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Justice Minister under Fire over Remarks on ICC Prosecution

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Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani’s comments that individual Georgian servicemen might be held accountable before the International Criminal Court drew fierce criticism from the opposition.

Tsulukiani spoke on the ongoing ICC prosecution on November 14, in her interview with Imedi TV. The minister was responding to the earlier allegations by Nika Jeiranashvili of Justice International, a Hague-based rights watchdog established by Georgian lawyers, that the Georgian authorities are not doing enough to protect the country’s interests in the investigation.

The justice minister said in the interview that the authorities hope the ICC investigation will identify perpetrators in crimes committed against ethnic Georgians, as well as in cases of torture of Georgian soldiers. She, however, noted that the Georgian side has no control of who will be implicated in the process.

“If Fatou Bensouda (ICC prosecutor leading the investigation) concludes that crimes were indeed committed, she can issue arrest warrants against concrete individuals to the ICC; the Georgian state cannot be a party to the investigation or accused of any crimes, it’s only individuals who can be brought before the court regardless of their citizenship and ethnicity,” Tsulukiani noted.

  • The ICC Office of the Prosecutor opened investigation into crimes committed during the 2008 Russo-Georgian in January 2016, after national proceedings hit standstill in Georgia. Tbilisi welcomed the ICC’s decision to open the investigation; Russia criticized it.
  • Georgia, as a state party to the Rome Statute through which the ICC was established, is obliged to fully cooperate with the court – something that does not apply to Russia since it is not an ICC member.

For background, we recommend reading our October 2017 interview with Phakiso Mochochoko, Director of the Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division of the Office of the Prosecutor.

The justice minister’s comments earned her criticism from Grigol Vashadze, presidential candidate of the United Opposition, a coalition led by the United National Movement, who accused the authorities of “washing their hands of the 2008 war veterans” by declaring that they “have to defend themselves in their individual capacities against the occupant’s false allegations.”

“There is no doubt that if it is the Georgian Dream government [running the country] in the course of the proceedings, cases against Georgian soldiers, who were labeled as individuals by the GD, will be applied against the country as a whole and as a result, we will face gravest threats both in terms of the fate of our defenders and of our country’s national interests,” Vashadze noted, calling for the resignation of justice and foreign ministers.

MP Otar Kakhidze of the European Georgia echoed the message, accusing the Georgian Dream authorities of “compromising” the country’s national interests by condoning Salome Zurabishvili’s remarks on the 2008 war.

“If crimes are attributed to us as a country – that we committed war crimes, that we started the war and that Russia was right to protect the oppressed population who we had [allegedly] attacked, then it turns out that we have lost this war, that our territorial disintegration will be formalized legally. This will be a disaster for our national interests,” Kakhidze noted.

The Georgian Dream response

The Georgian Dream party responded to the allegations on November 16, with Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze, the party’s general secretary, slamming the opposition for “undermining the country’s foundation – the armed forces and its integrity.”

“They are propagating false information as if participants of the 2008 Russo-Georgian war are under risk of being prosecuted before the Hague court; we bow our heads before our heroes and would like to state that such absurd statements have no ground,” Kaladze noted, accusing the United National Movement of “blackmailing” the army and of trying to “engage the servicemen in political games.”

“The party and the leader, who have practically led the Russian army to Georgia through his imprudent and treasonous policies, who have lost 150 villages, who have disarmed and surrendered Kodori gorge, who have abandoned civilians and our heroes’ corpses, whose graves we would not have if not for the personal sacrifice of our Patriarch, are accusing us of compromising the country’s national interests,” Kaladze added.

Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani commented on the matter as well, telling reporters that this was the United National Movement’s “absolutely disgraceful attack on state institutions,” and an attempt to “engage the army and our soldiers in provocations.” Tsulukiani reassured that the Georgian Dream government and the Justice Ministry would remain “a loyal supporter of the army in all international proceedings.”

Lieutenant General (retired) Devi Chankotadze, Chief of the Joint Staff of the Armed Forces in 2009-2012, was first to implicate the authorities of wanting to put the former servicemen before the ICC trial.

In a video address published last Sunday, where he spoke against the ruling party-backed candidate Salome Zurabishvili, Chankotadze stated that the country’s next president and commander-in-chief “cannot be a person who accuses the country of starting the war and whose accusations the Hague Tribunal and the Russian occupant are trying to use to prosecute our heroes, our soldiers, sergeants and officers.”

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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