The International Criminal Court (ICC) has authorized an investigation into alleged war crimes committed during the 2008 Russia-Georgian war in the first case the court has taken on outside of Africa, the BBC reported Wednesday. The investigation will focus in and around South Ossetia, a breakaway region that is recognized by Russia as an independent state.
“The Chamber concluded that there is a reasonable basis to believe that crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction have been committed in the situation in Georgia,” a press release from the ICC said. “Such crimes include crimes against humanity, such as murder, forcible transfer of population and persecution, and war crimes, such as attacks against the civilian population, willful killing, intentionally directing attacks against peacekeepers, destruction of property and pillaging allegedly committed in the context of an international armed conflict between 1 July and 10 October 2008.”
While the war between Russia and Georgia in 2008 only lasted five days, Russia continues to maintain troops in South Ossetia as well as Abkhazia, another breakaway region Russia has also recognized as an independent state. Then Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili started the conflict when he tried to take back South Ossetia in early August 2008 leading Russia to swiftly respond.
The ICC reported it had received “representations by or on behalf of 6,335 victims” last month and said three different groups could have committed crimes: Russian, Georgian and South Ossetian forces. ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda pushed for an investigation in October, saying there was evidence to show that as many as 113 ethnic Georgians were killed and as many as 18,500 were forcibly displaced by South Ossetian authorities. Bensouda also said Georgian and South Ossetian forces likely killed 12 peacekeepers when an attack on a medical facility took place.
Since its establishment in 2002, the ICC had been accused of having an “Africa problem” with all of its prior cases focused on the continent ranging from the Central African Republic to Congo. The Hague-based court works on cases that states themselves are not willing or capable of investigating. Russia is not a party to the international court.