In August 2008, amidst the Olympic Games of that year, tensions between Georgia and  its separatists’ territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia escalated to the outbreak of a war  between Georgia and Russia. The conflict endured for five days, which could be seen as a short period of time, but its consequences and effects remain until today, 13 years after it occurred. In fact, Georgia may have finally received the recognition of a battle that it has been silently  fighting for the past years. 

On January 21st 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Russia  breached six articles of the European Convention of Human Rights, plus that it was responsible  for other human rights violations during the Russo-Georgian War of 2008 and in its aftermath.  Among the found violations by ECHR are right to life, prohibition of torture, respect for private  and family life, protection of property, right to liberty and security and freedom of movement.  Moreover, the Court ruled that Russia had the obligation “to carry out an adequate and effect  investigation” on the events that occurred both after and during the phase of hostilities, to which  Russia breached and failed to meet its obligations. 

The most important decision of the Court lies in the reconnaissance of the effective  control that Russia has maintained in South Ossetia and Abkhazia for all those years, despite  having officially withdraw all troops in October 2008. Due to it, Russian forces might not have  been directly involved in the human rights violations, but since Russia was effectively  controlling those regions, the jurisdiction to guarantee and maintain the safety and peace of  citizens and prisoners of war fell on Russia.

ECHR ruling is, therefore, a win that Georgia has been waiting for almost 13 years. The  country is finally holding its neighbor accountable for violations, such as ill-treatment and  torture of prisoners of war, to which ECHR concluded that “the conditions of detention of some 160 Georgian civilians and the humiliating acts to which they were exposed, […] caused them  undeniable suffering and must be regarded as inhuman and degrading treatment.” 

Furthermore, it is bringing to the international stage’s attention that Russia is still  pushing for conflict in the region, and not acting as a neutral actor as it has been portraying in  the last years. The type of conflict perduring is neither direct, nor it is easily visible to outsiders.  Since 2011, a ‘borderization policy’ has been happening in the borders between Russia,  Georgia and South Ossetia, which it is not known if it is incited by Russia or pro-Russian separatists. Also, Georgian citizens are still being detained by Russian controlled occupation  forces or by pro-Russian separatists in regions that are controlled by the central government of  Georgia, and being sentenced to jail. 

Russia is still holding its position even after ECHR ruling in January. In fact, one of the  detainees had been sentenced to 12 years in prison a few days after the Court’s decision. In this  matter, the Georgian Foreign Ministry stated, “Russia is engaged in destructive activities  despite its statements on dialogue and cooperation with Georgia.” 

Although a legal win to Georgia, the ECHR decision could not resolve the country’s tension with its separatists’ movements and Russia, in fact, it could even exacerbate it. On the  day the verdict came out, the official account of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia on  Twitter posted a message from Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson of the Ministry, stating that  “the friendly relations between #Russia and #SouthOssetia are based on the principles of  alliance and integration and are not subject to momentary considerations. Russia proactively  supports South Ossetia in its efforts to build a modern democratic state.” 

The message posted could also mean that Russia may overlook the Court’s decision,  which, in fact, it is already preparing its constitution to allow it. In October 2020, the Russian  Parliament approved a bill that allows the national legislation to have precedency over  international treaties. In that way, ECHR’s decision would not abide to Russia. The bill is not  yet into full force, as it needs the approval of the upper house of Parliament and President  Putin’s signature. However, as it exists, it could mean a loss to Georgia in terms of  humanitarian resolution. 

The Georgian-Russian War may have had its hostilities enduring only for five days, but  its consequences are still unfolding. In terms of diplomacy, it is also known that Georgia has  plead for a membership with NATO, which is a matter of concern to Russia, South Ossetia and  Abkhazia. On the subject, the former Abkhazian President, Raul Khadzhimba, stated that  NATO was enforcing Georgia’s army to have a “base of operations to create a threat for Russia  from the south”, while the former Prime Minister for Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, said that “this  could provoke a terrible conflict”. 

As the diplomatic ties between these two countries are still uncertain, ECHR ruling is  still a win to Georgia. A legal win that could bring the necessary international attention to  resolve this situation that persisted for 13 years.  

By Isabela Carrozza Joia

Isabela Carrozza Joia is a master's student in International Affairs at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. During her bachelor's studies, she has focused on studying Russia and its diplomatic ties with Asia. Her main areas of interest are diplomacy, and global security aspects.

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