International Criminal Court weighing investigation into 2008 South Ossetia war

August 2008. Georgian servicemen in the area of the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict. © David Hizanishvily
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is considering opening an investigation into possible war crimes committed during the 2008 South Ossetia military conflict between Georgia and Russia.

“There is a reasonable basis to believe that crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court have been committed in Georgia in the context of the armed conflict of August 2008,” ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, was cited as saying by the Court’s website.

On Thursday, Bensouda announced that she will “shortly” submit a request to a Pre-Trial Chamber for authorization to open the case into the 2008 events.

If the three judges in the Pre-Trial Chamber decide to give the green light to the investigation, it will look into the alleged crimes committed by both sides of the conflict.

Georgia has been a member of the international Criminal Court since 2003, while Russia remains a non-member state after signing, but not ratifying the Rome Statute, which is the ICC’s foundational and governing document.

Mikheil Saakashvili, who was Georgia’s president in 2008, said that he would welcome an ICC probe into the South Ossetia war.

“It’s important that the Georgian prosecutor’s office hands over information about everything, including ethnic cleansing,” Saakashvili said in a statement.

READ MORE: 'Woman spent days near dead son’s body waiting for help’: RT reporter recalls 2008 war in S.Ossetia

However, Russian newspaper Kommersant wrote that it’s the ex-Georgian president who is himself likely to become a central figure in the ICC investigation.

Elene Tevdoradze, who used to be the deputy chairman of the PACE Monitoring Committee on Georgia, told the paper that the materials on the conflict provided by Russia reveal a series of war crimes.

The documents contain enough evidence to prosecute Saakashvili for starting the conflict, which may carry a prison sentence from 30 years to life, she said.

Despite being wanted in Georgia for embezzlement, abuse of power and politically-motivated attacks, Saakashvili is now working as the governor of the Odessa region of Ukraine

READ MORE: Medvedev: Russia's top priority in S.Ossetia war was to defend our citizens, interests (RT EXCLUSIVE)

When the five day war erupted in August 2008, Russia was labeled as an aggressor by the Western media.

But a study by the European Commission a year later stated that the conflict started "with a massive Georgian artillery attack" on the capital of the breakaway republic of South Ossetian capital, Tskhinval.

The document labeled Tbilisi's actions as unjustified, stressing that there was no ongoing build-up or armed assault by Russia before the launch of the Georgian operation.

READ MORE: 5 years after 5-Day War: Russia and Georgia bury the hatchet

The Georgian forces shelled Tskhinval with artillery and multiple-launch missile systems on August 8, 2008. 

A Russian peacekeeper base and residential districts of the city came under fire, forcing then-Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, to order a "peace enforcement" operation against Georgia.

Over the next few days, the Russian military engaged the Georgian forces on land, air and sea, shunting the offenders far into Georgian territory.

Dozens of military staff on both sides were killed, with hundreds more injured in the conflict. 

Civilian casualties were much higher, with South Ossetian officials speaking of between 1,500 and 2,000 people killed.