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UN Court Begins Hearings Into Georgian Claims Of Russian Rights Abuses


Georgian First Deputy Justice Minister Tina Burjaliani at the International Court of Justice

Georgian First Deputy Justice Minister Tina Burjaliani at the International Court of Justice

THE HAGUE (Reuters) -- Georgia has accused Russia of committing human rights violations against ethnic Georgians in the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in hearings before the UN's highest court.

"Georgia is appearing before the principal judicial organization of the United Nations at a time of great distress in its history, a time when hundreds of thousands of its nationals are persecuted and displaced from their homes only because they are Georgians," Georgian First Deputy Justice Minister Tina Burjaliani told the court on the first day of hearings.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), or world court for disputes between nations, is holding three days of emergency hearings after Georgia demanded that Russia ensure that no ethnic Georgians are "subject to violent or coercive acts of racial discrimination, including...death or bodily harm, hostage-taking, and unlawful detention."

Georgia will outline its case in the first session on September 8, while Russia will present its arguments in an afternoon session, with hearings to follow on September 9-10.

In a lawsuit filed last month shortly after Russia invaded its neighbor after Georgia tried to recapture South Ossetia by force, Georgia alleges Russia violated an antidiscrimination convention during three interventions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia from 1990 to August 2008.

'That Is Not True'

Speaking on the sidelines of the hearing, Russia's ambassador to the Netherlands denied the charges and said Russia was not in breach of the discrimination convention.

"That is not true and we will produce facts and evidence that it is not true," Ambassador Kirill Gevorgian said.

The court hearings in The Hague began as French President Nicolas Sarkozy traveled to Moscow for talks with President Dmitry Medvedev to assess Russian compliance with a French-brokered peace plan.

During a brief war with Georgia last month, Moscow drew Western condemnation by sending its forces beyond the disputed area into Georgia proper. It later recognized the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

Georgia's ambassador said about 450,000 Georgians had been expelled from their homes to seek refuge elsewhere in Georgia.

'Nonsense'

Russia's ambassador disagreed, saying problems in the separatist regions were due to discrimination committed by Georgians.

"The issue of racial discrimination...by Russia of Georgians in the territories of Southern Ossetia and Abkhazia is, from the sense of logic, of history and of legal issues, nonsense," Gevorgian said.

Before the start of hearings, Russia was expected to question the jurisdiction of the ICJ, but the ambassador declined to comment on whether Russia would do so.

If the court decides it has jurisdiction to hear the case, a provisional order or injunction could be issued within two to three weeks.
Crisis In Georgia
For RFE/RL's full coverage of the conflict that began in Georgia's breakway region of South Ossetia, click here.

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