Georgia: Another one-sided ICC investigation in the making?

17 February 2016 by Sofio Natsvlishvili, Tbilisi (Georgia), and Janet H. Anderson, The Hague (The Netherlands)

While Russia and Western states square off over Syria, Ukraine and Crimea, the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into alleged war crimes in Georgia in 2008 also risks being caught up in a new Cold War. And even though ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda was praised for finally removing what appeared to be her office’s Africa-only blinders, those who know the strategy discussions as they run deep in The Hague’s dunes, believe she has ventured into the Caucasus with extreme reluctance.

Post-conflict rubble in Gori, Georgia, on 25 August 2008 (Photo: Flickr/Chuck Simmins)
Image caption: 
Post-conflict rubble in Gori, Georgia, on 25 August 2008 (Photo: Flickr/Chuck Simmins)

“After seven years [Bensouda] had to make a decision about moving forward,” Alex Whiting, a former member of her inner circle and now professor at Harvard Law School, told IJT. She had “given both sides many opportunities to pursue investigations and prosecutions themselves. Finally, however, it became clear that this was not going to happen, compelling the prosecutor to make a decision,” he said. 

ICC judges have found a reasonable basis to conclude that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed during the five-day August 2008 Russo-Georgian War in South Ossetia, which killed hundreds and displaced thousands [IJT-187]. But the investigation will also need to establish any criminal intent further up the chains of command on all sides.

Georgian validation

In the meantime, Georgian government officials are hoping for exoneration and validation of their long-running attempts to resist Russian domination.

“This is the opportunity... to use all chances and defend our interests,” Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili told reporters in January.

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In this month's IJT we ask if the ICC's probe into alleged war crimes in Georgia in 2008 risks being one-sided as the court could be dragged in to a new Cold War. Will prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's move out of Africa be able to escape accusations of bias after Russia has already announced it will not cooperate?