The Russia-Georgia War: The Forgotten Victims 10 Years On

Photo: FIDH

(Paris, The Hague, Tbilisi) One month after the opening of an International Criminal Court (ICC) field office in Tbilisi, FIDH and its member organisation HRIDC today release a report about the victims of the conflict between Russia and Georgia. This report raises the alarm on the continued impact of international crimes committed in the summer of 2008. While no perpetrator of crimes against humanity committed 10 years ago has been charged, the survivors of this war continue to suffer from kidnappings, detentions, and extortion on a daily basis due to the shifting demarcation line, which is not recognised by the international community. Considering that Russian authorities refuse to effectively cooperate with the ICC today, must victims of 2008 learn to live in precarious conditions, an unsafe environment while crimes go unpunished?

From 26 June to 4 July 2017, an FIDH / HRIDC team visited a dozen Georgian villages, following previous investigations.1 34 people who survived the conflict were interviewed.2 The conclusions of this mission are presented in Tbilisi this morning before the ICC, Georgian authorities, civil society organisations, and victims’ representatives.

The armed conflict in the summer of 2008 saw attacks against the civilian population, which resulted in murders, forcible transfers of population, persecutions on ethnic grounds; as well as attacks intentionally targeting peacekeepers, the destruction of property, and pillaging. According to a mission of the European Union, the conflict resulted in 850 deaths and more than 100,000 internally displaced persons.

Ten years later, the consequences of this conflict and serious international crimes committed continue to exist.

The Administrative Boundary Line, the demarcation line between the territory under the de facto control of South Ossetian authorities and the rest of Georgian territory, continues to be a source of insecurity and permanent concern for Georgians who live near the region of South Ossetia. This demarcation line is not sufficiently marked: it shifts constantly and is progressively infringed upon by the de facto South Ossetian authorities. One person interviewed during the fact-finding mission said: “You can fall asleep in Georgia and wake up in South Ossetia”. Consequently, Georgian farmers are regularly arrested and even kidnapped by Russian and South Ossetian de facto authorities. They are only released in exchange for a ransom. In 2016, 3273 people were arrested for crossing the Ossetian and Abkhazian demarcation lines; 90% of them were linked to South Ossetia. Some of the arrested persons were given heavy sentences.

Furthermore, the victims interviewed continue to live in extremely precarious conditions. Their homes and means of income have been destroyed (fields and water sources) are seized and economic opportunities are hampered in Ossetian territories, and they have not received substantial compensation for their losses. Consequently, many victims today are impoverished and the situation is made worse by the fact that many of them are elderly.

Finally, the lack of will on the part of the Russian authorities is diminishing any hopes to see justice served for the victims of the 2008 conflict. The Russian authorities have not undertaken genuine investigations into the war crimes committed in the summer of 2008 and do not recognise the ICC. Nevertheless, since the crimes were committed on Georgian territory, the ICC has taken the case on, authorised an investigation, and opened a field office in the Georgian capital in the beginning of 2018.

While, as of today, there have not been any indictments, our organisations call upon the ICC to make the two year-old investigation in Georgia a priority; to allocate enough resources to support the investigative work; and to implement a proper communication and outreach strategy towards victims and affected communities. We also call upon the Georgian authorities to conduct effective national investigations and prosecutions, in application of the principle of complementarity with the ICC.

Finally, we ask that the victims of the 2008 conflict be properly compensated and be granted with adequate reparation measures.

Background: On 27 January 2016, the ICC opened an investigation into the international crimes committed during the war between Georgia, Russia, and Ossetian forces in the summer of 2008. This was the first ICC investigation into a non-African conflict. The serious war crimes and crimes against humanity, together with the lack of genuine national investigations and prosecutions, brought the ICC to authorise the opening of an investigation.

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