Georgia and its breakaway territories have launched a tit-for-tat blacklist battle in an attempt to sanction individuals they blame for crimes against them.
The de facto leadership of South Ossetia, one of the breakaway regions, announced on June 27 that it was creating a list of individuals who committed or abetted crimes against South Ossetians, and will seek international sanctions against them. The list will reportedly include citizens of Georgia, the United States, Ukraine, and other countries, though the names have not yet been released. “We will try to act through Interpol,” said Petr Gassiyev, the speaker of South Ossetia’s 34-seat parliament.
That followed Georgia's unveiling, the day before, of a similar blacklist that was drawn up in response to the murders of two Georgians citizens at the hands of Abkhazian and South Ossetian residents. “This list includes individuals suspected and convicted of grave crimes committed against Georgian citizens in the occupied territories,” said Georgia’s recently elected prime minister, Mamuka Bakhtadze.
Tbilisi plans to ask Western countries to impose travel and financial restrictions on the 33 individuals on its list. South Ossetia is likely to seek similar support for its list from its patron, Russia.
The respective lists are modeled after the U.S.'s Magnitsky list of Russian and other officials whom Washington has sanctioned for alleged human rights abuses.
The Georgian list is partly meant to deter future crimes against Georgian citizens by the Abkhazians and South Ossetians, who effectively remain beyond the reach of Georgia's legal system. Protected by thousands of Russian troops, the de facto authorities have acted with impunity against Georgia citizens on several occasions.
The most recent such case was of 35-year-old Georgian Archil Tatunashvili, who died under murky circumstances in South Ossetian captivity in February. South Ossetia’s refusal to hand over Tatunashvili’s body to the Georgian side for examination and burial led to a month-long standoff between Tbilisi, Tskhinvali, and Moscow.
Breakaway officials chalked up the delay to the need to complete forensic expertise, which was carried out by Russia. When Tatunasvhili’s body was finally handed over to his family it bore signs of torture and internal organs were missing.
In another high-profile incident in 2016, an Abkhazian border guard shot and killed 30-year-old Georgian Giga Otkhozoria following an argument on the de facto border. The killing was caught on surveillance cameras and had many eyewitnesses, but the Abkhazian side refused to prosecute the border guard, citing a lack of evidence.
Both incidents sparked widespread Georgian anger with the breakaway authorities, which Tbilisi considers illegal separatist regimes, and their patrons in Russia. Moscow keeps Abkhazia and South Ossetia under heavy military protection, props up their economies and exerts significant control on their authorities (in particular in South Ossetia), As such, Georgia holds Moscow liable for any human rights violations in the territories.
Much of the public anger also has been directed at the Georgian government, which was accused of failing to put pressure on the separatists and to take up the matter with Moscow vigorously. The blacklist, known as the “Otkhozoria-Tatunashvili list,” has still failed to fully placate such criticism.
The opposition European Georgia party blasted the ruling Georgian Dream party for not including Russian citizens in the list. “Unfortunately, this list also includes individuals who are dead,” said Sergi Kapanadze, of European Georgia, at a press conference. The Georgian Dream officials responded that the list is a work-in-progress and may change.
The South Ossetian list, in the meantime, is expected to include individuals involved in two wars on the breakaway territory: the conflict in the early 1990s which resulted in Georgia's loss of control over the territory, and the 2008 war that led Russia to formally recognize the territory's independence (it remains one of only a handful of countries which has done so). The South Ossetian list will bear the name of Grigory Sanakoyev, a South Ossetian killed in clashes with Georgian forces in 1991.
Abkhazia has not announced any plans for its own blacklist, but it described the Georgian list as “provocative” and “destructive,” and said that it threatens the future of peace talks. On June 27, Abkhazian and Russian officials walked out of a meeting with Georgian officials in Gali, Abkhazia, in protest of Georgia's rollout of the list.
Giorgi Lomsadze is a journalist based in Tbilisi.