Strasbourg court rules Russia has ‘direct control’ over Abkhazia, South Ossetia

A girl attends a wreath laying ceremony at a cemetery in Tbilisi, Georgia, 08 August 2020. An official ceremony was held here on the occasion of the eleventh anniversary of the Russian-South Ossetian-Georgian conflict, or Russo-Georgian War of August 2008. [EPA-EFE/ZURAB KURTSIKIDZE]

Russia is responsible for human rights violations, including loss of life, torture, disrespect of property and privacy occurring in Georgian breakaway regions of Abkahzia and South Ossetia as it had effective control of the territories after the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, the European Court of Human Rights declared on (21 January).

Russia and Georgia fought a brief war in August 2008 which was ended with the help of the mediation of the then French President Nicolas Sarkozy. As a result, Georgia lost control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, roughly 25% of its territory.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia are recognised as independent states only by Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Nauru and Syria. The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights is an international court of the Council of Europe, of which both Georgia and Russia are members.

Justices found that human rights breaches fell within Russia’s jurisdiction as it has exercised effective control over the territories since the ceasefire agreement of 12 August 2008.

Even after the official withdrawal of Russian troops in October, “the strong Russian presence and the South Ossetian and Abkhazian authorities’ dependency on the Russian Federation indicated that there had been continued ‘effective control’ over South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” the court found.

Last year Russia was reported to have between 9,000 and 10,000 soldiers on both breakaway territories, which in South Ossetia amounts to one soldier for every eight residents.

EU calls ‘unacceptable’ the tensions at Georgia occupation line

The ambassador of the EU to Georgia called “unacceptable” on Friday (30 August) the tensions and confrontational language at the “border” between Georgia and its occupied territory of South Ossetia.

The Strasbourg-based court said it had enough evidence of a systematic campaign of burning and looting of homes in Georgian villages in South Ossetia and the “buffer zone” after the cessation of hostilities, which was accompanied by abuses of civilians and summary executions.

The seriousness of the abuses was enough to “inhuman and degrading treatment” and qualified to be a breach of prohibition of torture.

The judges also said that the detention by South Ossetian forces of 160 Georgian civilians, most of them elderly, for more than two weeks crowded into a basement of an administrative building in the centre Tskhinvali without enough beds, basic health and hygiene standards also qualified as torture.

The tribunal dismissed Russian arguments that the civilians had been detained for their own safety to protect them from potential attacks from South Ossetians seeking to take revenge on Georgians for the attack on Tskhinvali as factually disputed and not acceptable grounds for detention.

While the Court did not find direct involvement of Russian forces, their presence at the scene and non-intervention to stop the events proved sufficient to constitute “official tolerance” of the offenses.

The court also found the prohibition of torture was violated in the case of more than 30 Georgian prisoners of war, who have been ill-treated by Russian and South Ossetian forces in August 2008.

Moreover, Russia and the authorities of the breakaway regions have violated the right to freedom of movement of when they prevented the return of about 23,000 forcibly displaced ethnic Georgians to those Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia took to Twitter to celebrate the judgement as “one of the most important days in the recent history of” his country.

“This victory was inevitable and belongs to each and every Georgian,” he added.

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