The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) in partnership with the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC) and the Russian Justice Initiative (RJI) have lodged a number of cases against the Russian Federation of victims of 2008 August war with the European Court of Human Rights, writes Tamar Abazadze, lawyer at Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association (GYLA).
The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) represents the interests of a number of victims of the Russian-Georgian armed conflict of August 2008 in applications to the European Court of Human Rights against the State of Russia.
In 2009, GYLA working together with EHRAC applied to the Office of the Prosecutor of the Russian Federation through its partner human rights NGOs, Memorial and the Russian Justice Initiative, on behalf of around 400 victims of the Russian-Georgian armed conflict of August 2008, requesting the launch of preliminary investigations into the crimes committed against them. The applications set out the various crimes committed against the victims by representatives of the Russian military and the de-facto South Ossetian armed forces at the time the territory where they resided was under the effective control of the Russian Federation. In response to our applications, we were informed that an investigation into criminal case # 201/374108-08 was being conducted by the Investigation Committee within the Office of the Prosecutor of the Russian Federation (the Investigation Committee of the RF), in relation to allegations of genocide and mass killing of residents of South Ossetia with Russian citizenship, as well as Russian peacekeepers. The same letter stated that conducting a preliminary investigation into the crimes committed outside the territory of the Russian Federation did not fall under the competence of the Investigation Committee, except for cases that were directly envisaged by relevant Russian legislation and international agreements of the Russian Federation.
On October 18, 2011, GYLA received letters from the Investigation Committee of the RF stating in respect of some of our clients (all victims of the Russian-Georgian armed conflict of August 2008), that the Investigation Committee’s preliminary investigation into criminal case # 201/374108-08 regarding the crimes committed in August 2008 during the Russian-Georgian armed conflict was ongoing, and that as part of that investigation, the Investigative Committee was investigating the facts cited in the applications made on behalf of our clients in 2009. The Investigation Committee summoned our clients to appear before it as witnesses.
On 6 February 2012 Gyla sent letter to the Investigation Committee of the RF raising following question: according to the 2009 letters of the Investigation Committee, the investigation of criminal case # 201/374108-08 relates to the alleged genocide and mass killings of Russian residents of South Ossetia and Russian peacekeepers, whereas in relation to the complaints made by our clients- ethnic Georgians, we were informed such investigations fell outside the territorial competence of the Office of the Russian Prosecutor. The Investigation Committee’s 2011 letters contradict this statement of lack of territorial competence as they state that crimes committed against our clients- ethnic Georgians are being investigated by the Office of the Russian Prosecutor as part of criminal case # 201/374108-08. GYLA asked the Investigation Committee of RF to clarify about the reason for over-ruling the decision to refuse to investigate the complaints made by ethnic Georgians (notified to us in 2009) and instead to incorporate their complaints within the investigation of criminal case # 201/374108-08, which appears to be an investigation totally unrelated to the complaints made by our clients.
In response letter from the Investigation Committee of the RF dated 16 March 2012, Russian Prosecutor ignored questions raised in our letter. The Russian prosecutor explained that the Investigation Committee of the Russian Federation has repeatedly requested the competent Georgian authorities the legal assistance, such as the relevant investigative actions, documents testifying to the accuracy of the information contained in the complaints of the Georgian citizens. However, the Main Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia (Ministry of Justice) refused to provide the assistance regarding case #201/374134-08. Despite that, for the purpose of comprehensive and fair investigation of the facts set out in the complaints of ethnic Georgians, the Russian side requests the Georgian citizens to arrive at the investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for interrogation in the status of witness.
In addition, the Russian investigator states in its letter dated 16.03.2012 that prior, during and after the Georgia-South Ossetia armed conflict of August 2008 the Russian Federation did not have effective control over the territories of the republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
According to explanations of the Ministry of Justice of Georgia they have declined the request of the Office of the Prosecutor of the Russian Federation regarding legal assistance in investigation of crimes committed during the armed conflict of August 2008, since the Georgian Prosecutor came to the conclusion that the actual goal of the criminal prosecution by the appropriate Russian agencies, was not, in fact, an honest, objective and thorough investigation and punishment of perpetrators if they were to be identified. The Government of Georgia relies inter alia on international governmental and non-governmental organizations’ published reports, pointing out the fact that the Russian investigation clearly defies the standards of impartiality and neutrality.
The answers GYLA has received from the Investigation Committee of the RF do not make it obvious that the Investigation Committee is conducting an independent and effective investigation into the criminal acts perpetrated against ethnic Georgians during 2008 armed-conflict on the territories under control of the Russian Federation.
We are not clear why Georgian citizens’ complaints were joined to the investigation of the massacre of Russian citizens under criminal case # 201/374108-08 and the reason for extending the remit of that investigation. We believe that the investigation of alleged mass killings of Russian residents of South Ossetia and Russian peacekeepers by the Georgian armed forces should be an entirely independent investigation from the criminal investigation we have requested into the crimes committed against ethnic Georgians by Russian military and the de-facto South Ossetian armed forces at the time the territory where they resided was under the effective control of the Russian Federation. There is no common feature that serves as a basis for combining these two distinct criminal investigations. The decision to incorporate our client’s complaints within this pre-existing and unrelated criminal investigation raises serious doubts about the impartiality and veracity of the investigation. Furthermore, we are not informed about the reasons which served passing two years as the basis for changing the decision made in 2009 according to which the alleged crimes committed against Georgian citizens did not fall under the competence of the Investigation Committee of RF.