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Georgia: Council Of Europe Envoy Discusses Lawsuit Against Russia

Zurab Chiaberashvili (RFE/RL) PRAGUE, June 15, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Georgia's permanent representative to the Council of Europe, Zurab Chiaberashvili, is the driving force behind Georgia's lawsuit against Moscow at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The suit refers to the mass deportation of ethnic Georgians from Russia in the fall of 2006, a measure widely seen as retaliation for the arrest in Tbilisi of four Russian officers on spying charges. Chiaberashvili visited RFE/RL, where he spoke with correspondent Claire Bigg.

RFE/RL: Georgia's Justice Ministry in March announced that Georgia filed a lawsuit against Russia at the European Court for Human Rights. Who actually took the decision to sue Russia over the deportations?

Zurab Chiaberashvili: It was the government's decision. From the start, it was clear to us that the case must be brought to the court in Strasbourg. The position of the Council of Europe -- and, later, the position of the Georgian government -- was that governments can have political disputes, but that these disputes should not harm citizens. Citizens were expelled from Russia illegally and massively. There was clear evidence. Then the government began the difficult task of preparing the file for the court.

The file consists of interviews with deportees and a legal analysis of the factual material we gathered. We also have visual [evidence]: some of the deportees took pictures and videos in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other places in Russia. So we have a huge amount of material. We submitted it to the court, and now Russia is preparing an answer."

RFE/RL: Where does the case stand now?

Chiaberashvili: Now the court must rule on the application's admissibility, which will happen toward the end of this year or the beginning of next year. The Russian side has also been informed about the case and now they have several months to prepare their answer to the application. Then the court can deliver a judgment on the issue.

RFE/RL: Did Georgia seek the help of foreign associations or nongovernmental groups that have experience in helping file applications to the European Court of Human Rights?

Chiaberashvili: Yes, the Georgian side consulted prominent lawyers in Europe.

RFE/RL: Have there been some concern in Georgia that the lawsuit could damage relations with Moscow?

Chiaberashvili: How can we damage them? They are already damaged. The good thing is that there is no tense rhetoric now between officials of both countries. But relations don't meet the standard of what they should be between neighboring countries.

RFE/RL: What has been Russia's reaction to the lawsuit?

Many Georgians were deported from Russia last fall (epa)

Chiaberashvili: We are not in direct contact with the Russians. Our position, which has been stated by high-ranking officials -- I myself made a statement at the committee of ministers of the Council of Europe -- is that we don't consider this issue to be political, this is not a political dispute. We think it is a legal and human rights issue. We are waiting for the court's decision, whatever it might be.

I can judge from the reaction of Russian ambassadors at the committee when I made a statement about the application. They were very upset. But they are a contracting party to the European Convention on Human Rights, so what can they do? They have to prepare their answer and submit it to the court."

RFE/RL: Do you think Georgia's application to the European Court of Human Rights could encourage other former Soviet states to seek redress against Moscow at the court?

Chiaberashvili: It depends on the behavior of these countries. If the government of a particular country violates even one article of the convention, this provides a legal basis to sue this country at the court. Both individuals and governments can lodge applications. But there are some difficulties. There are already several cases now when an individual lodged an application against a country and the judgment was not executed. For example by the Russian Federation -- those who were detained illegally in Transdniester, a region of the Republic of Moldova, filed an application against Moldova and the Russian Federation. This also happened with Georgia -- there are several applications from the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in which individuals questioned the legality of actions by Georgia and the Russian Federation.

RFE/RL: What would a legal victory in this lawsuit mean for Georgia, and for you personally?

Chiaberashvili: As a representative of my country, I would say that for all of us, for the 47 countries which now belong to the Council of Europe, the victory would mean that the human rights of a person are restored. It doesn't matter whether these people are citizens of Georgia, the Russian Federation, or another country. If the human rights of a person are violated, they must be restored.

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Georgian deportees arriving in Tbilisi on October 6 (epa)

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MORE: Coverage of the situation in Georgian from RFE/RL's Georgian Service and in Russian from RFE/RL's Russian Service.


RFE/RL's English-language coverage of Georgia and Russia.