08TBILISI1751, GEORGIA: WAR CRIMES ISSUES AMBASSADOR-AT-LARGE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI1751 2008-09-25 14:26 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO1554
PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #1751/01 2691426
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 251426Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0143
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 TBILISI 001751 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR EUR/CARC 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/11/2017 
TAGS: PREL PHUM KAWC RU GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: WAR CRIMES ISSUES AMBASSADOR-AT-LARGE 
WILLIAMSON FOCUSES ON ETHNIC CLEANSING 
 
REF: TBILISI 1522 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D). 
 
 1.  (C)  Summary and Comment:  Ambassador-at-Large Clint 
Williamson visited Georgia September 10-11 to highlight USG 
concerns over war crimes and ethnic cleansing allegations 
from the August conflict and to stress the need to hold 
perpetrators accountable.  Williamson frankly told GOG 
officials that perceptions of U.S. bias, combined with 
limited access to the Russian-controlled territories, would 
hamper USG efforts to help conduct an investigation.  He 
recommended that to ensure impartiality, the OSCE or EU 
should do so.  He commended GOG officials on their work thus 
far and discussed with them the option of referring the case 
to the International Criminal Court, in addition to their 
ongoing legal proceedings in the International Court of 
Justice and the European Court of Human Rights.  GOG 
officials agreed that the USG might best serve them by 
sharing techniques to catalogue and sort information. 
Collection of information has been hampered by the fact that 
the GOG does not have access to many of the locations of 
alleged crimes, and concrete numbers of the missing and dead 
are not available.  Williamson said he intended to discuss 
these issues with the French in their EU Presidency capacity 
and with the Finns in their OSCE chair capacity.  Georgian 
Ministry of Justice officials said that their hearing before 
the International Court of Justice had gone very well and 
expected a response within two weeks.  Post recommends that 
the Department consider sending Georgian officials to 
Washington to learn how to catalogue investigation 
information more efficiently.  End Summary and Comment. 
 
Ministry of Justice 
 
2.  (C)  Ambassador Williamson met with a variety of senior 
level officials in Tbilisi, as well as regional officials in 
the city of Gori, that was occupied by Russian troops for 
several weeks in August.  During a September 10 meeting, 
Deputy Minister of Justice Tina Burjaliani told Ambassador 
Williamson she had just returned from The Hague and the 
International Court of Justice, where Georgia's three-day 
hearing went better than anticipated.  She cautioned that the 
basis of the Georgian case was very narrow (racial 
discrimination, ethnic cleansing).  The Russians attempted to 
brush these allegations aside, saying that Russian forces 
were justified as they were part of the wartime events and 
not a systematically focused discrimination campaign against 
Georgians.  Burjaliani portrayed the Russians' arguments as 
weak and was hopeful that the Court would grant a provisional 
measure in favor of the Georgians within two weeks. 
 
3.  (C) Burjaliani thought that the International Criminal 
Court (ICC) might want to take on the Georgians' case.  She 
expressed concern, however, that the ICC might eventually 
conclude that the scale of the crimes did not warrant 
prosecution, thereby handing the Russians a propaganda 
victory.  Her recommendation to her superiors was to not 
pursue it at this time.  She was wary that the Russians would 
cry foul if they did file with the ICC, pointing out that 
there was overlapping jurisdiction between the ICJ and the 
ICC.  Williamson countered that this was not a valid 
argument, because the ICJ exercised civil jurisdiction in 
actions between governments, while the ICC jurisdiction was 
criminal and pertained to individuals.  Burjaliani, who 
seemed unsure of how the GOG would proceed, noted that the 
ICC case's impact might be minimal, because even if the ICC 
indicted South Ossetian de facto authorities, it was unlikely 
they would ever be arrested.  Williamson indicated that even 
if indicted individuals were not arrested, there was some 
value in having perpetrators publicly charged, since this 
placed them and their "state" into a rogue category.  He 
added that there were no 100 percent guarantees as to how an 
investigation might come out, so ultimately the Georgians 
would have to weigh all of these considerations and come to 
their own conclusions as to the value of an ICC referral.  He 
stressed that it was unlikely that the ICC would initiate its 
own investigation into the Russia-Georgia conflict, however, 
so if Georgia was interested in having the ICC investigate, 
the Government would have to make a formal request to the 
Office of the Prosecutor. 
 
