ICC Concludes Investigation Phase into 2008 Conflict
Karim Khan, the Prosecutor of the Hague International Criminal Court (ICC), announced the conclusion of the investigation phase in the Situation in Georgia – which looked into crimes against humanity and war crimes in the context of an international armed conflict between 1 July and 10 October.
In his statement, Prosecutor Khan emphasized that throughout the investigation his Office examined evidence related to alleged crimes by all parties to the armed conflict in an “independent, impartial, and objective manner, in partnership with survivors, civil society, and relevant authorities.”
As a result of the investigation, the ICC issued 3 arrest warrants on 30 June 2022 for 3 de-facto South Ossetian officials – Lt.-Gen. Mikhail Mindzaev, de-facto interior minister in 2005-2008, Hamlet Guchmazov, Head of the Preliminary Detention facility of the de-facto interior ministry at the time of events, and David Sanakoev, de-facto president representative for human rights in S. Ossetia. Evidence against one Russian Army Major-General was collected, but he died in the meantime, so no warrant was issued.
The trio faced charges related to “unlawful confinement, torture, and ill-treatment, hostage taking, and subsequent unlawful transfer of ethnic Georgian civilians in the context of an occupation by the Russian Federation.”
The investigation also uncovered the role of Vyacheslav Borisov, Major General in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and Deputy Commander of the Airborne Forces at the time of events, “who is believed to have intentionally contributed to the execution of some of these crimes, and is now deceased.”
The Prosecutor remarked that he plans to continue cooperating with civil society, having already engaged with civil society organizations and other stakeholders to provide more details about the decision to conclude the investigation phase, as well as about ongoing work and their “determination to bring the pending cases to trial.”
The European Parliament calls on the European Council and its partners to impose sanctions on Ivanishvili
On 14 December, the European Parliament (EP) adopted the resolution on the implementation of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement (AA) with 430 votes in favor, 52 against and 126 abstentions.
The EP resolution underscored that Russia’s war against Ukraine “calls for unity and solidarity on the part of the international community, as this will also be decisive for the restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity, which the international community did not defend with sufficient strength in 2008.”
Significantly, it welcomed the “strong response” of the Georgian society in support of Ukraine,” paid tribute to soldiers of the Georgian Legion, and called on authorities to align themselves with relevant statements by EU representatives and with EU sanctions.
The resolution also called on authorities to ensure that international sanctions against Russia are not circumvented via Georgia and expressed concern about reports that “Russian people and entities are allegedly using Georgia to bypass Western sanctions.” To that end, it called on EU institutions to “further examine” such reports, including one by the Ukrainian Corruption Agency about Ivanishvili’s “ties to Russia.” To that end, it emphasized that if such ties are confirmed, sanctions should be applied to Ivanishvili and his associates.
On Ivanishvili, it also recalled that “Ivanishvili’s family and his close associates have been sanctioned by Ukraine for their links to the Kremlin, which is behind the ambiguous position of the current Government of Georgia towards Russia.”
The EP resolution underscored that Russia’s war against Ukraine “calls for unity and solidarity on the part of the international community, as this will also be decisive for the restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity, which the international community did not defend with sufficient strength in 2008.” Significantly, it welcomed the “strong response” of the Georgian society in support of Ukraine,” paid tribute to soldiers of the Georgian Legion, and called on authorities to align themselves with relevant statements by EU representatives and with EU sanctions.
Resolution called on Georgian political leaders to halt “aggressive verbal attacks” on MEPs and representatives of Euro-Atlantic partners like the EU and the U.S., as well as the “baseless and harmful rhetoric” about attempts by international partners to open up a second front in Georgia.
It noted with concern the rising anti-Western propaganda, disinformation, and rhetoric in Georgia, “which are at odds with the undiminished and extraordinarily high public support for the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration.”
In reference to elections, the report called on authorities to complete the country’s electoral reforms and address “persistent shortcomings” in electoral campaigns and the conduct of elections in time for the upcoming 2024 Parliamentary elections, and in line with the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations. In particular, it urged authorities to resolve issues of “pressure on voters and candidates by public officials and electoral contestants and allegations of intimidation, coercion, and vote-buying, and on the misuse of administrative resources during the electoral process.”
