(The Hague) – The International Criminal Court (ICC) has authorized an investigation into crimes committed during the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia, Human Rights Watch said today. ICC judges on January 27, 2016, approved the prosecutor’s request to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed between July and October 2008, in and around South Ossetia, a breakaway region of Georgia.
“An ICC investigation will restart justice efforts for victims,” said Elizabeth Evenson, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch. “It’s been more than seven years since the war ended, but neither Georgia nor Russia has held to account those responsible for unlawful civilian killings, looting, and torching of homes.”
Georgia joined the ICC in 2003. As an ICC member country, Georgia will be obligated to cooperate fully with the court. Because Russia has not joined the ICC, its authorities are not bound by this same obligation. However, given the court’s rules governing its jurisdiction, the ICC prosecutor now has a mandate to impartially investigate allegations of crimes committed in Georgia by all parties to the conflict, regardless of the nationality of the person allegedly responsible.
The Georgia case is the court’s tenth situation under investigation. The prosecutor is also considering whether investigations are merited in several other countries, including Afghanistan, Nigeria, Palestine, and Ukraine. Unfortunately, ICC financing is under pressure due to the austerity budgets of many governments, and the prosecution is struggling to carry out the much-needed investigations on its docket, including in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya.
Alleged human rights violations committed during the conflict over South Ossetia are the subject of proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights. There is comparatively less knowledge in the region about the ICC than about the European Court of Human Rights and about the ICC’s mandate to establish individual criminal responsibility rather than state liability. The ICC should start broad public information campaigns, including activities carried out by staff based in Georgia. This may be a challenge given the ICC’s limited resources, but clear communication, particularly with victims, is not optional, Human Rights Watch said.
“The Georgia investigation is a reminder that the ICC is dealing with more and different kinds of cases than envisioned at its creation in 1998,” Evenson said. “The court and its member countries should face reality about what the ICC will need in resources, in cooperation, and in political support to deliver on its mandate in this changed landscape.”