Georgia fails to properly investigate war crimes

On May 23, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) publishes a new report on Georgia with the title, Unable or Unwilling? Georgia’s faulty investigation of crimes committed during the Russo-Georgian war of August 2008. Based on interviews with a large sample of witnesses to and victims of alleged crimes, the NHC concludes that Georgian authorities are at least both partly unable and partly unwilling to conduct an effective investigation into crimes falling within the jurisdiction of International Criminal Court (ICC) allegedly committed during and after the August 2008 war.

In a meeting today in The Hague, the report will be presented to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (OTP), as the OTP currently is monitoring domestic investigations of crimes in Georgia (a State Party to the Court) and Russia. The OTP has already decided that crimes allegedly committed during the war fall under its mandate, and the Court can therefore assume jurisdiction and open an investigation if it finds that the parties concerned are “unable or unwilling to carry out the investigation”.

The report is researched together with three prominent Georgian human rights groups (Article 42, Georgian Young Lawyers’ association, and the Human Rights Center – HRC) in the period from October to December 2010. 244 individual applicants to the European Court of Human Rights in cases related to alleged crimes committed during and after the 2008 war were interviewed about what they knew about the investigation. All of the interviewees had lodged applications against Russia with the European Court, and would appear to be key witnesses. Only 26 % of them had been questioned by the police, and 3 % were aware of other investigative steps (such as crime scene and forensic investigation) in their respective cases.

More than two thirds of the investigation interviews reported in the survey were conducted in August/September 2008, and most of these dealt with the hostages from Tskhinvali, a high profile media situation in Georgia at the time of the war. After the initial burst of investigative activity, the investigation seems to have proceeded at snail pace, posing the question of whether adequate resources have been allocated to this demanding and extraordinary task. There are also issues with the transparency of the investigation. Georgian authorities did not answer our requests for information about the status of the general investigation.

Overall, the survey of the ECHR applicants indicates that the Georgian authorities are at least partly unable and partly unwilling to conduct an effective investigation into international crimes allegedly committed during and after the August 2008 war. The Caucasus region has seen a number of armed conflicts over the last 20 years, but little justice.  Almost three years have passed since the war, and the question of whether the Court should step up its engagement regarding the Georgia war is becoming pressing.

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