Russia urges U.N. court to dismiss Georgia case

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Russia urged the U.N.’s highest court on Wednesday to dismiss a case brought by Georgia accusing Moscow of human rights violations in the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

At the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which hears disputes between nations, Russia denied it could be held accountable for attacks on ethnic Georgians and its lawyers disputed the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case.

“The Russian Federation requests the court to remove the case,” Roman Kolodkin, director of the legal department at the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry said.

On Monday, the ICJ launched three days of emergency hearings after Georgia claimed Russia breached a 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination during three interventions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia from 1990 to August 2008.

It called on the court to order Russia to take urgent measures to protect ethnic Georgians and other people from violence and to allow the safe return of Georgian refugees to their homes.

Russia fought a brief war with Georgia last month after its southern neighbor tried to retake South Ossetia by force and drew western condemnation for extending into Georgia proper.

Georgia says 150,000 Georgians have been forcibly displaced in the past month by Russian forces and separatist militias under their control and has shown the Hague court a map depicting destroyed Georgian villages.

Russia said it sent troops into Georgia to stop Tbilisi committing “genocide” against the South Ossetian and Abkhazia separatists.

Russia’s legal team also rejected Georgia’s claims on Wednesday that Russia had effective control of buffer zones around South Ossetia, saying it had just 195 troops at six observation posts along the southern edge of the zone.

“By their very numbers they are unable to exert effective control,” lawyer Andreas Zimmerman told the 15-judge tribunal.

Russian lawyers also said refugees were starting to return to their homes.

Russian soldiers began dismantling checkpoints in western Georgia on Wednesday in line with a French-brokered ceasefire deal, but disagreements broke out over an international force that will replace them.

One of Russia’s lawyers, Alain Pellet, said the court had no jurisdiction to hear Georgia’s claim that Russia breached the anti-discrimination convention as Georgia never requested talks to settle the dispute.

If the court decides it has jurisdiction to hear the case, a binding provisional order or injunction could be issued within weeks. The court has no enforcement powers, however, and a ruling on the merits of the case itself is not expected for at least a year.