The Worst of the Worst 2009 - South Ossetia [Georgia]

Country Scores

Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 6
Status: Not Free
Population: 70,000

2008 Key Developments: After weeks of skirmishes along the de facto border between separatist South Ossetia and Georgia proper, Georgian forces on August 7, 2008, launched an assault on the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, leading Russia to invade the country. After hundreds of people died on both sides and thousands of ethnic Georgians were displaced from their homes, Moscow on August 26 recognized the independence of South Ossetia despite widespread international criticism. Russia's subsequent political and economic takeover of South Ossetia effectively squelched any chance that the region would be reintegrated into Georgia in the foreseeable future.

Political Rights: Due to an increasing lockdown by the Russian authorities, little information about South Ossetia's internal situation was available by year's end.Though South Ossetia has previously conducted elections, they were not monitored or recognized by independent observers, and the lack of legitimate alternate presidential candidates all but ensured victory for separatist leader Eduard Kokoity in 2006. Most ethnic Georgians either declined to or were unable to participate in such elections, and nearly all were displaced from the territory during the August 2008 conflict. The composition of the government changed rapidly after the war, with Kokoity dismissing his cabinet in October 2008 and replacing most ministers with officials from Russia, allegedly under pressure from Moscow. Corruption in South Ossetia is believed to be extensive.

Civil Liberties: There is currently little information about access to media in South Ossetia. It is assumed that television and radio broadcasts from Georgia have been blocked since the war. Electronic media are controlled by the state and reflect government positions. The State Committee on Information and Press maintains an English- and Russian-language website that is updated regularly. The South Ossetian Orthodox Church, which is unrecognized by both the Georgian and Russian Orthodox Churches, continues to practice freely.While there were several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in South Ossetia before the war, at least one South Ossetian NGO that claims to be independent has been linked to the government. The human rights and humanitarian situation in South Ossetia was dire in 2008, with reports of indiscriminate artillery and ground attacks by Georgian forces against South Ossetian civilians and by Russian forces against Georgian civilians. Ossetian forces razed homes and seized property in previously Georgian-controlled villages. An estimated 20,000 Georgians who fled the region during the war remain displaced. Freedom of movement has been restricted since the war, with ethnic Ossetians barred by the Russian authorities from entering Georgia, though they are able to travel freely into Russia.

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