The war between Russia and Georgia in South Ossetia sparked rampant looting in villages in the conflict zone, a European human rights envoy says, while urging both sides to pay attention to humanitarian needs.
Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, said after a visit to South Ossetia and Georgia proper that the recognition of South Ossetia was "complicating humanitarian efforts and the [refugees'] right to return."
"Have political moves disturbed human rights efforts? The answer is 'yes.' I felt throughout the mission that human rights issues have been secondary to other considerations," he told a news conference in Moscow today.
He said that authorities must calm conditions on the ground so people in hiding and those who fled their homes would feel safe returning.
Hammarberg, who will report on his findings and make recommendations to the governments of Russia and Georgia, said widespread looting remains a significant problem.
"There is what I call a policing vacuum, not least around Tskhinvali and Gori, which makes it possible for thugs to roam the streets and use this disruption for bad purposes," he says.