The report also underscored the need to “eliminate the excessive influence of vested interests in the economic, political and public life” – in line with the European Commission’s 12 recommendations – and specifically recommended that Georgia address the “excessive influence of vested interests, notably of the oligarch and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili…” The resolution called for the Council and democratic partners to “take appropriate measures, including imposing personal sanctions on Ivanishvili and all those individuals enabling and responsible for the deterioration of the democratic political process.”
The EP “regrets” that the reform of the judiciary has “stalled and even regressed in several key areas” and called on authorities to address the shortcomings identified by the Venice Commission in the nomination and appointment of judges at all levels, especially to the Supreme Court, and of the Prosecutor-General to fully align the process with European standards.
Regarding press freedoms, the EP expressed “serious concern” that despite Georgia’s “solid” legal framework for guaranteeing freedom of expression and media, there was a “deterioration in the media environment and the safety of journalists in 2021.”
According to PM, the deep sea port of Anaklia will be built with the government’s participation
Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili revealed on 12 December that the long-awaited deep sea port of Anaklia will be built with the government’s participation, which will subsequently own 51% of it.
The Prime Minister noted that an international competition will be announced to select the partners and companies which will participate in the project.
PM Garibashvili also recalled the contract that the government had signed with the Anaklia Development Consortium in 2016 for the port’s construction, and claimed that the consortium “failed to fulfill its obligation…”
According to the PM, Badri Japaridze and Mamuka Khazaradze – the founders of TBC Bank (which made up part of the consortium) and the Lelo for Georgia opposition party – spent USD 3 million on the project but attracted a total of USD 20-25 million from investors.
The Anaklia Development Consortium (ADC) addressed Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili’s statements about the Anaklia Deep Sea Port on 12 December, declaring that he “made a series of misrepresentations” about the project and emphasizing that the PM “made assertions about the future of the project which are sure to fail.”
The ADC also reminded Prime Minister Garibashvili that the dispute between the Consortium and the Georgian government over the project is currently in arbitration at the International Chamber of Commerce in Geneva, underscoring that the PM “will be answerable for all his false statements today in that forum, as well as before the Georgian public.”
Significantly, the ADC contended that “the idea that the Georgian state can find a serious private investor for Anaklia Port while planning to take a 51% controlling interest in the project, is absurd.”
Additionally, according to the ADC’s view, “it is quite clear that the Government has failed completely” in seeking out investors or port operators willing to take on the project “given the existence of the arbitration claims, along with the politicized Georgian judicial system which this Government has failed to reform.”
The ADC also stressed that the government’s decision to invest USD 300 million in the port “defies belief,” considering that it “refused to contribute even USD 50 million as a guarantee (not cash) to facilitate the financing of the construction of the port by ADC.”
Citing the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development’s audit, the ADC also refuted Prime Minister Garibashvili’s claims on how much Khazaradze and Japaridze put into the project, stating, “the amount of ADC’s investment was $75 million (and indeed higher), of which $40 million came from Messrs. Khazaradze and Japaridze (not $3 million as claimed by the Prime Minister).”
Special Penitentiary Service Releases Footage of Saakashvili
Citing “high public interest,” the Special Penitentiary Service of Georgia released footage of imprisoned ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili taken during different periods at Viva Medi Clinic.
The video, which is roughly 10 minutes long, depicts scenes that show the ex-President in various states of health. He can also be seen arguing with staff and throwing objects at them several times throughout the video. Notably, the video also shows Saakashvili falling out of bed at times and in the final 20 seconds – dated 12 December 2022 – using a walker.
The Personal Data Protection Service announced on 15 December that it has started to look into the release of video recordings of imprisoned ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili at Viva Medi Clinic by the Special Penitentiary Service.
Saakashvili’s lawyer Shalva Khachapuridze told Formula TV the day that the footage was released that “the [distribution of the footage] is a criminal offense.” “This video material, i.e. personal data, was made public without the prisoner’s permission,” he explained.
U.S. Ambassador Kelly Degnan emphasized regarding imprisoned ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili that “the government has a responsibility to ensure that his human rights are respected, that he receives the medical care and psychological care he needs, and that he receives a fair trial.”
She also underscored that “with a court hearing underway, those legal processes should continue in accordance with basic human rights and the protection of privacy as well as the right to a fair trial.”