Russia guilty of rights violations in Georgia conflict

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled April 9 that Russia's occupation of two breakaway regions in Georgia systematically violated human rights. The ECHR found that Russia violated multiple sections of the European Convention on Human Rights, including the right to life under Article Two, the prohibition of torture under Article Three, the right to liberty under Article Five, and the right to respect for private and family life under Article Eight

Georgia initially brought its case against Russia in August 2018, exactly 10 years after Russia invaded and began occupying the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia also established military bases in those enclaves and a border patrol to secure an "administrative boundary line" (ABL) around the regions.

The Georgian government claimed that the practice of harassing, unlawfully detaining, and torturing Georgians trying to cross the lines constituted a "systematic pattern" of human rights violations. The ECHR agreed, finding sufficient evidence to show the incidents were not isolated but constituted systemic and repeated abuses. The court, upon reviewing victim lists, testimonies, and media reports, found that the incidents were "sufficiently numerous and interconnected" to amount to an "administrative practice," or a pattern of acts that violated the convention and were officially sanctioned by Moscow.

The process of "borderization" blocked free travel across the ABL, enacting a heavy toll on those living along the boundary lines. A report by Amnesty International documented the impact of borderization on local villagers, highlighting the displacement of ethnic Georgians from their homes. The human rights organization called the borderization process "one of the most painful legacies" of the 2008 conflict, noting that villagers have lost access to farmland, water sources, and means of income. In some cases, families were separated by the ABL.

The decision comes nearly one year after the ECHR ordered Russia to pay $134 million to Georgia in compensation for the 2008 conflict, finding Russia subjected ethnic Georgians to "inhuman and degrading treatment," and specifically targeted them as an ethnic group. The court last year also held Russia responsible for Abkhazian authorities' human rights violations against two Georgian men who were arbitrarily detained and mistreated.

Georgian Minister of Justice Rati Bregadze celebrated the court's decision, stating that the ruling "underscored Georgia's territorial integrity and the unlawfulness of the borderization process." Bregadze also said the judgment is an important step toward the ultimate goal of achieving the "complete de-occupation" of Georgia.

From Jurist, April 10. Used with permission.