The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, arrived in Tbilisi on Thursday afternoon.
The prosecutor’s visit comes two days after she requested ICC judges to authorize investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the August, 2008 war in Georgia.
ICC Prosecutor’s 160-page request asking for authorization of the probe, filed before a three-judge panel on October 13, details alleged crimes attributed to the Georgian, Russian and South Ossetian sides.
In her request, the Prosecutor identifies following crimes, which the prosecution “reasonably believes” fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC:
- “Killings, forcible displacements and persecution of ethnic Georgian civilians, and destruction and pillaging of their property, by South Ossetian forces (with possible participation by Russian forces)”;
- “Intentionally directing attacks against Georgian peacekeepers by South Ossetian forces; and against Russian peacekeepers by Georgian forces.”
The investigation, if authorized, will also look into other alleged crimes, such as indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilian targets by both Georgian and Russian armed forces. But the Prosecutor at this stage has not enough evidence to determine whether these allegations constitute to possible war crimes within the jurisdiction of the Hague-based International Criminal Court.
Georgian Justice Minister, Tea Tsulukiani, who along with the Georgian prosecutors will be meeting the ICC Prosecutor on Friday, welcomed that the ICC Prosecutor seeks to probe “ethnic cleansing” of Georgians during the war. She also said that the Georgian side will try to make cases of “torture” of captured Georgian servicemen a priority during the possible investigation.
In a statement on October 15 the Russian Foreign Ministry said that “interpretations” provided by the ICC Prosecutor in her request for opening the investigation “are far from reality.”
It said that the Russian investigators handed over voluminous material to the ICC prosecutor’s office containing evidence of “crimes committed by Saakashvili’s regime.”
“Judging from conclusions made by the ICC prosecutor, intentional killings of the South Ossetians will not become an issue of international investigation; [ICC] prosecutor’s office also has reservations about attacks carried out against the Russian members of the peacekeeping forces. But ICC investigators state about their readiness to investigate actions of the South Ossetian militias against ethnic Georgians, as well as of the Russian forces, who, as the Prosecutor supposes, ‘possibly participated’ in those actions,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
“Such interpretation of August 2008 events, which are so far from reality and which actually shield Saakashvili’s regime, will hardly contribute to confidence towards the ICC prosecutor’s office,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said. “We hope that while considering prosecutor’s request [ICC] judges will take decision, which meets principles of fairness.”