PM Bidzina Ivanishvili said that circumstances of the August, 2008 war still remained “obscured by fog” and should be investigated, which, he said, was also Georgia’s "obligation" before the International Criminal Court.
“I personally have many questions and I also think that our authorities, including the President, acted inadequately in that situation,” he said at a news conference on April 10.
He said that President Saakashvili should also be questioned in the process “if needed.”
“Asking question to the President in court is cultured form… If it [questioning] is needed, the President himself should accepted it with understanding,” Ivanishvili said.
“I think it was unjustifiable to start military actions before Russian [troops] crossed into Georgian borders,” he said.
Ivanishvili said that tensions and shootings in the South Ossetian conflict zone in the lead up to the 2008 war were not serious enough to require large-scale involvement of the Georgian troops.
“I do not think it [the probe] will harm Georgia’s image or the image of the previous government and the President – we should live with truth and we should not be afraid if the society knows the truth… We should clarify what happened,” he added.
Later during the same press conference, he said that probe into the war was also the obligation of Georgia as it’s a state party to the Rome Statute under which the International Criminal Court was established.
“It’s not a whim of our government… It’s our international obligation,” he said.
Ivanishvili spoke on the issue after he was asked to comment on remarks by Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, who said on April 8 that the prosecutor’s office would investigate August war-related allegations, referred to the International Criminal Court.
“We should not make this case subject of hearing at international tribunal. We should tackle our problems and investigate it by ourselves in frames of those international commitments that we have undertaken,” Tsulukiani said.
She also said that the process of the probe “may perhaps also involve interrogation of not only the President, who at the time of questioning may no longer be the President, but also many other high ranking officials.”
The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) was established by the Rome Statute to prosecute people for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. ICC, however, will not act if a case is investigated or prosecuted by respective national authorities, unless the proceedings are mere formality aimed at shielding a person from criminal responsibility.
Unlike Russia, Georgia is a state party to the Rome Statute.
Just few days after August, 2008 war, the Prosecutor’s Office of ICC announced about “preliminary examination” of the situation.
“Preliminary examination” is the phase during which ICC’s Prosecutor’s Office assesses if its own investigation should be opened; at this phase it also assesses whether crimes falling under the ICC jurisdiction may have been committed in a given situation and whether genuine investigations and prosecutions are being carried out by the authorities of respective states.
In respect of the August war, ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor still remains on this stage of preliminary examination, keeping communication with the Georgian and Russian authorities to follow their respective investigations into alleged crimes committed during the war; Office of the Prosecutor also maintains contacts with non-governmental organizations present in the region, some of which are also assessing relevant national proceedings.
Representatives from the Office of the Prosecutor visited for several times Georgia and Russia in 2008, 2010 and 2011 and then Georgian justice minister Zurab Adeishvili met ICC’s prosecutor in The Hague in 2010.
Allegations in connection to the August war involve forcible displacement of Georgian population; attack against Russian peacekeepers by the Georgian troops; attacks directed against the civilian population and civilian objects by both Georgian and Russian armed forces; destruction of property; pillage in ethnic Georgian villages in the aftermath of the active hostilities; torture and other forms of ill-treatment.
In its November, 2012 report ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor said “there is a reasonable basis to believe” that torture; destruction of property; pillaging; deportation or forcible transfer of population had been committed. It, however, also said: “Further evaluation of other alleged conduct by parties to the conflict, including the alleged intentional directing of attacks against Russian peacekeepers, has to date proved inconclusive”; it also noted that this initial assessment may be revisited if new facts or evidence emerge.
“At this stage, both Georgia and Russia appear to be conducting relevant national investigations into the crimes allegedly committed during the armed conflict. Four years after the events, however, neither investigation has yielded any results,” reads the November, 2012 report by ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor.
In December, 2011 the Georgian government reiterated to ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor that it was “mindful of its international obligation to investigate and prosecute grave crimes that concern the international community as a whole and resorts to its best efforts to comply with those commitments.”
In its November, 2012 report Office of the Prosecutor said that the failure by both Georgia and Russia to yield result in their respective probes was raising questions that no genuine investigations were ongoing.
Georgia was citing two main obstacles to the investigation of the acts allegedly committed by the Georgian military: the lack of access to the alleged crime scene and the lack of cooperation from Russia and de factor authorities in Tskhinvali. Russia was also citing lack of cooperation from Georgia as one of the reasons behind its failure to investigate alleged crimes.