GoJIL Vol. 1, No. 2 (2009)
The War between Russia and Georgia – Consequences and Unresolved Questions
On 28 January the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe condemned the recognition by Russia of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and considers it to be a violation of international law and of the Council of Europe’s statutory principles. It thus took a clear stance in the struggle between Russia and Georgia about the legal status of the break-away regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The legal assessment of the situation given by the Russian authorities is completely opposed to the legal analysis of the problems by Georgia and the Council of Europe. The main purpose of this article is to explain the divergent views of the opponents and to analyse if South-Ossetia and Abkhazia had a right to secession based on the principle of self-determination. Although the right to self-determination is considered as part of ius cogens, State borders are petrified on the basis of the uti-possidetis principle and the right to secession is granted only in cases of gross human rights violations and genocide. Thus international law seems to be generally hostile towards secession. The declaration of independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia provide instructive examples of the intrinsic dangers of secessions. The information provided by the Resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly on the “Consequences of war between Georgia and Russia” (Res. 1633, 2008) speak for themselves: “The Assembly is especially concerned about credible reports of acts of ethnic cleansing committed in ethnic Georgian villages in South Ossetia and the ‘buffer zone’ by irregular militia and gangs which the Russian troops failed to stop. It stresses in this respect that such acts were mostly committed after the signing of the ceasefire agreement on 12 August 2008 and continue today.” – “Some 192,000 persons were displaced as a consequence of the war. The Assembly is concerned that a total of 31,000 displaced persons (25,000 from South Ossetia and 6,000 from Abkhazia) are considered to be ‘permanently’ unable to return to their original places of residence. These numbers should be seen in the context of the approximately 222,000 persons who remain displaced from the previous conflict in the early 1990s.” De-facto regimes allegedly based on the right to secession do not seem to be able to secure a life in peace and security to all.
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