Russia acted 'in defence' against Georgia, court hears

22nd September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russia defended its conduct during its 2008 conflict with Georgia at Europe's Human Rights Court on Thursday, arguing that its soldiers acted only in defence against Tbilisi forces.

Thousands of people were displaced when the five-day war erupted on August 7 after Georgia tried to retake control of South Ossetia.

Tbilisi accuses Russia of "allowing or causing" multiple attacks against civilians during the brief conflict.

The Russian military intervention was launched in response to "the illegal and deliberate military action launched by Georgia," Russia's deputy justice minister Georgy Matyushkin told a hearing at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on Thursday.

Russia acted "in legitimate defence" and to "protect nationals and Russian peace-keeping soldiers," Matyushkin said.

"Nothing allows me to say that the Russian soldiers could have engaged in abuse, or that they were instigators," lawyer Michael Swainston, representing Russia said.

Tbilisi lodged an application with the ECHR days after the conflict ended, alleging that Russia "allowed, or caused to develop, an administrative practice through indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians and their property in the two autonomous regions of Georgia -- Abkhazia and South Ossetia -- by the Russian military forces and the separatist forces under their control."

Swainston asked the court to throw out the complaint, saying that Russian jurisdiction did not cover the territories concerned and that the applicable law in a conflict situation was the Geneva Convention.

Georgia's deputy justice minister Tina Burjaliani said however that Russia had exercised "effective control" over the zones and that the conflict was not exempt from the European Convention on Human Rights.

The court has still to rule on whether it can accept the complaint. Inter-state requests are very rare, with the court issuing a judgment in just three cases since its creation in 1959 to deal with alleged violations of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights.

Following Thursday's hearing the court will begin its deliberations in private and make a ruling at a later stage.

The court has yet to hear another case involving the two sides, the alleged harassment of Georgians living in Russia following the arrest in Tbilisi in September 2006 of four Russian officers.

The court has received a further 1,940 individual complaints related to the 2008 conflict, most of them against Georgia.

© 2011 AFP

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