Georgian troops riding in a civilian vehicle as a Georgian Armored Personnel Carrier lies wrecked on the road on August 11, 2008 near Gori, Georgia. Russia denied reports of Russian troops advancing during a fragile ceasefire declared in the region. (Credit: Cliff Volpe/Getty Images)
Georgia declared its independence in 1991 as the former USSR (now Russia) collapsed. Since then, it has been beset by disputed territories seeking secession. With support from the Russian government, South Ossetian separatists attempted to break away from Georgia in 1991, as did ethnic Abkhaz in Abkhazia in 1992. The two territories seceded in 2008 following the Russo-Georgian war.
During the conflicts in these breakaway regions, all parties committed war crimes. Most significantly, Abkhaz troops supported by Russia violated the ceasefire of September 1992 and forcibly expelled 250,000 Georgians from Abkhazia. In towns such as Sukhumi and Akhaldaba, Russian and Abkhazian soldiers massacred 5,000 ethnic Georgians, and tortured and raped many others. These crimes lack international recognition despite clearly being genocidal.
Preceding the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, tensions between the two countries steadily increased and were exacerbated by troop buildups, military exercises, and the 2006 deportations or imprisonment of several thousand ethnic Georgians from Russia. A Russian artillery bombardment on Georgian positions on August 1st, 2008 sparked the subsequent twelve-day conflict. Russia believed controlling South Ossetia would prevent Georgia from obtaining NATO membership.
The ceasefire agreement of the 12th of August 2008 firmly established the separatist regions and left Georgia with drastically reduced military capabilities. As a result of the conflict, Abkhazia and South Ossetia became de-facto independent territories with close ties to Russia. South Ossetia and Abkhazia are not recognized as independent states by the UN. Western states consider them occupied by the Russian military. The United Nations (UN) established the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) in 1993, but Russia vetoed an extension of the mission in 2009, forcing the UN observers to withdraw.
Georgia has accused Russia of war crimes including the forced removal of ethnic Georgians from South Ossetia, surrounding and burning Georgian villages, summary executions, and at least 100 documented instances of targeted rocket and artillery strikes on civilian areas. The Russian military used banned cluster munitions as well as minefields, both of which disproportionately killed non-combatants. In the city of Gori, President Putin ordered all ethnic Georgians to leave or be shot. Russian state television claimed that Georgia was carrying out a genocide in South Ossetia. These false claims were genocidal "mirroring" that presaged actual genocide by Russia. They were followed by Russian looting and burning of ethnic Georgian towns.
Georgian minorities still living in the separatist regions face the eradication of their culture, the removal of the Georgian language from schools, and the denial of citizenship, which is only granted to ethnic Abkhazians. As a result, they cannot graduate from high school or buy and sell property without renouncing their Georgian identity.
In 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Russia committed crimes against humanity, including torture, murder of civilians, and the burning of houses during the 2008 war. The International Criminal Court also issued arrest warrants for three South Ossetian officials deemed responsible for atrocities committed against ethnic Georgians.
The Georgian Dream (GD) party, which now holds power in the country, has been accused of creating a one-party state and committing human rights violations against civilian protestors and political opponents. Opposition leader and former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili was arrested and imprisoned in January 2021. Law enforcement abuses against protestors and members of the LGBTQ+ community have also drastically increased.
Due to Russia’s military domination of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Russia's denial of the crimes against humanity it committed against ethnic Georgians, and the erosion of political and cultural freedoms at the hands of the Abkhazian, South Ossetian, and Georgian authorities, Genocide Watch recognizes Georgia to be at Stage 3: Discrimination, Stage 5: Organization, Stage 8: Persecution, and Stage 10: Denial.
Genocide Watch Recommends:
The US and other nations should recognize the expulsion and mass murder of ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia as the crime against humanity of forced deportation as well as genocide.
Authorities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia should protect the rights and culture of Georgian citizens, including the right to obtain citizenship without renouncing their ethnic Georgian heritage.
Russia should remove all its forces from South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
The Georgian government should cease crackdowns on protests and build a multi-party democracy.