ICC Concludes Investigation Phase into 2008 Conflict
Karim Khan, the Prosecutor of the Hague International Criminal Court (ICC), announced the conclusion of the investigation phase in the Situation in Georgia – which looked into crimes against humanity and war crimes in the context of an international armed conflict between 1 July and 10 October 2008. Three arrest warrants were issued for de-facto South Ossetian officials. Evidence against one Russian Army Major-General was collected, but he died in the meantime, so no warrant was issued.
The Prosecutor began the investigation on 27 January 2016, following the completion of the preliminary examination which commenced on 14 August 2008.
In his statement, Prosecutor Khan emphasized that throughout the investigation his Office examined evidence related to alleged crimes by all parties to the armed conflict in an “independent, impartial, and objective manner, in partnership with survivors, civil society, and relevant authorities.”
As a result of the investigation, the ICC issued 3 arrest warrants on 30 June 2022 for 3 de-facto South Ossetian officials – Lt.-Gen. Mikhail Mindzaev, de-facto interior minister in 2005-2008, Hamlet Guchmazov, Head of the Preliminary Detention facility of the de-facto interior ministry at the time of events, and David Sanakoev, de-facto president representative for human rights in S. Ossetia.
The trio faced charges related to “unlawful confinement, torture, and ill-treatment, hostage taking, and subsequent unlawful transfer of ethnic Georgian civilians in the context of an occupation by the Russian Federation.”
Per the Prosecutor, “these crimes are representative of a wider pattern of criminality which included the widespread looting and destruction of Georgian villages and homes and the denial of the return of almost all of the Georgian population of the Tskhinvali region.”
The investigation also uncovered the role of Vyacheslav Borisov, Major General in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and Deputy Commander of the Airborne Forces at the time of events, “who is believed to have intentionally contributed to the execution of some of these crimes, and is now deceased.”
Notably, the Prosecutor revealed that beyond the cases pending before the ICC, his Office will not pursue new lines of inquiry into the alleged criminal responsibility of other persons or for other conduct within the Situation in Georgia. As a result, “absent a significant change in circumstance” the investigation has concluded.
The Prosecutor underscored that in the 20 years since the establishment of the ICC, today is the first time that his Office has decided to conclude the investigation phase of the work in relation to a Situation addressed by the Court. Prosecutor Khan noted that “taking such decisions is an essential part of articulating and implementing an effective prosecutorial strategy.”
“I have been clear since taking up my position: I am not willing to continue to overpromise and underdeliver for survivors and the families of victims,” he stressed. “To achieve meaningful results, we must be robust in our analysis of how resources can be most effectively deployed to deliver the greatest impact for those affected by crimes falling within our jurisdiction globally.”
According to the Prosecutor, the decision made on Georgia is not unique and will be followed by similar decisions across different situations, like on the Situation in the Central African Republic, which was also announced today.
Prosecutor Khan emphasized however that the ICC’s work on the Georgia Situation is “far from over.” “My Office has and will continue to concentrate its efforts on ensuring the successful prosecution of those subject to arrest warrants,” he explained.
The Prosecutor noted that “Concerted efforts from my Office and its partners will continue to be required to track and arrest suspects who remain at large and to prosecute the existing caseload, which must be carried through trial to final appeal and, in the event of conviction, to reparations stages.”
The Prosecutor also contended that “beyond effective resource management, I also believe that implementation of completion strategies can give tangible expression to the core principles of cooperation and complementarity that are at the heart of the Rome Statute system.”
To that end, the Prosecutor stated that “as much as my decision clarifies the outer scope of our intended caseload, it also provides a renewed opportunity for working collaboratively with competent national criminal jurisdictions to help reduce remaining impunity gaps – to ultimately advance the goal of supporting new cases that might, through working in collaboration, be brought before domestic courts.”
“This theme is central to my vision of the complementary role of the ICC and its relationship with national criminal jurisdictions,” he underlined and noted that he has communicated to the Georgian authorities that his Office “stands ready to further explore ways in which a dynamic approach to complementarity can be translated into tangible action, by means of a two-way cooperation arrangement and action plan.”
The Prosecutor likewise remarked that he plans to continue cooperating with civil society, having already engaged with civil society organizations and other stakeholders to provide more details about the decision to conclude the investigation phase, as well as about ongoing work and their “determination to bring the pending cases to trial.”
“My Office stands ready to continue its work with and alongside the Georgian authorities, survivors, the families of victims, and civil society in the task that lies ahead,” he underscored.
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