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2008 Georgia-Russia War: ICC Files Arrest Warrants for De-facto Tskhinvali Officials

By Natalia Kochiashvili
Tuesday, March 15, 2022
The International Criminal Court in Hague has issued arrest warrants against three de facto officials of Georgia's Russian-occupied breakaway Tskhinvali (South Ossetia) region in a case of torture and ill-treatment of Georgian civilians during the 2008 Russia-Georgia war.

The prosecutor of ICC, Karim Khan filed an application for warrants of arrest of 3 South Ossetian officials with reasonable grounds to believe that they bear criminal responsibility for the war crimes committed in and around S. Ossetia, during August 8-27, 2008, in particular unlawful confinement, torture, inhumane treatment, violation of personal dignity, hostage-taking and unlawful transfer.

The addresses of the decision are - Lt.-Gen Mikhail Mindzaev, De-facto Minister of Internal Affairs of Tskhinvali (2005 - October 31, 2008); Gamlet Guchmazov, who held the position of the Head of the Preliminary Detention Facility of the de facto Ministry of Internal Affairs of Tskhinvali region during the war; David Sanakoev, Presidential Representative for Human Rights of Tskhinvali region, also served as Ombudsman during the 2008 war.

“My application for these warrants of arrest focuses specifically on unlawful confinement, ill-treatment, hostage taking and subsequent unlawful transfer of ethnic Georgian civilians in the context of an occupation by the Russian Federation.”

Khan announced the investigation had further established the guilt of Vyacheslav Borisov, a Major General in the Russian Armed Forces and Deputy Commander of the Airborne Forces, citing he was believed to have intentionally contributed to the execution of some of these crimes and is now deceased.

“Going forward, I count on the support by all States, especially States Parties to the Rome Statute, to ensure they are brought to trial before the International Criminal Court,” Prosecutor emphasized.

According to the ICC, almost immediately after Georgian forces were driven out of S. Ossetia, Russian forces and – primarily – S. Ossetian forces began capturing Georgian civilians, mostly the elderly and sick who were unable or unwilling to abandon their homes and flee the fighting. They were not given a valid reason for their capture and detention, nor were they afforded any kind of procedural right. ‘The evidence shows that many of these people were unlawfully confined in unsanitary and unsafe conditions, insulted, beaten, tortured and humiliated’.

“My Office has made findings of similar patterns of conduct during its preliminary examination of the Situation in Ukraine. I remain profoundly concerned about ongoing allegations of international crimes occurring amidst active hostilities in Ukraine today,” the ICC prosecutor underlined.

The Georgian Justice Ministry reported that hey had been providing the curt with “comprehensive information and evidence necessary for proper investigation” in coordination with the country’s Government and the Prosecutor’s Office, calling the recent decision of the Tribunal a ‘logical continuation of the historic victory of a 2021 European Court of Human Rights ruling in Strasbourg’.

Ministry said that this decision once again confirms that the serious violations committed against the population of Georgia during the August war will be attributed to specific representatives of the Russian Federation and the separatist regimes and pledged to continue working with the court in order to enforce international justice for other crimes committed against the Georgian people during the conflict and to “fully cooperate” with the court to bring the offenders to justice.

In 2021 the ECHR released its ruling on a separate case, pursued by Georgia against Russia in the case of the 2008 war, stating Russia had violated 6 articles of the European Convention on Human Rights during the conflict and carried out ethnic cleansing of Georgians, obliging the country to pay Georgia Euro10,000,000 for non-pecuniary damage suffered by a group of at least 1,500 Georgian nationals.

For background information, ICC authorized its prosecutor to open investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the lead up to, during, and after the August, 2008 war. Decision was welcomed by Georgia and criticized by Russia.

In October 2015 ICC Prosecutor requested opening of the investigation and identified the crimes, which they “reasonably believe” fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC: “Killings, forcible displacements and persecution of ethnic Georgian civilians, and destruction and pillaging of their property, by South Ossetian forces (with possible participation by Russian forces); Intentionally directing attacks against Georgian peacekeepers by South Ossetian forces; and against Russian peacekeepers by Georgian forces.”