Following the international armed conflict (IAC) that erupted between Georgia and the Russian Federation (Russia) in 2008, the ICC (International Criminal Court) Prosecutor announced the initiation of a proprio motu (i.e. on the Prosecutor’s own initiative) preliminary examination into the Situation in Georgia on 14 August 2008. Subsequently, on 27 January 2016, Pre-Trial Chamber I (PTC) authorised the opening of an investigation into the Situation. In this regard, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) has been investigating alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by all parties to the IAC in and around South Ossetia between 1 July and 10 October 2008.
The investigation marked many firsts for the Court: it was the first ICC investigation covering a situation outside the African continent, the first ICC investigation probing crimes allegedly committed in the context of an IAC, and the first ICC investigation into a situation arising from a post-Soviet country. Due to this last aspect in particular, the Situation in Georgia was initially seen as an important indicator for how the OTP might proceed with regard to other post-Soviet situations such as that of Ukraine.
The Prosecutor’s request for arrest warrants
In early March 2022, the Prosecutor announced that pursuant to Article 58 of the Rome Statute, he had filed an application seeking arrest warrants with regard to the Situation for:
- Lt.-Gen. Mikhail Mayramovich Mindzaev, Minister of Internal Affairs – de facto South Ossetian administration;
- Gamlet Guchmazov, Head of the Preliminary Detention facility – de facto Ministry of Internal Affairs of South Ossetia; and
- David Georgiyevich Sanakoev, de facto Presidential Representative for Human Rights of South Ossetia.
All three are alleged to have committed war crimes that fall under Article 8 of the Rome Statute (para. 3) in and around the territory of South Ossetia between the 8th and 27th of August 2008 in the context of the occupation of Georgian territory by the Russian armed forces.
The Georgian government has been cooperating with the ICC since the initiation of its preliminary examination and welcomed the Prosecutor’s recent move terming it “another victory for Georgia”. However, Russia’s attitude towards the ICC has been less than amiable. The initiation of the ICC investigation in 2016 drew the ire of Russia. Accusing the ICC Prosecutor of siding with the aggressor and initiating “an investigation aimed against the victims” where all blame was placed on South Ossetian and Russian soldiers, Russia stated that it was “forced to fundamentally review its attitude towards the ICC”. Subsequently, in November 2016, Russia withdrew its signature from the ICC’s constitutive instrument, the Rome Statute. This symbolic move however, does not alter the position of any Russian nationals who are alleged to have committed core international crimes on Georgian territory. As Georgia is an ICC state party, the ICC is still capable of prosecuting any Russian nationals who are alleged to have committed crimes falling within its jurisdiction.Continue reading