ICC Investigation of 2008 War a Matter of Speculation?

The Washington Post last week published an article analyzing the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) approval of the opening of an official investigation into the 2008 war in Georgia.

The publication states that Prosecutors will focus on the ethnic cleansing of Georgians from the breakaway region of South Ossetia, as well as an attack by Georgian forces on a Russian peacekeeping base. The ICC’s intervention into the conflict between Georgia, Russia and Moscow-backed belligerents in South Ossetia represents the court’s first investigation into a situation outside the African continent.

The article raises a number of questions: Why did the court decide to open an investigation outside Africa? Who will be targeted for prosecution? And what could be the fallout for all the states involved in the 2008 war?

According to Mark Kersten, the writer of the article, the decision to intervene in Georgia is likely due to a confluence of factors. “First, the court had the 2008 war under preliminary examination for nearly half a decade. Had Georgia demonstrated that it was willing to investigate, and potentially prosecute over, the crimes themselves, it could have foreclosed any ICC intervention. However, when Tbilisi ended its investigations into the alleged crimes perpetrated in 2008, it became untenable for the ICC to simply keep those crimes under examination indefinitely. Second, for an institution that seeks to command relevancy in international politics, it certainly does not hurt that there is a broader narrative vilifying Moscow and its role in the region. Whether or not the court targets Russian officials, investigating Russian conduct captures that broader, if not always helpful, international narrative condemning Russian aggression.”

The publication emphasizes that the ICC’s investigation in Georgia will also be telling for a host of other reasons, in particular, how will the institution treat the territory of South Ossetia: as a self-professed independent republic or as part of Georgia? “How will Tbilisi’s Western allies, especially the United States, react to the court’s investigation? Will Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president and staunch ally of the United States, be implicated?

War crimes such as attacks against the civilian population, willful killing, intentionally directing attacks against peacekeepers, destruction of property and pillaging are the key points for the investigation.

Early October 2015, when the ICC first announced the investigation, Russia Today, a Russian government-controlled media source, published an article on the issue.

The publication read, “Putin calls the West’s bluff on fighting ISIS in Syria. Western elite figures are most unhappy. The Empire badly needs to strike a blow at Russia – and right on cue, the issue of ‘war crimes’ in Georgia miraculously comes to the fore.”

The author believed that it is quite ‘interesting’ the ICC decided to investigate possible Russian war crimes during the war with Georgia seven years after the fact. “the only result will be to discredit the ‘Imperialist Crimes Cover-up’ still further.”

The Russian side in addition announced recently that it will provide all the necessary documents and other supplementary materials to prove Russia’s ‘innocence’ in the war.

Georgian Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani said, “The Chief Prosecutor’s Office actively cooperated with The Hague Prosecutor’s Office on the issue of ethnic cleansing committed during the war of August 2008.

Mikheil Saakashvili, the ex-president of Georgia, said, “It is important for the Georgian side to provide full information about the ethnic cleansing to the Prosecutor’s Office.”

Seven years have passed since Russia launched a full-scale military attack against Georgia, hoping to distance the country from the Euro-Atlantic path it had chosen. There were many casualties. The International community said the intervention by Russia breached international law and threatened Georgia’s sovereignty. Georgia has regarded Russia as an occupant country ever since.

Zviad Adzinbaia

11 February 2016 19:27