International Criminal Court is investigating the alleged war crimes committed during the 2008 August War in Georgia. Human Rights Center sent communication on 193 victims to the ICC. The ICC works based on the Rome Statute and is the first international permanently functioning criminal court, which was established to fight against impunity on grave crimes.
On August 14, 2008 (two days after the cease-fire agreement was signed), the ICC prosecutor announced about the commenced preliminary examination in Georgia. After the PE stage finished, the ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensuda officially addressed the Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC and requested authorization of the investigation. On January 27, 2016, 8 years after the August conflict, the ICC justices satisfied the solicitation of the prosecutor.
On December 21, 2016, representatives of Human Rights Center visited the Tserovani settlement and met victims of the 2008 August war. Among them were people, on behalf of whom the Center submitted the communication to The Hague Court in 2015 and requested to open investigation into the crimes against humanity.
Conversation with the IDPs residing in Tserovani revealed that in the investigation stage the national investigative bodies do not have any communication with them. The IDPs said the state does not pay attention to them at all. At the same time, majority of them does not know whether they have victim status.
Tserovani resident S.M recalled during his conversation with humanrights.ge that he and his friends were members of the Kaspi military battalion during the August war. It was difficult for him to recall those days. One day, when they were traveling by cars, several persons met them on the way and opened fire in their direction. Three persons were burnt alive; he was wounded in the arms and spent 23 days in the Gori military hospital. He said the state does not assist him at all. Several times the government gave his family only wheat flour as aid. Only his daughter-in-law works in the family with little salary. S.M himself gets pension – 180 GEL and 22 GEL allowance as a war veteran. He said it is not enough to pay even communal bills.
R.M left Kemerti village together with her family members on August 8. “My husband stayed there; he could not leave home. He was hiding in the basement until August 14. Old women were hiding in the neighboring village. On August 14, he went out and armed people killed him. An old woman saw him and took his body home in secret. He was left without attention for 6 days. I learned about his death on August 20 after the old women left the village with the support of the Red Cross. The state paid 10 000 GEL to us as a compensation. Since then nobody remembered us. We do not get any aid. We used to get 100 GEL from the local administration but they ceased it last year (2016),” R.M said.
The 100-year-old woman, who witnessed the murder of R.M’s husband, stayed in Kemereti village until August 24 in 2008 together with her husband. “My husband was disabled person; he did not have a leg and we could not walk. We stayed in the village before August 24. I remember four houses were burning around us. When they were coming to burn the houses, they did not touch our house being sorry for us. We were hiding in the basement. I could not even bring water to drink. I was feeding the husband with old bread. The houses around us were on fire. The sky was all red. Even now, when I go to bed I am looking at the ceiling in fear – I have permanent fear of fire. We had a cow and were hiding it in the garden. When the looters passed by our house with stolen cattle, our cow mooed at them and they took ours too,” the IDP woman recalled, who is almost 100 years old.
M.M now lives in Tserovani and she is one of those people, who personally witnessed the crimes committed by the both conflicting parties during the 2008 August War.
Co-director of Human Rights Center Nino Tsagareishvili said the visit in Tserovani clearly showed that the state took only initial, very insignificant measures to investigate the war crimes. The investigative bodies contacted the IDPs only once in 2008-2009, when initial applications were submitted to the prosecutor’s office or police. Afterwards, the investigative bodies never informed the victims about the investigation process and what concrete measures were taken to identify the war crimes.
“Opening the ICC investigation does not mean that the Government of Georgia is free from its obligation to investigate the alleged war crimes committed in the territory of Georgia in 2008. In accordance to the Rome Statute, the “most grave crimes of the international law” are under jurisdiction of the ICC; they are: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Part of the victims of the 2008 August War may not meet the criteria of the ICC investigation but they received huge damage as a result of the war – they received health problems, they lost properties, etc. Due to the complementarity of the international criminal law, the Government of Georgia is obliged to conduct the investigation within its availability. Inactivity of the government of Georgia to investigate the alleged war crimes violates the mentioned principle and rights of many victims,” Nino Tsagareishvili said.
Only 32 out of total 193 applicants of Human Rights Center received the victim status from the Georgian investigative bodies. However, they do not have access to the case materials. Big part of the victims has not heard anything about the ICC and are not aware about the opened investigation into the 2008 August war.
The ICC has right to investigate the alleged crimes in all states, which have ratified the Rome Statute. Georgia ratified the Statute in 2003 and since then, the Court received authority to investigate alleged crimes of genocide, the crimes against humanity and war crimes, to launch criminal liabilities and charge the accused persons if any of the three crimes were committed in the territory of Georgia or by the Georgian citizens. By now, 123 states have ratified the Rome Statute across the world.