ICC opens long-expected investigation into crimes of the 2008 Georgia-Russia war

Press release
en es

(Paris, Tbilissi, The Hague) Our organisations welcome the decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 27 January 2016 to authorize the Prosecutor’s Office to open an investigation into the 2008 Georgia – Russia war, whose victims deserve long-awaited justice. Perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity should not remain unpunished.

"Seven years after the war, none of the perpetrators have been prosecuted and victims are still awaiting redress. We hope that the ICC will bring justice and hold those most responsible of international crimes committed during the Georgia-Russia war accountable."

said Aleksandre Tskitishvili, Executive Director of Human Rights Center (HRIDC)

After examining the ICC Prosecutor’s request, supported by submissions made on behalf of 6,335 victims, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber concluded that "there is a reasonable basis to believe that crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction have been committed" in and around South Ossetia. Such crimes include crimes against humanity, such as murder, forcible transfer of population and persecution, and war crimes, such as attacks against the civilian population, wilful killing, intentionally directing attacks against peacekeepers, destruction of property and pillaging allegedly committed in the context of an international armed conflict between 1 July and 10 October 2008.

“We strongly urge the Office of the Prosecutor to also investigate the eviction of Georgians from the Kodori Gorge and destruction of their property as well as acts of torture, inhuman treatment and crimes of sexual violence committed against Georgian prisoners and civilians."

said Nino Tlashadze, Deputy Executive Director of Human Rights Center (HRIDC)

Our organisations call upon the ICC Prosecutor to conduct an impartial investigation to ensure restoration of the rights of the victims breached during the August 2008 war as well as to provide victims with the information about ongoing investigations. We call upon the ICC to reach out to victims, affected communities, and civil society as soon as possible. The ICC should consider informing and cooperating with civil society organisations working on documenting crimes and supporting victims.

We urge the Ministry of Justice and the Chief Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia to actively cooperate with the ICC, in particular to provide the ICC Office of the Prosecutor with the investigation material and ensure the work of the ICC prosecutors and investigators on the territory of Georgia is not delayed. Together with the ICC, Georgian authorities should take relevant measures to ensure the safety of the victims and witnesses. National authorities and regional organisations should also cooperate with the ICC to ensure the arrest of suspects.

“We are witnessing a new chapter in ICC’s history. With the investigation into the situation in Georgia and preliminary examinations of the situations in Ukraine, Palestine, Afghanistan and Irak, the ICC is poised to make global impact. States Parties should strengthen their political and financial support to the Court to enable it to effectively fight impunity for the most serious crimes worldwide.”

stated Karim Lahidji, FIDH President

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 ICC Office of the Prosecutor 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. 

On 13 October 2015, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda requested authorization from Pre-Trial Chamber to open an investigation into the alleged grave crime committed during the Georgia-Russia war in 2008.

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 attempt 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.
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