Georgian representatives have accused Russia of ethnic cleansing in territory it captured during the 2008 war as Europe’s top human rights court heard a case on the brief conflict between the two countries.
Ben Emerson, a lawyer representing Georgia, told the European Court of Human Rights on May 23 that Russian forces bombed villages, torched houses, and terrorized civilians as they led separatist militias in a campaign on Georgian lands 10 years ago.
Mikhail Galperin, Russia’s representative to the court, asserted that South Ossetia was awarded to Georgia in 1922 by Josef Stalin and that “no one asked the Ossetians if they wanted to become Georgians.”
Decades later, Georgia tried to “enforce that decision by invading South Ossetia and killing civilians,” Galperin argued.
Tbilisi and Moscow severed diplomatic ties following the five-day war in August 2008, during which Russian forces drove deep into Georgia following initial fighting in the South Caucasus country’s breakaway region of South Ossetia.
Georgia filed its case with the court the same month as the conflict erupted. Among other things, Georgian officials alleged that Russian forces and the separatist forces they controlled carried out indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians and their property in different parts of the country, including South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia.
Russia denies the allegations, describing them as baseless.
The Strasbourg-based court said it had heard from 33 witnesses — 16 summoned through the Georgian government, 12 through the government of Russia, and six directly by the court.
It said the Grand Chamber would begin its deliberations after the hearing and that its ruling in the case would be made “at a later stage.”
Though it is participating in the proceedings, Russia routinely ignores the court’s rulings. In 2015, President Vladimir Putin signed a law allowing Russia’s Constitutional Court to disregard international court rulings if Russia believes they violate its constitution.
Moscow recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states after the war, but almost every other country in the world recognizes the two territories as part of Georgia.