely acknowledged as the best available self-destruct technology for cluster munitions").

However, a failure rate of even a few percent puts civilians at risk. Partly for this reason, in this war the Georgian armed forces only used the M85 against a single target far from any civilian settlement: the invading Russian armoured column entering Georgia from the Roki tunnel. The road descends from Roki to Djava through a narrow, high alpine valley devoid of villages. The Georgian Army targeted the advancing Russian column in that valley. The M85 is an anti-infantry weapon designed for use in open areas, and that is how we used them. At no time did the Army use the M85 against any other target.

According to Russian sources, M85 bomblets have been found in the village of Shindisi, between Tskhinvali and Gori.  This is a surprising claim, to say the least: Shindisi is an ethnically Georgian village in core Georgian territory, currently under the control of Russian forces, and was one of the last positions held by the Georgian Army before its withdrawal. Georgian forces did not attack their own army or civilians with cluster bombs or any other weapons.

It would appear that the M85s the Russian claim to have found in Shindisi are all intact. A failure rate of 100% for a weapon widely considered best in class is suspect. Since there is no sign of M85s actually having exploded in Shindisi, since Russian forces do not use M85 munitions (expect those they may capture in combat), and since Georgian forces did not fire on themselves, the bomblets must have found their way to Shindisi in some other manner.

Because the bomblets are delivered to the battlefield as a payload mounted on a rocket, they cannot have been left in Shindisi by a fleeing Georgian army (unless someone took the trouble of dismantling the rocket's payloads first). The most likely scenario is therefore that the Russian army collected some unexploded M85s from an area just south of the Roki tunnel and brought them to Shindisi in an attempt to discredit the Georgian army.

We would therefore welcome an international investigation to establish the facts of the matter, compare the use by Russian and Georgian forces of weapons such as cluster bombs and strategic missiles, and look more widely at the behavior of all forces involved in this conflict. We agree that "risk education among the local populations and aiding with clearance work," as you put it, is important. We would gladly carry it out in any affected area under our control. However, the area under discussion is in the so-called "buffer zone," to which the Government currently has no access. We would therefore suggest directing this request to the Russian occupation forces.

I can assure you that my Government is ready to take on this responsibility across its entire territory as soon as the Russian occupation ends. We agree that cluster munitions pose a high risk for civilians and for that very reason have been careful with their use in this war. We would be delighted to be able to dispense with these, and indeed with all, weapons. But as the events of the past month have shown, we will not have that luxury until our giant northern neighbour chooses to play by peaceful European rules. Until then, we must protect our territory and our population, and must equip our army to do this job well, against overwhelming odds. For that reason, we are sadly not in a position to be able to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Again, Georgia would welcome any international investigation convened to ascertain how both sides used cluster munitions and other weapons systems in this war, and in particular the steps the forces took to minimize the risk of civilian casualties during and after the fighting.

Yours sincerely,  Maia Panjikidze

3) The PR consultant’s version

Patrick Worms, a PR contractor working for the Georgian Government responsible for the STOP RUSSIA campaign, responded to an e-mail of ours by asking: “Since you were there, do you have more details, maybe photos, about the cluster bomblets found in that village? He claimed that the Government “had intelligence that in at least one village, Georgian bomblets were found which were probably planted, rather than fired (the reason the investigators think so is that all of the bomblets that were found were unexploded, [in one location] which is suspicious in a munition with a maximum reported failure rate of 10%). So, while I of course do not know who fired what, when, and at whom, during the war (that evidence is being collected by reporters, observers and human rights activists like you), I do know - or at least strongly suspect - that Russian forces, following their documented use of cluster munitions, are trying to "share the blame" by scattering unexploded ordnance picked up at the Roki tunnel entrance (where the Georgian Army disclosed it used cluster munitions) and [we] don't want to jump to conclusions.”

