UN Court Orders Russia, Georgia to Protect Ethnic Groups
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 15 Oct.'08 / 21:04

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ordered both Russia and Georgia to protect civilians in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as in adjacent areas.

In its application filed on August 12, Georgia claims Russia violated its obligations under the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) “during three distinct phases of its interventions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia” in the period from 1990 to August 2008.

As such an application can take considerable time, Georgia in a separate request also asked the court to impose provisional measures on Russia “as a matter of urgency” to stop, what it called, ethnic cleansing of the Georgian population in areas occupied by Russian forces in August. The October 15 ruling by the ICJ was made in response to this.

According to the ruling, the court decided by eight votes to seven that both Russia and Georgia should refrain from any act of racial discrimination against persons, groups of persons or institutions” and from “sponsoring, defending or supporting” such acts.

In its provisional measures the court also indicated that both sides should “do all in their power, whenever and wherever possible” to ensure security of persons; the right of persons to freedom of movement and residence; the protection of the property of displaced persons and of refugees.

It also said that both Russia and Georgia should facilitate and refrain from “placing any impediment to humanitarian assistance in support of the rights” of the local population.

The ICJ ruling has also ordered both Russia and Georgia to inform the court about “compliance with the above provisional measures.”

It also pointed out that the provisional measures which the court ordered “have binding effect” and “thus create international legal obligations which both Parties are required to comply with”.

The court has yet to decide whether it has jurisdiction to hear the original request by Georgia involving claims of a Russian violation of the 1965 convention on racial discrimination.

The court said that its decision on provisional measures in no way prejudges the question of the jurisdiction of the court to deal with the merits of the case or any questions relating to the admissibility of Georgia’s application against Russia.

Nika Gvaramia, the Georgian justice minister, convened a press conference a few hours after the UN court ruling and described it as a “huge victory” for Georgia in its legal battle with Russia.

“With today’s ruling the court has fully satisfied Georgia’s request,” Gvaramia said at the news conference. “In particular, provisional measures were imposed on Russia, instructing it to refrain from any ethnic discrimination against Georgians, to refrain from sponsoring, protecting and supporting those separatist regimes, which are involved in ethnic discrimination.”

“I want to congratulate you on this great victory,” Gvaramia continued. “It was one of the most important battles in a legal war and it ended in favor of Georgia. This is not only a legal victory; this is an important political victory as well.”

The government said in a statement released late on October 15: “The Government of Georgia warmly welcomes the Court’s judgment, and will do everything in its power to ensure the measures enjoined by the Court are enforced throughout its territory.”

Kirill Gevorgian, Russia’s ambassador to The Netherlands, however, downplayed the ruling and said the provisional measures affected both sides and simply restated the commitments both Russia and Georgia have under the convention.

“It’s self-evident that we have and will fulfill our obligations,” FT.com reported, quoting Gevorgian as saying.

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