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ICC calls for the arrest of 3 suspects linked to the Russo-Georgian war

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Judges at the International Criminal Court have issued arrest warrants for three wanted men suspected of committing war crimes during the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, the court announced Thursday.

The Hague-based tribunal opened an investigation in 2016 into the conflict, which has killed hundreds and displaced thousands of civilians. Russia invaded Georgia after violence broke out between separatist groups and Georgian forces. In 2021, the European Court of Human Rights found that “serious human rights violations” had taken place in territory under Russian control.

The three wanted men — Lt. Gen. Mikhail Mindzaev, Gamlet Guchmazov and David Sanakoev — served in the government of the self-proclaimed Russian-backed republic of South Ossetia.

In a June 24 ruling released Thursday, a panel of judges concluded that there were “reasonable grounds to believe that each of these three suspects bears responsibility for war crimes.

Human Rights Watch welcomed the warrants.

“The 2008 conflict over South Ossetia took a toll on civilians, many of whom continue to pay the price, said Rachel Denber, deputy director of the rights group’s Europe and Central Asia division. . “The ICC warrants are an important, long-awaited step to hold accountable those involved in the campaign of violence that has forced nearly 20,000 ethnic Georgians from their homes.

Mindzaev and Guchmazov held senior positions in South Ossetia’s interior ministry, while Sanakoev was the breakaway region’s presidential human rights representative.

Mindzaev and Guchmazov are charged with unlawful detention, torture and inhuman treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, hostage taking and unlawful transfer of civilians. The alleged crimes took place from August 8 to 27, 2008, the court said.

Sanakoev’s arrest warrant includes charges of hostage-taking and unlawful transfer of civilians.

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that civilians perceived to be of Georgian ethnicity were arrested in the South Ossetian part of Georgia and subsequently detained, abused and held in harsh conditions of detention,” the court said. in a press release.

Judges estimated that around 170 people, including women and the elderly, were rounded up and confined to the detention center known as “the isolator”.

The prisoners were then “used as a negotiating tool by Russia and the de facto authorities of South Ossetia, and used for an exchange of prisoners and detainees. As a result of the exchange, the detainees were forced to leave South Ossetia,” the judges of the International Criminal Court said.

The ICC is a court of last resort that hears cases when national authorities are unwilling or unable to prosecute. ICC prosecutors are currently investigating alleged crimes in several countries, including in the ongoing war in Ukraine.