4) The letter of the Human Rights Centre to KADDB

,,...The Human Rights Center journalists embraced a certificate issued by a Permanent Committee on Military- technical Issues of the Ministry of Defense of Georgia. The certificate gives a list of artillery shells and artillery cartridges the Georgian Government bought from via Melvale Corporation, a go-between firm. The above-mentioned artillery is of Russian make. However, it is indicated on your website that your armament complies with NATO standards. It is noteworthy that the certificate is written in the Russian language. This is interesting since neither of the sides uses the Russian language. This fact raised some suspicions and begs the question: is your organization the actual weapon exporting company?...“

Further evidence

Human Rights Watch researchers contributed information to a November 4, 2008 Wall Street Journal article entitled “Georgia Used Cluster Bombs That Hit Civilians: Group Says.”

This describes how Georgian cluster bombs “landed in at least nine Georgian towns, [not including the village discovered by a local human rights organization] including several located far from the area where Georgia acknowledges using them against Russian soldiers ….” The cluster bombs, which Georgia says it bought from Israel, appeared to have malfunctioned on an "absolutely massive scale," said Marc Garlasco, a former Pentagon intelligence official, as quoted in the WSJ article, and who now serves as Human Rights Watch's senior military analyst. He said rockets failed to disperse the cluster bombs over the intended targets, and many of the small bombs failed to explode on impact.

HRW’s findings support the evidence discovered by Jeffrey K. Silverman and Ian Carver in the Georgian village of Brosleti, located in what was then the Russian-controlled buffer zone, as published in the Georgian Times and the Human Rights Center. http://www.geotimes.ge/index.php?m=home&newsid=13016
http://www.humanrights.ge/index.php?a=article&id=3186&lang=en. This evidence strongly suggests that three Georgian soldiers were killed in the village of Brostleti by Georgian cluster bombs. If this can be proven, it will be the first documented instance of “friendly fire” death in the August war. These deaths were in addition to the accidental killing of at least one civilian by an unexploded “dud” in the same village following the August Russian-Georgian war.

Conclusion

Cluster bombs are really nasty. That is why most countries have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, although any of them could legitimately claim the same reason Georgia does for not doing so, given the conflicts they themselves are involved in or threatened with. Self-justification, pointing-the-finger and asking who used what, how many and exactly where during the short war will not make the death and destruction that resulted from the barbaric use of cluster bombs go away, or bring back those who were killed.

It is impossible to know what a cluster bomb will hit, which is why they are banned. It is the old grapeshot argument of course, the idea is hardly new. But if they are banned they are banned, and should not be used or manufactured in countries that signed the ban or any others which aspire to share their values.

It is true that finding so many unexploded bomblets in one place is suspicious. It is equally suspicious, however, that Russia has not accused Georgia of using cluster bombs on its own people, if Russia collected up these bomblets and planted them on Georgian territory to create this impression, as Georgia claims.  Expert analysis suggests that the devices found were the type Georgia uses, supplied by the sources Georgia uses. Georgia has admitted using this same type of cluster bomb during the war, and does not accuse Russia of using the same cluster bombs in its responses to us.

…this issue isn't about being for or against the Georgian Government or attacking one side or the other, it is about the use of cluster bombs on both sides. However, if cluster bombs are used anywhere, someone has to order them and authorize their use. If Georgia has used cluster bombs on its own citizens, in its own territory, it has committed a war crime.

Much can be done to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. However, if any one of the sides involved refuses to accept responsibility for its own actions, little will be achieved. Cluster bombs kill indiscriminately, no matter who fires them and for what purpose. The only way to prevent this happening is to stop using them.

Any side which uses cluster bombs is perfectly happy to risk killing some of its own citizens to achieve its ends. That is a human rights violation, those who commit it should be brought to justice, and no one has the right to commit such offences against their own people in the name of that same people.

By Human Rights  Center, HRIDC, Tbilisi. Reporting, Jeffrey K. Silverman, Antony Butts supporting research, photos Ian Carver and US and international independent military and intelligence professionals – supporting materials and commentary provided by GoG, MoD press releases, and correspondence with Parliamentary Defence Committee Chairman.

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