Since the facts surrounding the outbreak of war between Georgia and Russia are disputed, there should be an independent international investigation into what happened, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) said after debating the consequences of the war.
In the run-up to the debates, an ad hoc committee paid a fact-finding visit to Georgia and Russia on September 22-25.
In a resolution, which was adopted on October 2, the Assembly declared that both Georgia and Russia had violated Council of Europe principles and values, and their commitment to settle conflicts by peaceful means. Both sides were responsible for violations of human rights and humanitarian law.
“The Assembly is conscious that, although the outbreak of the war on 7 August 2008 may have come unexpected to most of its members, it was the result of a serious escalation of tensions, with provocations and ensuing deterioration in the security situation, which had started much earlier. Steps to reduce tensions were not taken and the possibility of military intervention became the option for both sides in the conflict,” the resolution reads.
The parliamentarians pointed to “a disproportionate use of armed force by Georgia” and said the Russian counter-attack “equally failed to respect the principle of proportionality”. The use of indiscriminate force and weapons in civilian areas by troops of both sides “can be considered war crimes”, they added.
“The start of shelling of Tskhinvali without warning by the Georgian military, on 7 August 2008, initiated a new level of escalation, namely that of open and full-fledged warfare. The use of heavy weapons and cluster munitions, creating grave risks for civilians, constituted a disproportionate use of armed force by Georgia, albeit within its own territory, and as such a violation of international humanitarian law and Georgia’s commitment to resolve the conflict peacefully,” the resolution reads.
“At the same time, the Russian counter-attack, including large-scale military actions in Central and Western Georgia and in Abkhazia, equally failed to respect the principle of proportionality and international humanitarian law and constituted a violation of Council of Europe principles, as well as of statutory obligations and specific accession commitments of the Russian Federation as a member state,” it reads.
The Assembly reaffirmed its attachment to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia and called on Russia to withdraw its recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and respect fully the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia as well as the inviolability of its frontiers. It also called on Russia to allow EU and OSCE monitors to have access to both territories. “In addition, differences about the role of EU monitors in the so-called “buffer zone” may lead to an even further deterioration of the security situation in this area, impeding the return of displaced persons after Russian troops have withdrawn from it,” the resolution reads.
The parliamentarians also expressed concern at “credible reports of acts of ethnic cleansing committed in ethnic Georgian villages in South Ossetia and the ‘buffer zone’ by irregular militia and gangs which the Russian troops failed to stop”.
“Such acts were mostly committed after the signing of the cease-fire agreement on 12 August 2008 and continue today,” the resolution reads.
The Assembly urged both Russia and Georgia to implement the EU-brokered ceasefire agreement as “minimum conditions” for a meaningful dialogue. This implies, in particular, the obligation for Russia to withdraw its troops to positions ex ante the conflict and refrain from any action of provocation to justify maintaining the presence of Russian troops in the so-called “buffer zone”; to enable OSCE and EU monitors to be deployed into South Ossetia and Abkhazia; to cooperate fully in the establishment of an independent international investigation to look into the precise circumstances surrounding the outbreak of the war; to work towards the creation of a new peacekeeping format and to internationalize the peacekeeping force, with the active participation of CoE and EU member states; to participate unconditionally in the Geneva talks scheduled for 15 October regarding the modalities of the stability and security in South Ossetia and Abkhazia; to allow safe and unhindered access by media to the conflict zone; to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
The Assembly also urged Russia and South Ossetian secessionist authorities to guarantee security of all persons within South Ossetia; provide all humanitarian organizations with unhindered access to conflict-affected areas; to remove all mines and unexploded ordnance; to ensure that all persons displaced by the conflict should have the right to return on a fully voluntary basis; to release and exchange, immediately, hostages, prisoners of war and other persons detained as a result of the conflict.
The Assembly also called on all member states not to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and intensify their efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the victims of the conflict.
The Assembly said it was convinced that the establishment of a dialogue is the best way forward for the solution of any conflict and for fostering stability in the long-term.
“In order to promote such a dialogue, the Assembly will consider setting up under its aegis a special Parliamentary Assembly Ad hoc Committee, in which both Georgian and Russian parliamentarians will participate, to serve as a forum for discussing their differences and proposing ways to put an end to the current impasse and look towards the future,” the resolution reads.
The Assembly recommended to the Committee of Ministers to develop an action plan and take concrete measures to respond to the crisis between two member states of the organisation.
There have been immediate responses from both sides to the PACE resolution.
“The document stresses that ethnic cleansing of Georgians was committed after signing the ceasefire agreement and that is very important. Russia and its armed forces were responsible for defending the lives and security of the population. Such an assessment enables Georgia to demand in any international organization or international court that those responsible for ethnic cleansing be brought to justice,” Georgian Parliamentary Chairman David Bakradze said.
“We have received quite a controversial result. On the one hand, the Assembly refrained from making extreme assessments and this is a positive fact, but on the other hand, the text of the resolution is unbalanced; it is full of numerous factual inaccuracies and legal repugnancies,” Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the Russian delegation to PACE, said.