4.  (C)  Williamson suggested that the Georgians also 
consider offering compensation payments to Ossetian families 
who had experienced the loss of family members due to 
Georgian military actions, drawing the parallel between this 
and the U.S. military condolence payments in Iraq and 
Afghanistan.  Williamson said that such actions would not 
acknowledge criminal responsibility but would be a show of 
goodwill by the Georgians indicating a willingness to 
 
TBILISI 00001751  002 OF 004 
 
 
acknowledge that persons had died accidentally as a result of 
ongoing military operations.  If the Georgians were prepared 
to make such an offer, i
t would need to be predicated on an 
independent investigation into the number of deaths and which 
side was responsible in each case.  It would be awkward for 
the Russians, or the South Ossetians, to block such an 
inquiry if their citizens were potentially being compensated. 
 If an investigation were allowed to go forward, it would 
almost certainly prove that the number of deaths attributed 
to Georgian military actions was greatly inflated. 
Burjaliani expressed interest in exploring this initiative 
and said that the Georgians would be willing to learn more 
about how this had been done in other settings.  She did note 
that it would be a delicate matter domestically to provide 
payments to Ossetians when so many IDPs were in dire 
circumstances and not getting any such remuneration.  She 
said that this could likely be overcome, though, if it were 
dealt with appropriately. 
 
5.  (C)  Finally, Burjaliani said that she would very much 
appreciate written information on how best to catalogue the 
information that they are now collecting.  The Prosecutor's 
Office had been very helpful but needed better instruction on 
this procedure.  Williamson agreed to share this information 
via the Department of Justice's legal representative at post. 
 (Comment:  We might consider sending Georgian prosecutors to 
Washington to meet with Ambassador Williamson and his staff 
to develop a tool to catalogue the information being 
collected.  Another possibility would be to support sending 
Georgian pathologists to meet with expert war crimes 
pathologists to help them learn how to conduct war 
crimes-related autopsies.  End Comment.) 
 
Deputy Foreign Minister Bokeria 
 
6. (C)  DFM Bokeria discussed with Ambassador Williamson the 
tradeoffs associated with Georgia's filing a case with the 
ICC.  Bokeria said the GOG was considering such a case, but 
was concerned that the effort involved would not yield any 
concrete results.  Williamson agreed that it was unlikely 
that the ICC would independently look into the cases of war 
crimes if Georgia did not request it, but suggested that even 
if the case only resulted in a limited number of perpetrators 
being indicted, it could have some value.  Williamson was 
skeptical that Russian officials would be indicted, but 
indicated that ICC would likely be less hesitant about 
pursuing cases against South Ossetian de facto authorities. 
Williamson underlined that being branded a "war criminal" 
nevertheless had long-ranging ramifications that would affect 
the de facto authorities well into the future. Williamson 
again stressed that the GOG would have to make its own 
decision about pursuing an ICC investigation, but that this 
appeared to be the only viable option for prosecutions if 
that was the end result they were seeking. 
 
7.  (C)  When asked by Bokeria for an assessment of what 
could be done, Ambassador Williamson stated that the 
allegations of ethnic cleansing appeared to be the most 
viable for further investigation.  Although there seem to 
have been some isolated execution-style killings and other 
individually targeted crimes, these appear to be relatively 
small in number, and at this point are difficult to 
substantiate because of lack of access to crime scenes and 
victims.  The witness testimony as to forced displacements 
can be corroborated through other independent means, such as 
imagery, and reinforced by international monitors' 
observations, should access issues be overcome.  Bokeria 
added that it would be easier for the Georgians to show a 
systematic effort by paramilitary organizations under the 
South Ossetian officials' control, as opposed to Russian 
forces, to force ethnic Georgians out of South Ossetia. 
Using current satellite imagery, it appeared easy to show 
that Georgian villages were systematically burned and that a 
large number are now vacant. 
 
