The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) completed on Wednesday an oral hearing in an inter-state application lodged almost ten years ago by Georgia against Russia in connection to the August, 2008 war.
In his address to the court, Georgia’s lawyer Ben Emmerson focused on the human rights violations during and after the armed conflict, including targeting, killing, torture and eviction of ethnic Georgian population, as well as execution of prisoners of war, committed by the Russian Federation and the local militia acting under their control.
“Before and after the cessation of hostilities Russian ground troops acting together with Ossetian forces and other irregular troops operating under effective Russian control entered ethnic Georgian villages. Many of the inhabitants of these villages had by this time fled or been evacuated, those who remained were predominantly elderly or infirm or either unable, or too frightened to uproot themselves,” Emmerson told the judges, adding that the Russian ground troops “sealed the villages off, using entry and exit checkpoints, and allowed ethnic Georgian homes and entire villages to be burnt to the ground.”
Russia’s lawyer Michael Swainston denied the allegations, accusing Georgia of falsifying the evidence and claiming its was “a political application” that the country was using for “propaganda purposes.” He also noted it was Georgia that made “a truly barbarous attack” on “a sleeping civilian city,” which Russia tried “to prevent.” The Russian side also argued that Moscow “had no effective control over the territory where the conflict occurred,” and that Russian state agents “had no jurisdiction over alleged victims.”
Georgian Deputy Justice Minister Gocha Lortkipanidze, who attended the court hearing in Strasbourg, underscored in his press remarks that the case represented Georgia’s “uncompromising struggle for justice and truth.” “This case is important not only for Georgia, but other conflicts throughout Europe, and first of all for Ukraine and Moldova,” Lortkipandze commented.
According to Guido Raimondi, who presided the Grand Chamber hearing, the judgment will be delivered later, and the parties will be informed of the date of the ruling.
Georgia appealed ECHR on August 11, 2008, a day before the ceasefire agreement was signed with Russia and the final, formal inter-state application was filed in February, 2009 alleging that Russian military forces and separatist forces under their control carried out indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians and their property in different parts of Georgia, including Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Georgia claims violation of eight articles of the European convention on human rights, involving right to life; prohibition of torture; right to liberty and security; right to respect for private and family life; right to an effective remedy; protection of property and right to education, and freedom of movement.
ECHR found the complaint admissible in December 2011 and the case was relinquished to the Grand Chamber, consisting of 17 judges. Such relinquishment of cases in favor of the Grand Chamber happens if the case “raises a serious question of interpretation of the Convention” or if there is a risk of departing from existing case-law.
The Strasbourg-based Court heard total of 33 witnesses, 16 of them summoned through the Georgian government, 11 – Russian government, and six summoned directly by the Court in 2016.
It is Georgia’s second inter-state case against Russia in the Strasbourg-based court. Georgia has won the first one in 2014, when ECHR ruled that the arrest, detention and collective expulsion of Georgian nationals from Russia in the autumn of 2006 violated the European Convention on Human Rights.