The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for three Russian people alleged to have committed war crimes during the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, the court said on Thursday.
The three suspects – Lieutenant General Mikhail Mindzaev, Gamlet Gutchmazov and David Sanakoev – are said to have served in the government of the Russian-backed self-proclaimed Republic of South Ossetia. Mindzaev and Gutchmazov held top positions in South Ossetia’s interior ministry, while Sanakoev served as the region’s presidential envoy for human rights, the Associated Press reported.
The announcement came a day before the ICC issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, the commissioner for children’s rights in Putin’s office, both for their alleged actions related to the war in Ukraine.
Mindzaev and Gutchmazov are charged with unlawful detention, torture and inhumane treatment, violation of personal dignity, kidnapping and illegal displacement of civilians. The alleged crimes took place between August 8 and 27, 2008, the ICC said.
Investigations into the three men’s alleged crimes began in 2016. On June 24, 2022, ICC judges finally issued a decision before going public on Thursday, concluding that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that each of these three suspects bears responsibility for war crimes.”
“There is reasonable grounds to believe that civilians believed to be ethnically Georgian were arrested in the South Ossetian part of Georgia and subsequently detained, ill-treated and held in harsh prison conditions,” the Hague court said in a statement.
“The 2008 conflict over South Ossetia took a terrible toll on civilians, many of whom continue to pay the price,” Rachel Denber, deputy director of the human rights group’s Europe and Central Asia division, told the AP.
“The ICC arrest warrants are an important, long-awaited step to bring accountability to those involved in the campaign of violence that has forced nearly 20,000 ethnic Georgians from their homes.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said several hundred people died during the five-day conflict in 2008, while another 120,000 were displaced. It began when fighting broke out between neighboring countries in the disputed territory of South Ossetia in northern Georgia.
Putin is allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of children from occupied territories of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, allegedly committed since the war began on February 24, 2022.
“There are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Putin bears individual criminal responsibility for the above crimes: because he committed the acts directly, jointly with others and/or through others; and for failing to properly exercise control over civilian and military subordinates who committed or authorized the commission of the acts and who were under his actual authority and control, in accordance with overriding responsibility,” the court said in a statement.
Lvova-Belova is also accused of illegally deporting and transferring children from the occupied territories of Ukraine to Russia.
On Thursday, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry into Ukraine released a new report alleging that “Russian authorities have committed a multitude of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in various regions of Ukraine, many of which amount to war crimes. “
Such alleged crimes include attacks on civilians and energy-related infrastructure; premeditated killings; unlawful imprisonment; torture, rape and other sexual violence; and the unlawful renditions and deportations of children as described by the ICC.
The commission said it visited 56 sites and interviewed 348 women and 247 men as part of its investigation.
“Clearly, ensuring justice through international judicial mechanisms is neither quick nor straightforward – especially when there is no easy way to enforce such ICC decisions,” said Denis Krivosheev, deputy regional research director at Amnesty International’s Regional Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia news week.
“However, the story does not end here,” he added. “In fact, today’s decision of the ICC is to be issued [an] Arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin makes history. We will be watching carefully what this means in terms of justice for past and present war crimes, but I am sure that as of today we are one step closer.”
So far, 31 cases have been tried in court, in some cases there was more than one suspect.
According to the International Criminal Court, 31 war crimes cases have been brought to trial and 38 arrest warrants have been issued. Of these, 21 people have been arrested and brought to justice, while 14 remain at large.
Charges against five people were dropped because of their deaths. In addition to issuing nine individual subpoenas, the judges issued ten convictions and four acquittals.
news week emailed the ICC and other human rights organizations for comment.