Georgia urges UN court to hear 'ethnic cleansing' case
Years of Russian persecution have driven a tenth of Georgians from their homes, Tbilisi said Tuesday as it urged UN judges to hear its case against Moscow for "ethnic cleansing".
"We had to act to stop the continued ethnic violence, persecution and displacement of thousands of ethnic Georgians," the country's First Deputy Minister of Justice, Tina Burjaliani, told the International Court of Justice in The Hague, listing the reasons for the complaint.
"Almost 10 percent of the Georgian population is now living in exile in their own country."
She said "some 40,000 ethnic Georgians in the Gali district of Abkhazia have survived two waves of ethnic cleansing," and were now subjected to Russian "discriminatory measures" to force them to abandon their Georgian citizenship or leave the rebel region.
These included a prohibition on mother-tongue education and forced conscription into the Abkhazian military.
"The situation is no better in Akhalgori", an area in South Ossetia that Burjaliani said always had a majority ethnic Georgian population.
"As a result of ethnic cleansing since 2008, the ethnic Georgian population of more than 7,000 has been reduced to less than 1,000," she told the court.
"This is why we have brought this case: to bring to an end years of ethnic discrimination with all its continuing effects."
Burjaliani testified on the second day of public hearings into a Russian objection to the court's jurisdiction in an application brought by Georgia in August 2008 under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
The case was brought after a brief war over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two Moscow-backed regions that broke away from Tbilisi's control in the early 1990s.
Moscow has since recognised the regions as independent states, while Tbilisi and most of the international community insist they are part of Georgian territory.
Russia told the court on Monday that Georgia's claim should be dismissed as Tbilisi had sparked the five-day 2008 war with an "unlawful" assault on South Ossetia, and therefore had no legal standing.
But Burjaliani told the judges that "Russia has pursued a policy of ethnic discrimination for over two decades".
Georgia also rejected Russia's argument that Tbilisi never complained about the alleged ethnic violence.
"Georgia expressly complained to Russia repeatedly about Russia's direct participation in ethnic cleansing of Georgians," Paul Reichler, an advocate for the Georgian team, told the judges.
"It expressly complained to Russia about Russia's deliberate failure to prevent ethnic cleansing in areas of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and ... about its persistent and longstanding denial of the rights of Georgians previously expelled from these regions to return to their homes."
The ICJ, which hears disputes between states, ordered both countries in October 2008 to "refrain from any acts of racial discrimination" against ethnic groups in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
© 2010 AFP