8. (C)  Bokeria was unhappy with Council of Europe 
Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg's report on 
the situation in South Ossetia, suggesting that the report 
was too soft on the Russians and cautiously worded to avoid 
controversy.  Although Bokeria acknowledged the constraints 
on any attempted U.S. investigation, he said that any effort 
by OSCE to investigate would be hampered by Russian 
influence.  Bokeria complimented Human Rights Watch (HRW) for 
its balanced reporting thus far on the situation, but noted 
that human rights NGOs sometimes fail to analyze situations 
from the perspective of military necessity.  Williamson 
agreed that it was important to have this perspective, but 
suggested that using U.S. military experts would not be the 
best option.  He mentioned that the ICTY had used experts 
from non-NATO countries, such as Ireland, and that this might 
 
TBILISI 00001751  003 OF 004 
 
 
be a possibility worth exploring. 
 
Presidential Advisor Zurab Adeishvili 
 
9.  (C)  Adeishvili said that in contrast to Georgians in 
South Ossetia, the 2,000 Georgians living in Kodori had not 
experienced the same degree of displacement during the 
conflict.  After the early 1990's when many ethnic Georgians 
fled Abkhazia, very few Georgians remained except for the 
Georgians in Gali.  Conversely, in South Ossetia many 
Georgians had intermarried with South Ossetians and 60,000 of 
them still remained. 
 
10.  (C)  Adeishvili said that Abkhazia is much more valuable 
to Russia than South Ossetia due to its strategic coastline 
and natural resources.  He felt that South Ossetia would 
become a burden for the Russians, as they would have to 
subsidize the entire region.  Abkhazia, however, is valuable 
to the Russians and the Georgians.  First, he opined, if the 
Ukrainians forced the Russians out of Sebastopol, then the 
logical place for their warm water port would be Sukhumi. 
Second, the Enguri power station which straddles Georgia and 
Abkhazia provides a significant source of power for which the 
Abkhaz do not pay.  Currently, the Abkhaz population 
(150,000) uses 1 billion kilowatt hours - - three times that 
of Adjara, the neighboring Georgian region, where 300,000 
people use 400,000 kilowatts of power.  Third, this power 
plant generates 40% of Georgia's power and therefore 
represents a serious vulnerability.  The informal arrangement 
for the last 15 years has been that Georgian technical 
experts were permitted in Abkhazia to keep the plant going. 
If Russia were to shut down the plant, Georgia's power supply 
would be greatly reduced. 
 
Prosecutor's Office 
 
11.  (C)  Acting Prosecutor General Giorgi Latsabidze told 
Williamson that the Prosecutor General's Office had no 
experience in prosecuting war crimes, but has done its best 
to investigate allegations based on current Georgian laws. 
Latsabidze envisioned that the crimes committed could be 
categorized as individual crimes (rape, abductions, summary 
executions) or ethnic cleansing.  Of the two, the latter 
would be easier to prove in a court of la
w.  Although heinous 
individual crimes did occur, they were not of a large enough 
number to cause an international outcry.  For the moment, 
Latsabidze said numbers were sketchy, but estimated there 
were fewer than 100 summary executions, and around 200 
missing persons.   Latsabidze's biggest challenge was not 
having access to the locations where the alleged crimes took 
place.  In response to the Prosecutor General's formal 
request for U.S. investigative assistance, Ambassador 
Williamson stated that we would face the same problems with 
access and that we would not be seen as an unbiased actor, 
thus undermining the results of any investigation in which 
the U.S. actively participated.  Williamson indicated that it 
might be possible to explore other options, including support 
from other governments (e.g., the UK or the Netherlands), 
that have specialists experienced in war crimes 
investigations. 
 
