Natia Gogolashvili, Nino Tsagareishvili
Humanrights.ge spoke with Gunnar Ekeløve-Slydal, Deputy Secretary General of Norwegian Helsinki Committee regarding the investigation of 2008 August war by International Criminal Court.
ICC’s investigation in Georgia is its first Investigation in Europe. It’s been more than a year that the ICC Pre-trial Chamber authorized this investigation. What do you think are the challenges and risks for the investigation in Georgia?
There are several challenges. Georgia is a new country for the ICC, the first outside Africa. And we know from the cases in Africa that it is very challenging in itself to investigate crimes that happened a long time ago. They will be very dependent on getting good witnesses; they will need input from civil society in particular to know the context, to get information about patterns of crimes, etc. As we all know there is also a kind of political tension around this investigation. It is about Russia being negative against the investigation but it is also I guess a challenge to get full cooperation from the Georgian side, which is also important. And there might also be a challenge of informing the people here about what the ICC is and what it can do.
As you noted, one of the challenges for the investigation might be the full cooperation with the Georgian government. The Georgian government makes some open statements that it will cooperate with ICC. However, we don’t know how this cooperation and complementarity will work in practice. How do you see the cooperation and what challenges do you see in this kind of cooperation?
The fact that ICC decided to investigate is already an indication of the failure of the Georgian side to fully investigate. In a way, as the system works according to the complementarity principle, ICC has concluded that there is no genuine investigation and no genuine prospects of prosecutions here. So, that might make it a challenge to have a relaxed, good relationship with authorities here in the first place. Secondly, of course the ICC will be very worried that the authorities here want to lead them into some specific suspects or specific crimes. They want to be independent. They have to be seen to be independent so they have to have a distance from the authorities. But they would rely on what they can get in terms of information about crimes, victims and witnesses. So it is really a complex relationship that they have with authorities. And from my point of view some of the solutions to this is that the ICC acknowledged that they also have to develop very good relationships with the civil society which has been very active on the war crime scene.
Another problem is that Russia is refusing to cooperate with the ICC. The official state representatives stated many times that Russia refuses to have any kind of cooperation with the ICC. This may create problems for the investigation to be comprehensive and all-around. How would you assess this problem and do you think there are some ways that the ICC can find some alternative ways for obtaining evidences?
It is not a new thing for ICC that states refuse to cooperate. So, it should have some contingency plans to work in different ways to still get what they need. As we know in these kinds of cases it is always very dependent on witnesses and they will have access to some of the witnesses also related to crimes committed by Russian forces or forces protected by Russia. And I think this is also a case where European countries will have to show their support for the ICC in a very practical way. There might be other countries who can help with information and at least with a lot of support for what ICC is doing here. The EU has a role to play, political and moral support for the ICC is important. And countries which have any intelligence which could help should provide that.
When a country officially states that it refuses to cooperate with the ICC, it is not a sign of strength of that country. In a way it is a country which says that we are afraid of transparency about war crimes. So, in a moral and political sense it is that country which loses.
Georgian government is quite closed when it comes to giving information about the investigation. It is closed to the media and journalists as well, both regarding the investigation on national level and on the ICC level. What recommendations would you have to the Georgian government regarding cooperation and openness?
I think the Georgian government should not only give statements of support but they should cooperate fully with the investigation. They should realize that it is in the interest of justice and ultimately in the interest of the future of this country because impunity for serious crimes has been the rule here for a long time and now it is the time to change. ICC investigation could be a game changer in Georgia and in the region. So, that is my only recommendation to the government here: state that you will cooperate and cooperate.
As for the informing public and victims, would you have any recommendations?
The victims, who maybe already know the civil society organizations active in the sphere of human rights, should also realize that they are key for a successful ICC investigation. They are the ones who have suffered and have knowledge about suffering because of the crimes. They should provide testimonies and trust that the ICC will operate in the interest of justice.
How do you see NGO’s involvement in this process?
I see NGO’s involvement as crucial and what we hope for is that there will be good working relationship between the ICC and civil society here. Of course the ICC has to select their own cases but as we know because we have worked with Georgian civil society organizations for many years, they have a lot of competence, they have monitored, they have contacts with the victims etc. So ICC can really profit from them and I think ICC will realize it. I hope for a very good cooperation, which is crucial for the overall success of the ICC involvement in the Georgian situation.