ICC to Investigate Alleged War Crimes in Russia-Georgia War

ICC to investigate Russia, Georgia
A Russian military convoy travels through the Senaki Military Base, a Georgian military base now occupied by Russian forces, in Senaki August 21, 2008. The ICC's prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has said she'll investigate both Russia and Georgia over possible war crimes committed in South Ossetia Umit Bektas/Reuters

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has said it will investigate Russia and Georgia over possible war crimes committed during the five-day conflict in the contentious South Ossetia region of northern Georgia in 2008.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she has evidence that shows between 51-113 ethnic Georgians were killed by South Ossetian troops during a forcible displacement campaign, possibly also involving Russian forces. Bensouda added that both South Ossetian and Georgian forces had killed peacekeepers—a clear war crime.

South Ossetia, a breakaway region of Georgia, declared independence in 1992. The Georgian government has made several attempts to seize back the territory, most recently in August 2008. Russia, which now recognizes South Ossetia as an independent state, sent in troops to help South Ossetian forces, and quickly retook the area. During the brief conflict, several hundred people died, while a further 120,000 were displaced, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, AFP reports.

In a statement on the ICC's website, Bensouda said she will investigate the what took place in Georgia from July 1, 2008 to October 10, 2008. In addition to the killing of ethnic Georgians, Bensouda found that between 13,400 and 18,500 Georgians were forcibly displaced, and more than 5,000 of their homes destroyed.

Bensouda estimates that because of these measures "the ethnic Georgian population living in the conflict zone was reduced by at least 75 percent." The prosecutor also accused South Ossetian forces of shelling Georgian peacekeepers, killing two. Georgian forces, she adds, bear responsibility for the deaths of 10 Russian peacekeepers.

Bensouda said she wants to conduct the investigation into the forcible displacement of ethnic Georgians because "national proceedings in Georgia have stalled." She added that the cases of attacks against peacekeepers "would be partially admissible at this stage, in consideration of on-going proceedings in the Russian Federation."

As the ICC is a court of last resort, it may not be authorized to investigate crimes Russia is already looking into. ICC judges must now decide whether to authorize a full investigation and risk jeopardizing its relationship with Russia, which is not an ICC member. The court is already considering whether to open an investigation into Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces over clashes in eastern Ukraine.