Public Defender 
 
12.  (C)  Ambassador Williamson met Sozar Subari, Ombudsman, 
and representatives of The Georgian Young Lawyers Association 
(GYLA) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) in the offices of the 
Public Defender's Office on September 11.  Officials from all 
three groups worried that the Russians and South Ossetians 
were engaging in a policy of ethnic cleansing.  While these 
groups had reports of other abuses, they were limited in 
scope, with GYLA saying it knew of not more than ten 
executions and the Ombudsman saying he believed there have 
been 49 civilian deaths.  Subari, whose office began to 
document facts gleaned from IDPs as they arrived at shelters, 
noted that in Akhalgori, in the far eastern part of South 
Ossetia which had never been a part of the conflict zone, 
South Ossetian officials were forcing residents to take 
Russian citizenship or leave.  Subari added that de facto 
South Ossetian president Kokoity said he intended to make 
Tskhinvali the new capital of South Ossetia.  Subari told 
Ambassador Williamson that the 54 villages in the district of 
Tskhinvali had an 80% Georgian population, with only two 
villages having been traditionally Ossetian. 
 
13.  (C)  HRW indicated that its Georgian representatives had 
been in South Ossetia both officially and unofficially since 
the conflict began and that its Moscow-based representatives, 
along with the Russian human rights NGO Memorial, had entry 
into South Ossetia as well. HRW expressed concern about the 
border region between South Ossetia and Gori, which remains 
 
TBILISI 00001751  004 OF 004 
 
 
insecure.  A withdrawal of Russian forces might create a 
security vacuum that would worsen the already fragile 
situation.  During a September 12 press conference in Moscow, 
 HRW Moscow and Memorial representatives accused Russia of 
letting South Ossetian militias raze Georgian homes in 
enclaves and villages both in and adjacent to Georgia proper 
which were loyal to Tbilisi, and even mixed Ossetian/Georgian 
villages.  HRW said that the strongest allegation against the 
Georgians was the excessive use of force in the form of 
massive shelling.  HRW stressed the need for a robust 
security mission, saying that its organization could only do 
so much and that the international community needed to be 
involved to get a full accounting.  Williamson noted that he 
would push for this during his subsequent visits to Paris and 
Helsinki. 
 
National Security Council 
 
14.  (C)  Ambassador Williamson met with Georgian National 
Security Council (NSC) officials to stress the importance of 
collecting evidence and establishing facts.  The NSC admitted 
that most of the analysts working on the conflict had just 
been hired, yet they displayed a coherent understanding of 
the facts on the ground.  The NSC reported that current 
statistics showed 14 missing Georgian soldiers and 326 
Georgians killed (154 military, 155 civilian and 17 police). 
The primary cause of death was shelling, bombing and 
landmines.  The NSC had few reports of other crimes, saying 
that because of stigmas, there was only one report of rape 
and that the numbers of abductions depend on whether one 
counts abductions that were for the purpose of negotiation 
and exchange of prisoners.  Williamson recounted his 
experiences in the former Yugoslavia, explaining that Serb 
forces would often surround an area and allow paramilitary 
forces to destroy villages.  The NSC responded that this same 
tactic was being used on Georgian villages in South Ossetia; 
there was a Russian policy to allow time for looting before 
taking villages.  Bolstering the ethnic cleansing claim, NSC 
officials reported that the Russians had threatened Georgians 
in Akhalgori with forced departure if they did not accept 
Russian passports.  The NSC told Williamson that it had 
registered 127,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), but 
41,000 had already returned.  Their estimates show that at a 
minimum, 20,000 IDPs will most likely never be able to return 
to their homes.  Williamson complimented NSC officials on 
their data collection and analysis, saying that their ability 
to collect data under the circumstances and with no advanced 
planning was impressive.  He added that evidence collection 
must be a priority and that hopefully monitoring missions 
would include specialists who could help document crimes. 
 
Governor of Gori 
 
15.  (C) Ambassador Williamson visited Gori and met with 
Governor Vladimir Vardzelashvili.  Still shaken by recent 
events, Vardzelashvili described violence by Russian forces 
and the situation on the ground.  When asked about looters, 
Vardzelashvili claimed looters were Russian, because locals 
would have identified South Ossetians.  Williamson reiterated 
U.S. support for investigating abuses and toured the city, 
visiting affected areas. 
 
16.  (U) This cable was cleared by Ambassador Williamson. 
TEFFT

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