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Georgia South Ossetia offensive violated international law: EU commission

[JURIST] Georgia violated international law when it shelled the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali in August 2008, according to a report [materials] released Wednesday by a European Union-backed commission. The Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia (IIFFMCG) [official website] concluded that "it is not possible to accept" that the armed response by Georgian forces to the buildup of Russian troops near the breakaway region was "necessary and proportionate" to protect Georgian villages, and that the response by South Ossetian forces was therefore a legitimate act of self-defense. The IIFFMCG also found that military action against Russian forces was not justified because the commission could not substantiate Georgian claims of a large-scale Russian military presence in the region prior to the Georgian offensive. The report found that although the shelling of Tskhinvali was the beginning of armed conflict, "it was only the culminating point of a long period of increasing tensions, provocations and incidents" between the two countries. Echoing an August 2008 denunciation [JURIST report] from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [official website], the commission said that Russia violated Georgian sovereignty by conferring Russian citizenship to residents of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and recognizing the regions as independent states. The IIFFMCG also found that the Russian response to the offensive "went far beyond the reasonable limits of defense" and that Russia violated international law by continuing military operations after a ceasefire agreement. Further, the report concluded that "all sides to the conflict - Georgian forces, Russian forces and South Ossetian forces - committed violations of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law," but that the use of similar armaments made it difficult to determine the perpetrators of what "might be described as war crimes."

The South Ossetia conflict lasted for five days in August 2008 when Georgia tried to take control of its breakaway region, and Russian troops defended the region, entering Georgia. In August, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official website, in Russian] proposed a bill in response to the conflict that would allow the Russian army to intervene beyond its borders [JURIST report] to protect Russian citizens abroad. In February, the US State Department released its annual country reports on human rights [JURIST report], accusing both Russia and Georgia [text] of violations during the conflict. In January, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged both Russia and Georgia to investigate possible violations of the laws of war [JURIST report] during and after the conflict. That report followed closely a report [JURIST report] released by Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] in November 2008, which alleged possible human rights violations during the conflict, including attacks on civilians and civilian targets by both sides, the use of land mines and cluster bombs, the treatment of prisoners of war and civilian detainees, and the wide-spread displacement of civilians during and after the fighting. Georgia and Russia [JURIST reports] are currently exchanging allegations of war crimes in the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official websites].

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