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McGill Professor to represent Georgia at International Court of Justice

Published: 18 Aug 2008

McGill professor to represent Georgia at the International Court of Justice

McGill professor to represent Georgia at the International Court of Justice

McGill professor of international law Payam Akhavan will represent the Government of Georgia in its claim against the Russian Federation before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.

On Tuesday, Aug. 12, Prof. Akhavan filed a complaint on behalf of Georgia at the ICJ, alleging Russia has conducted acts of ethnic cleansing on Georgian sovereign territory since the Soviet collapse of the early 1990s, leading to the current conflict.

"This historic case is an expression of Georgia's confidence that its cause is just under international law," Prof. Akhavan said. "Russian propaganda has consistently accused Georgia of aggression and genocide. It will now become apparent before the Court that without doubt, the people of Georgia have been the victims of Russia's support for separatism and ethnic cleansing. If Russia has any respect for international law, it will bring its differences to the Court rather than imposing its will by violence against a much smaller neighbour."

The 32-page complaint claims that since 1991, Russia has used violent means to cause the mass expulsion of Georgians as well as other ethnic groups and prevent their return home, and has recruited mercenaries and supplied weapons to separatist forces from the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions, which, along with direct military intervention by Russia's own armed forces, has resulted in large-scale atrocities against Georgian civilians. Georgia is requesting that the Court declare that Russia has acted contrary to international law, must refrain from any further support for the separatist authorities, and must withdraw of all its forces from Georgia.

Russia claims its troops entered the separatist South Ossetia region of Georgia for peacekeeping purposes in response to initial Georgian aggressions against South Ossetians.

Georgia invoked the United Nations' 1965 International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination as the basis for the ICJ's jurisdiction. The ICJ is the UN's highest court and rules on disputes between nations.

Prof. Akhavan is a world-renowned expert on the issue of war crimes and international law in relation to atrocities. He was the first Legal Advisor to the Prosecutor’s Office of the International Criminal Tribunals for Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and played a key role in the development of its fundamental jurisprudence. He also has considerable experience in post-conflict peace-building and international-dispute settlement, having advised the UN on transitional justice, appearing as counsel before international courts and tribunals on behalf of sovereigns, and serving on the boards of directors of human rights NGOs, including the Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre in New Haven, Conn., of which he is also the president and co-founder. He recently chaired McGill University's Global conference on the Prevention of Genocide.

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