The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court just announced that alleged war crimes in Georgia are “under analysis” by his office.
“Georgia is a State Party to the Rome Statute [that created the ICC]” he said. “My Office considers carefully all information relating to alleged crimes within its jurisdiction — war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide – committed on the territory of States Parties or by nationals of States Parties, regardless of the individuals or groups alleged to have committed the crimes. The Office is inter alia analyzing information alleging attacks on the civilians.”
So what exactly does this mean? For one, don’t expect any Georgians or Russians to be hauled to the Hague anytime soon–if ever. Being “under analysis” is the first step in a very long series of events before allegations of war crimes turn into indictments or arrest warrants. And it is hardly guaranteed that ICC indictments will ever be pursued in this case. Other criteria: like gravity of the alleged crimes and whether or not local courts are pursuing their own investigations must also be satisfied.
Still, this move by the court is significant for the fact that it is the only conflict in the global north that is in the ICC’s sights. All four cases before the court are from Africa (Darfur, Northern Uganda, Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Central African Republic) as are three of the five other situations currently “under analysis” (Chad, Cote D’Ivoire, Kenya, Columbia and Afghanistan).
I spoke to an ICC lawyer handling the Georgia case who talked me through the procedural issues but would not discuss the contents of Russian and Georgian allegations of war crimes. This Human Rights Watch report, however, gives you a good sense of what the court may be dealing with should it ever launch a full investigation in Georgia. It’s not a pretty picture.
UPDATE: The aforementioned ICC lawyer responds: “The one thing not to underestimate, however, is that once triggered the Court process will continue until the evidence driven process finds its conclusion. If crimes have been perpetrated that fit our criteria, someone will be held to account. This may well be after the smoke clears but it is not something that should, or in this case is, being dismissed by the parties to the conflict.”