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World Court Throws Out Georgia's Case Against Russia

  • RFE/RL

A convoy of armored personnel carriers and other military vehicles on a road leading out of the Georgian town of Gori in the direction of Tbilisi during the August 2008 fighting between Georgian and Russian forces

A convoy of armored personnel carriers and other military vehicles on a road leading out of the Georgian town of Gori in the direction of Tbilisi during the August 2008 fighting between Georgian and Russian forces

The International Court of Justice has refused to hear complaints of human rights abuses allegedly committed by Russia in Georgia's separatist regions.

Georgia had accused Russia of "serious violations" of a 1965 antidiscrimination treaty in its breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and denounced Russia's "systematic policy" of ethnic discrimination against ethnic Georgians.

Tbilisi lodged the case at the United Nations' highest court in August 2008 at the end of a brief war with Russia over Moscow-backed South Ossetia.

But the court, based in The Hague in the Netherlands, ruled today that it had no jurisdiction to hear the case because Georgia never attempted to settle the dispute before bringing it to the court, as required under the treaty.

Georgian First Deputy Justice Minister Tina Burjaliani put down Georgia's legal defeat to "a procedural technicality" and said the ruling was a disappointment for her country.

But she told RFE/RL from The Hague, where she traveled specially for the ruling, that Georgia had not said its last word on the matter.

"What became clear after today's decision is that although the proceedings will not immediately continue, the court leaves the possibility open for Georgia to try to settle this issue through negotiations," Burjaliani said.

"And if there is even one attempt by Georgia, this gives us the technical and judicial opportunity to return to court."

Georgia 'Has It Wrong'

Russia denies the claims of ethnic cleansing. Russian Foreign Ministry legal adviser Kirill Gevorgian welcomed the ruling as a "very, very good decision."

"It is exactly what we were trying to prove to the court," he said.

The 10-6 ruling, however, shows that Georgia's complaints were not deemed entirely unfounded.

But Bill Bowring, a professor of international human rights law at the University of London's Birkbeck College, says Georgia's complaint was flawed from the start.

"It seems to be quite clear under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination that before you can go anywhere else you've got to exhaust the remedies open to you under the convention, which is very much the rule of international law," Bowring says.

"I was initially very surprised that they [Georgia] took that route. It looked to me a bit like a knee-jerk reaction."

Trading Claims Of Discrimination

Bowring says Georgia will not actually be able to pursue the case in its current form. "You can't bring the same case twice, so they'll have to make sure that it's substantially different," he says. "I think Georgia is going to have to consider very carefully what is the best way forward."

Bowring says the cases filed by ethnic Georgians at the European Court of Human Rights accusing Russia of rights abuses in Georgia's Moscow-backed breakaway regions stand a much better chance.

Russia blames Georgia for starting the conflict and has since recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

It has also accused Georgian forces of conducting ethnic cleansing against ethnic South Ossetians.

The International Court of Justice, also known as the world court, in October 2008 ordered Russia and Georgia to refrain from ethnic discrimination in Georgia's breakaway regions.

written by Claire Bigg, with reporting from RFE/RL's Georgian Service
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