World Court to rule on Georgia-Russia case

October 15, 2008 5:29:30 AM PDT
The International Court of Justice plans to rule Wednesday on whether to order Russia to take immediate steps to halt what Georgia calls ethnic cleansing in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Moscow and Tbilisi fought a five-day war in August for control of the regions, which Russia has recognized as independent states and which Georgia says are part of its territory.

In the immediate aftermath of the fighting, Georgia appealed to the U.N.'s highest court to impose emergency measures to stop what Tbilisi says is a two-decade campaign of racial discrimination by Russia and its separatist allies against ethnic Georgians in the regions.

The 15-judge panel must first rule whether it has jurisdiction before deciding what, if any, emergency measures to impose. The court's orders are binding, but it has no way of enforcing them.

It will take the court years to deal with Georgia's case, which seeks compensation for alleged breaches of the 1965 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

At preliminary hearings last month, lawyers for Georgia accused Russian forces, local militias and mercenaries of conducting a campaign of murder and forced displacement starting in the early 1990s after the Soviet Union crumbled. Georgia claims the campaign has left thousands of civilians dead and forced 10 percent of the country's population to flee their homes.

Ethnic Georgians "are being forced out of their homes by a campaign of harassment and persecution," Tina Burjaliani, Georgia's first deputy minister of justice, told the court.

Russia's ambassador to the Netherlands, Kirill Gevorgian, dismissed the Georgian case as politically motivated "nonsense."

Lawyers for Moscow urged the panel, informally known as the World Court, to reject Georgia's request for intervention because Russian troops were pulling out and thousands of refugees were returning to their homes.

Last week, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Russia had met an EU deadline to withdraw hundreds of troops from strips of land in Georgia outside the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. But he added that Moscow had only partly fulfilled obligations set out in a peace plan brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Russia has made clear it has no plans to pull troops out of portions of the breakaway regions that had been under Georgian control before the war, including Abkhazia's Kodori Gorge, a broad swath of South Ossetia and the town of Akhalgori.

Wednesday's ruling comes as representatives for Russia and Georgia and key international organizations were scheduled to meet in Geneva to discuss security and stability in the Caucuses.


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