After a long wait by victims, International Criminal Court may investigate crimes in Georgia

(Paris, Tbilissi, The Hague) FIDH and HRIDC welcome the move by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to request authorisation to open an investigation into the 2008 Georgia – Russia War. The Prosecutor has determined that there is a reasonable basis to believe that both war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed as part of a campaign to expel ethnic Georgians from South Ossetia, as well as attacks on peacekeepers by both Georgian and South Ossetian forces. Seven years after the hostilities, victims of crimes committed on Georgian territory still await justice for these crimes.

“The investigation in Georgia is crucial for victims of the massive forcible displacement, complete destruction of villages, and ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia. As neither the Russian Federation nor the Georgian authorities have been willing or able to take concrete measures to genuinely investigate and prosecute crimes committed on either side of the conflict, it is time for the International Criminal Court to step in and hold those responsible to justice.”

Aleksandre Tskitishvili, executive director of HRIDC

The request to open an investigation in Georgia is also significant for the Court as it would be the first investigation opened outside the African continent. Although preliminary examinations have been conducted and are ongoing in regions throughout the world, the Court has been criticised by some for being overly-focused on Africa, at the expense of holding other perpetrators accountable for atrocities committed elsewhere.

“We are witnessing a new chapter in the ICC’s history. The Prosecutor has asked for an investigation in Georgia, she has opened preliminary examinations in Ukraine and Palestine, and she continues to assess crimes allegedly committed by UK forces in Iraq and US forces in Afghanistan. Many believe that the ICC’s preliminary examination in Colombia has also positively influenced justice measures in the Peace Process. We are now beginning to see a truly international Court, poised to make global impact.”

Karim Lahidhi, FIDH President

FIDH urges the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber to respond favourably to the Prosecutor’s request to open an investigation in this milestone case, thereby providing a new measure of hope for justice for victims of crimes in Georgia that have too long gone unpunished.

Background

Clashes between the Georgian army and separatist South Ossetian forces escalated in the early days of August 2008, leading to an intervention by the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the side of South Ossetia on 10 August 2008. By 12 August 2008 a ceasefire had been negotiated, though crimes continued to be committed. Russia agreed to withdraw its forces by 10 October 2008.
In 2008, The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the ICC opened a preliminary examination related to the conflict in Georgia as it was still ongoing. The conflict notably led to the forcible displacement of tens of thousands of ethnic Georgians. Investigation and prosecution of such massive displacement would be an important first for the ICC.

According to the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia (IIFFMCM), approximately 850 civilians were killed in the conflict while upwards of 100,000 people were forced to flee their homes.

The absence of any attempts towards co-operation between Russian and Georgian investigative authorities and the fact that the Georgian authorities have been unable to conduct investigative activities in South Ossetia where the most serious crimes were committed, made Georgia unable, even if it was willing, to effectively investigate some of the most serious crimes committed during the 2008 war. The inability or unwillingness of national authorities to conduct genuine investigations and prosecutions of Rome Statute crimes makes a situation admissible before the ICC, which has often been described as a court of last resort.

The decision to authorise the Prosecutor’s investigation now rests with the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber. Under the ICC’s Rome Statute Article 15, the Prosecutor must request authorisation from the Court’s judges in order to begin any investigation of her own volition. In other instances, referrals for investigation may come from States themselves or the U.N. Security Council.
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