Implications for Georgia’s Victory in European Court of Human Rights Lawsuit
On August 11, 2008, one day prior to the signing of a ceasefire agreement ending the hostilities between Russia and Georgia in the 2008 Russo-Georgia war, the Georgian government submitted a lawsuit to the European Court of Human Rights. After more than a decade of consideration, the ECHR announced its ruling.
While the Georgian government submitted its case to the ECHR in 2008, it was not accepted by the Court for consideration until December 2013. Following several years of deliberation, the Court released the judgement on January 21, 2021: Russia violated numerous articles of the European Convention on Human Rights during the 2008 conflict.
In addition to not cooperating with the ECHR and its investigation, the Court ruled that Russia violated six articles of the European Convention on Human Rights: the right to life (Article 2); prohibition of torture, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 3); the right to liberty and security (Article 5); the right to protection of private and family life (Article 8); protection of property (Article 1, Additional Protocol 1); and freedom of movement (Article 2, Protocol 4). The court also concluded that Abkhazia and Tskhinvali (South Ossetia) are integral parts of Georgia, and that in controlling these regions, Russia is responsible for the violation of human rights of Georgian citizens.
Because of this ruling, Georgia is entitled to compensation from Russia. Russia and Georgia now have one year to present their proposals for settlement. Although the ruling was in favor of Georgia, the Georgian government should not expect a quick and easy settlement process. In January 2019, the ECHR ruled in favor of Georgia in another case and ordered Russia to pay Georgia 10 million Euros for damages suffered by more than 1,500 Georgian nationals. Russia has yet to pay the settlement determined by the Court.
While Georgian officials consider the ruling of the case to be an ‘enormous victory’ the results did not sit well with the other side of the lawsuit. After the ruling was announced, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation stated that “Russia proactively supports South Ossetia in its efforts to build a modern democratic state.” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova also issued a tweet, stating that, “the friendly relations between Russia and South Ossetia are based on the principles of alliance and integration and are not subject to momentary considerations.”
The authorities of South Ossetia, Georgia’s occupied Tskhinvali region, also did not react well to the verdict. Anatoly Bibilov, the President of South Ossetia, called the ruling “biased, politicized and has nothing to do with real facts.” One day after the ruling, Bibilov conducted an extensive interview with local reporters. According to Bibilov, the ECHR’s ruling was one-sided and “had little in common with true events and facts, dictated by the anti-Russian political course of the collective West, which has not for a moment thought about condemning the Georgian aggression against South Ossetia and the crimes of the Georgian military.”
Georgia’s victory in this case did not bode well for Russia and Russia-backed South Ossetia, possibly hindering communications between officials in a context in which many diplomatic efforts have already been postponed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the potential setbacks, in terms of cross-border communication, the ruling lays the foundation for further successes for Georgia in international courts.
Following the recent decision, Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria stated that the ECHR ruling ‘is of great legal and historic importance for Georgia’ and added that the court’s decision will likely influence the International Criminal Court’s investigation of the 2008 war.
According to a statement released by the Ombudsman of Georgia, since 2016, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has been investigating alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the August 2008 war. The Ombudsman’s office indicated that the ECHR ruling will likely have an impact on the ICC ruling, especially because of the ECHR’s conclusions on the torture of Georgian prisoners of war. The Office of the Public Defender of Georgia stated that the International Criminal Court should make the identification of high-ranking officials responsible for the torture of Georgian prisoners a priority.
Despite the slow-moving nature of the international arbitration system and the possible hindering of communications between Georgia, Russia, and South Ossetia as a result of the ruling, the decision was a key action in affirming Georgia’s territorial integrity, and that the regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali (South Ossetia) are in fact Georgian territory.
Image Source: Agenda.GE