European court: Russia must answer for abuses in 2008 Georgia war

PARIS (Reuters) - The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Thursday that Russia can be held to account for what judges said were acts of torture and ill treatment carried out in the days after the August 2008 war between Russia and ex-Soviet Georgia.

FILE PHOTO: Graves are seen during a ceremony at the memorial cemetery of Georgian soldiers killed during the war with Russia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia in 2008 in Tbilisi, Georgia August 8, 2017. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili/File Photo

During five days of fighting, Russia pushed troops into Georgia in support of its allies in the separatist Georgian region of South Ossetia.

Moscow said it acted to protect civilians from Georgian aggression. Georgia and Western nations said it was an unprovoked land grab.

The Strasbourg-based court ruled that Russia could be held responsible for three episodes that took place after the fighting was largely over.

In one incident, South Ossetian forces allied to Moscow detained 160 civilians, mostly ethnic Georgian women and elderly people, in the basement of the separatist interior ministry for 15 days in indecent conditions, according to the court judgment.

The court also ruled that more than 30 Georgian prisoners of war detained by the separatists were subjected to treatment that amounted to torture, and that Russia and its separatist allies prevented thousands of forcibly displaced ethnic Georgians from returning home.

The ruling opens the way for Russia to be prosecuted in the court over abuses carried out in South Ossetia, and also could establish a legal precedent for Russian accountability in other ex-Soviet breakaway regions where Moscow is the dominant player, including in eastern Ukraine.

The case was brought by the Georgian government. The deliberations of the court focused on defining the jurisdiction in which the alleged abuses took place.

The court found that, since Russia was the principal backer of the separatists, the incidents took place in de facto Russian jurisdiction.

Russian government representatives at the court said the Georgian allegations of abuses were false and took place outside Russia’s jurisdiction.

Reporting by Christian Lowe, editing by Timothy Heritage