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ICC Authorizes Investigation Into 2008 Russia-Georgia Conflict

FILE - A woman mourns at the grave of a Georgian soldier killed during Georgia's conflict with Russia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia in 2008 during a ceremony at the memorial cemetery in Tbilisi, Georgia, Aug. 8, 2015.

International Criminal Court (ICC) judges have authorized an investigation into allegations that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed during the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict.

A three-judge panel at the Hague-based court on Wednesday gave prosecutor Fatou Bensouda approval to investigate crimes allegedly committed in and around the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia in August 2008, by rebels possibly backed by Russian forces, as well as by Georgian forces.

The ICC said in a statement that the alleged crimes included “crimes against humanity, such as murder, forcible transfer of population and persecution, and war crimes, such as attacks against the civilian population, willful killing, intentionally directing attacks against peacekeepers, destruction of property and pillaging allegedly committed in the context of an international armed conflict."

This is the first such ICC inquiry outside of Africa and the second time an ICC prosecutor has attempted to examine the possibility that war crimes were committed during the brief conflict between Russia and Georgia. In 2010, then-ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo looked into the allegations, and both Georgian and Russian officials briefed the ICC about the events surrounding the 2008 war.

Bensouda submitted her request to open an investigation into the Georgia situation last October.

On August 7, 2008, Georgia's then-president Mikheil Saakashvili, who was backed by the West, ordered an offensive to reclaim South Ossetia. Russian forces quickly reacted, entering Georgia’s territory. After winning the war, Russia officially recognized both South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia, as independent states.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, several hundred people are believed to have died in the conflict, and more than 138,000 were temporarily displaced.