ICC to investigate Russia-Georgia war
The prosecutor for the world’s only permanent war crimes court Tuesday formally requested to open the tribunal’s first inquiry into alleged abuses by Russia, by probing its 2008 war with Georgia.
In her request to a three-judge panel, prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said a preliminary investigation had found evidence of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Russian, Georgian and pro-Russian South Ossetian forces during the brutal, but swift, 2008 conflict.
Bensouda asked for permission to open an investigation into allegations of abuses from 1 July to 10 October 2008.
The initial inquiry had found “killings, forcible displacements and persecution of ethnic Georgian civilians, and destruction and pillaging of their property, by South Ossetian forces,” Bensouda said.
There were also “attacks against Georgian peacekeepers by South Ossetian forces; and against Russian peacekeepers by Georgian forces”.
On the night of August 7-8, 2008, Georgia’s then Western-backed president Mikheil Saakashvili launched an offensive to reclaim the breakaway region of South Ossetia only to see Russian forces sweep into Georgia instead.
After winning the brief war, Russia officially recognised South Ossetia along with another breakaway Georgian region Abkhazia as independent states. Together the two regions comprise some 20 percent of Georgian territory.
ICC prosecutors estimate some 13,400 and 18,500 ethnic Georgians were forcibly displaced and “that the ethnic Georgian population living in the conflict zone was reduced by at least 75 percent.”
Bensouda said that pro-Russian South Ossetian separatist forces had carried out alleged crimes with “particular cruelty and on discriminatory grounds.”
Some 5,000 homes were destroyed, between 51 and 113 ethnic Georgians killed and “victims were typically intimidated and humiliated, and forced to watch their homes being razed to the ground,” Bensouda wrote in her filing to the court.
More than 24 villages in the Kurta, Tighva and Eredvi municipalities in South Ossetia were reportedly entirely or partly destroyed in order to forcible expel ethnic Georgians, she said.
The preliminary investigation has also been examining the alleged killing of 10 Russian peacekeepers by Georgian forces.
Established in 2002 as the world’s only permanent independent body to try war crimes, the Hague-based ICC has opened investigations in eight countries, all in Africa.
Georgia is a state party to the founding Rome Statute of the ICC, which therefore has jurisdiction over crimes committed on its territory. Russia is not a signatory to the court.