A decade after the short but deadly conflict that tore Georgia and South Ossetia asunder, victims on either side are still no closer to getting justice. Some 850 people died and more than 100,000 were internally displaced. The International Criminal Court has opened an investigation and, most recently, agreed to open an office. But a recent report by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) details the continued impact of the war. And the lack of justice for victims of these alleged crimes against humanity.
To get an impression of where things currently stand from those working on the ground, Justice Hub spoke to Nino Tsagareishvili, of the Human Rights Center, Georgia, and Varvara Pakhomenko, a Russian human rights expert on the Caucasus. Tsagareishvili also chairs the Georgian Coalition for the ICC (GCICC). The two interviews, “Waiting on the ICC in Georgia” and “Waiting on the ICC in South Ossetia” are part of our long-running #MyJustice series.
This is Nino Tsagareishvili, and you can read the South Ossetian perspective here.
Justice Hub: Can you tell us a little bit about Human Rights Center?
The Human Rights and Center is a human rights NGO monitoring, documenting and doing advocacy both on a national and international level. We represented the interests of the victims of 2008 August War to the European Court of Human Rights as well as to the ICC. We submitted some representation forms on behalf of the victims to support the opening of the investigation.
Justice Hub: Why are you here in The Hague?
I am here basically to present the voices of the victims. For the past year we, in partnership with other NGOs in the framework of the Georgian Coalition for the ICC, have been in close contact with the victims. For the past few months, we have actually been conducting field visits to the Internally-Displaced Persons (IDP) settlements. These were specially built right after the war for the temporary housing of the victims near the conflict zone. But what happened is that the victims are still living in these IDP settlements. That’s about nine years now.
Justice Hub: What kind of situation are they in?
It is very problematic in the settlements. They have very big problems including severe housing issues. One of the worst problems that comes to mind right now is the problem with clean drinking water for instance at the Mokhisi IDP settlements in Gori municipality which borders South Ossetia. Another serious problem is that these people don’t really have much employment opportunities. They are depending on a very minimal IDP allowance. They were also given very small agricultural land. Their income used to come from the cultivation of land. Where they came from, they had very large pieces of land and a lot of cattle. Right now they don’t have this source of income so it is very problematic.
Justice Hub: You have been through other courts previously and now it’s the International Criminal Court (ICC). When you talk to people in these kinds of settlements and you explain a little bit about the ICC how do they feel?
The field visits and interviews that we are doing are primarily to study the current socio-economic problems [faced by IDPs] but of course, it’s also meant to give them information about the ICC process. To be honest, so many years have passed since the war that they don’t really have much hope. Of course, there are some people who never lose hope and are still very optimistic despite the serious problems. In general I would say victims don’t really trust that this process can bring any tangible results. That’s the picture that I get. But there are some people who have hope.
Justice Hub: What would a tangible result be for them?
To return to their villages. Almost everyone says that’s their main wish.
Justice Hub: How do you feel yourself about this business with the ICC? It has taken a long time. Do you feel optimistic?
In general, I am very optimistic and hopeful. There is definitely some space within this system that can be explored and pushed. We are very eager to try our best to bring the voices of the victims to the ICC. It is frustrating that it takes such a long time. There’s so much bureaucracy involved and maybe also a lack of coordination among the international organizations. Who is supposed to help who and for which problem? Is it the UN, UNDP, Trust Fund for Victims (TFV)? It is really taking too much time I think.
Justice Hub: Do you think the Georgia situation gets lost in the bigger picture of Russia’s troubles with West, whether it be over Syria or the UK or Ukraine? Does Georgia get enough attention?
I think there is a lack of attention. It was more visible in the beginning, right after they opened the investigation. For a while, it was very problematic because that there was such a lack of visibility about what court was doing. There was no field office. Now they have announced that they are opening a field office.
It just took a long time. There’s no space where people go and ask for information or where victims could go. There’s no way for victims to proactively address the Court, to knock on the door to even to proactively contact the investigation [team] because the investigation process is totally confidential. As an observer, when you look at this picture there’s is no visibility. It is very important for an effective process to have more visibility.
Justice Hub: What do you expect out of being here in The Hague?
My main goal, as much I can, is to give every organ concrete information because everyone is dealing with specific issues. Again I would say there is a lack of coordination. I am here to repeat again and again the problems that we see in the field in Georgia and to present the voices of the victims.
Photo: Janet Anderson/Justice Hub