The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for three men wanted on suspicion of committing war crimes during the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, it announced on Thursday.
The Hague-based court opened an investigation in 2016 into the conflict, which killed hundreds and left thousands of civilians displaced.
Russia invaded Georgia after violence broke out between separatist groups and Georgian forces.
In 2021, the European Court of Human Rights concluded that “grave human rights abuses” occurred on Russian-held territory.
The three wanted men – Lieutenant General Mikhail Mindzaev, Gamlet Guchmazov and David Sanakoev – served in the government of the Russian-backed self-declared republic of South Ossetia.
In a June 24 ruling that was released on Thursday, a panel of judges concluded that there are “reasonable grounds to believe that each of these three suspects bears responsibility for war crimes”.
Mindzaev and Guchmazov held the top positions at the Ministry of Internal Affairs of South Ossetia, while Sanakoev served as the presidential representative for human rights of the breakaway region.
“There are reasonable grounds to believe that civilians perceived to be ethnically Georgian were arrested in the South Ossetian part of Georgia, and subsequently detained, mistreated, and kept in harsh detention conditions in a detention center in Tskhinvali,” the court said in a statement.
The prisoners were later “used as a bargaining tool by Russia and the South Ossetian de facto authorities, and used for an exchange of prisoners and detainees. As a result of the exchange, the detainees were forced to leave South Ossetia.”
The ICC is a court of last resort that takes on cases when national authorities are unwilling or unable to launch prosecutions. ICC prosecutors are currently investigating alleged crimes in several countries, including in Ukraine amid the ongoing war.
The war between Georgia and Russia broke out in 2008 over the breakaway region of South Ossetia, when Russian tanks entered the region.
Since then Kremlin has recognised the territory as an independent state and stationed military bases there.
Recently, the leader of South Ossetia cancelled the referendum on joining Russia which was scheduled for July 17.