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Georgia: the International Criminal Court has the potential to be a game changer in the region

20.04.2018

Joint Press Release of International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and Human Rights Center (HRC)

(The Hague, Paris, Tbilisi. April 20, 2018).

From 10 to 13 April 2018, FIDH and HRIDC representatives, together with human rights defenders from Russia, gathered in The Hague. They called upon the International Criminal Court (ICC) to dedicate the necessary resources and adopt prosecutorial and outreach strategies for the Georgia investigation that would bring the ICC to take concrete steps towards the issuance of arrest warrants and to effectively reach out to victims and affected communities. Almost ten years after the 2008 Georgia-Russia conflict, victims are still impacted by the international crimes committed by all parties involved and are calling for perpetrators to be held to account as well as for adequate assistance and redress.

In January 2016, the ICC opened a full-fetched investigation into the Georgia situation after a preliminary examination that lasted over seven years and highlighted that no genuine national investigations and prosecutions into the crimes of the 2008 conflict were undertaken. For the last two years, the ICC has been investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by the three main parties to the conflict - the Georgian armed forces, the South Ossetian de facto forces and the Russian armed forces - in and around South Ossetia from 1 July 2008 to 10 October 2008. Since January 2018, the ICC has a field presence in Tbilisi, which mandate mainly entails the implementation of communication and outreach activities for victims and affected communities.

"In addition to responding to victims’ request for accountability, ICC prosecutions in the near future would not only have an impact on ongoing criminality in Georgia, but could also have a preventive effect in the region. We have witnessed similar patterns of crimes in the Caucasus region - and beyond – committed by the same perpetrators, who continue their criminal acts with full impunity” - Dimitris Chistopoulos, FIDH President.

Yet, the ICC needs the full cooperation of States to effectively implement its activities and the lack of cooperation by Russian authorities, as well as by South Ossetian de facto authorities, raises challenges for the implementation of its investigative and prosecutorial activities. The ICC should develop a strategy how to overcome the non-cooperation of a State which is not a Party to the Rome Statute, but a Permanent Member to the UN Security Council. Moreover, States Parties to the ICC Statute must fully cooperate with the Court, in compliance with their obligations under the Rome Statute. Our organisations also remind that, in applying the principle of complementarity, national authorities have the primary obligation to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of international crimes committed during the 2008 conflict. While the ICC may prosecute those most responsible, national judicial authorities still have to undertake genuine investigations and prosecutions, in particular of middle and lower ranking perpetrators.

Furthermore, and despite the ICC interest in Georgia for several years now, victims and affected communities as well as the general public in Georgia, including South Ossetia, still lack knowledge and understanding of the ICC, the scope of its investigation and the ways for victims to genuinely and safely engage with the Court and participate in ICC proceedings.

"Victims need to see justice done. It is time for the ICC to effectively implement outreach activities that are victims-centered, in order to enable general understanding about the ICC but also about victims’ rights at all stages of ICC proceedings, thereby contributing to a strong sense of ownership within affected communities. The ICC field presence in Tbilisi should be strengthened in this regard" - Ucha Nanuashvili, HRIDC Project Director and former Georgia ombudsperson.

Finally, the reparation and assistance mandates of the ICC Trust Fund for Victims should be clearly explained to affected communities, who are often living in indecent conditions and a volatile situation near the Administrative Boundary Line (ABL) and in IDP settlements. Our organisations call upon the ICC Trust Fund for Victims to assess approving assistance projects in Georgia, as soon as during its annual Board Meeting taking place in May 2018 in The Hague. Victims of the 2008 conflict are indeed living in increasingly vulnerable heath, economic, and security conditions, in addition to suffering from the broken community ties since the war.

Background

The Georgia-Russia 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, the destruction of property, and pillaging. The conflict resulted in more than 800 deaths and tens of thousands of displaced persons.

FIDH undertook several missions to Georgia in 2016 and 2017, in close collaboration with its member organisation, the Human Rights Center (HRIDC), and published a report "Living on the edge: victims’ quest for accountability – The ongoing impact of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war" which was presented in Tbilisi and Gori in February 2018, and in The Hague in April 2018.

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