In The Hague, exchanges are taking place in a legal battle between Georgia and Russia which threatens to become something of a saga. Two years ago Tbilisi charged Moscow with a derogation of its duty to eliminate ‘all forms of racial discrimination‘, under the UN’s 1965 International Convention.
The allegation is that Russia’s armed forces engaged in violent discrimination, alongside ’separatist militia and foreign mercenaries’ in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, through at least three separate phases, between 1990 and 2008.
When these proceedings (PDF) were instigated, in August 2008, Tbilisi effectively asked the UN’s judicial organ to endorse its casus belli, at the same time as its invasion of South Ossetia was met with resistance and Russian tanks pushed its forces back into Georgia proper.
A provisional ruling, delivered in the aftermath of the conflict, called on both sides to do all they could to eliminate racial discrimination and urged restraint.
These latest hearings will not directly deal with Georgia’s charges. This week the court hears objections from Russia that the case falls outside its jurisdiction. Lawyers representing Tbilisi, in their turn, will offer arguments that the ICJ should proceed.
Moscow is right to insist that this case should not be heard. From the outset, it was transparently a political ruse, designed to confer upon a failed invasion the flimsiest pretext of legality. Georgia simply attempted to cover its back after its President’s military adventurism back-fired spectacularly.
Russia’s lawyers will argue that Georgia launched no objections about its conduct in South Ossetia or Abkhazia, based on ’racial discrimination’. Even if the charges had substance, it is preposterous to argue that the basis for Saakashvili’s invasion was a dispute which, in fact, did not exist until after hostilities commenced.
As Roman Kolodkin, Russia’s ambassador to the Netherlands, told the court, “the alleged violations of CERD (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination) were never raised by Georgia during the 17 or more years of this so-called dispute”.
The Georgian government certainly responded swiftly to its predicament, cooking up this case after its South Ossetian intervention went awry. Only the very partial or very gullible would accept that Tbilisi invaded, in order to hold Russia to its obligations under CERD.