Russia urged the International Court of Justice (IJC) on Monday to reject Georgia's claim of "ethnic cleansing" against it, saying Tbilisi had sparked the 2008 conflict with an "unlawful" assault on a rebel area and had no legal standing.
The hearing is the latest step in a case that dates to August 2008, when Georgia filed a complaint with the International Court of Justice, claiming violations by Russia of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination on Georgian territory.
In its complaint, Georgia alleged violations of various articles of the treaty over an 18-year-period in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The case was filed as the two countries fought a short war over South Ossetia, though Georgia denied the case was directly linked to the conflict.
"The applicant state (Georgia), quite unlawfully, sought to impose through the use of brutal military force its own solution to regional problems," Kirill Gevorgian, director of the Russian foreign ministry's legal department, told the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
"In doing so, Georgia… violated international humanitarian law…and the Russian Federation had no other choice but to exercise its inherent right to act in self-defence," he said of the five-day war fought over rebel regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
This week's hearing, which concerns only the issue of jurisdiction, started with Russian arguments on Monday to be followed by Georgia on Tuesday.
Each party will then get another turn on Wednesday and Friday, respectively. The hearing will close on September 17 2010.
In October 2008, the court issued a preliminary ruling, ordering Moscow and Tbilisi to refrain from committing or supporting any racial discrimination in the disputed regions or in nearby Georgian territory.
In December 2009, Russia filed an objection to the court's jurisdiction, freezing the case and setting in motion the legal back-and-forth that prompted this week's hearings.
Moscow argues that the court has no jurisdiction to hear the case because there was no ongoing dispute between the two countries under the treaty before the case was filed, as the convention explicitly requires.
The Russian government had no fewer than 23 agents, lawyers and advisors from all over the world listed as appearing on its behalf, while Georgia appeared with 14 people.
(Source: Reuters, AFP)