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Interview with Herman von Hebel

By Mariam Chanishvili
Friday, October 13
At the conclusion of an outreach mission in Tbilisi, the team of the International Criminal Court (ICC) held a public lecture at Tbilisi State University (TSU) in cooperation of the Office of Public Defender of Georgia.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was represented Mr. Herman von Hebel, the Registrar of the Court.

Mr. Herman von Hebel (The Netherlands) was elected on 8 March, 2013 as Registrar of the International Criminal court for a five-year term. He has extensive experience in the field of international human rights, international criminal law and the functioning and management of international criminal courts and tribunals. He served as Deputy Registrar for the Registrar of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in 2009 – 2013 and of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in mid-2006 until 2009. From 2001 until 2006 he was a senior legal officer at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

This October, the aim of the ICC mission in Tbilisi was the ICC investigation on alleged crimes committed in the context of an international armed conflict between 1 July and 10 October, 2008. This includes crimes against humanity: murder, forcible transfer of population, and persecution. The ICC also looks into war crimes: attacks against the civilian population, willful killing, attacks against peacekeepers, destruction of property and pillaging.

On the basis of the information available, the Prosecutor concluded that there is a reasonable basis to believe that crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court have been committed in Georgia in the context of the armed conflict of August 2008.

The Messenger had an opportunity to interview him this week.

How would you assess the development of an investigative process?

- They have lots of investigators from many nations and they are collecting material. It is yet to see when they have enough evidence to issue an arrest warrant. . . So far the Prosecutor has indicated that this is among her top 6 investigations.

As far as we know, several years ago, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda said that nearly 1,000 people were killed while tens of thousands of Georgians living in the disputed areas were forced out of their homes. She also said there was evidence that up to 18,500 people were uprooted from their homes as part of a "forcible displacement campaign" conducted by South Ossetian authorities, and that the ethnic Georgian population in the conflict zone was reduced by at least 75%. Is there any new and actual evidence on this issue?

It’s never about looking on only one side of the conflict, we will always look at all sides of the conflict, at all parties and their responsibilities. In principle, when you start an investigation, you have to start looking at all the facts available and who could be held responsible for that. And for the court, it does not matter which side the perpetrator is. It does not matter on which side the victims are. They all count equally important.

Since Russia is not an ICC member country, shall this affect the case? Will Russia be held responsible?

Russia is not a State Party so there’s no obligation for Russia to cooperate with the Court. Georgia is the State Party and has an obligation. Russia has made it very clear that they are not willing to cooperate with the Court.

What are the factors that the Judges will take into consideration in the decision-making process?

So far, they have already decided based on the material provided by the Prosecutor that the Prosecutor is entitled to investigate the crimes in the period of July-October 2008.

The next step would be, if the Prosecutor collects sufficient evidence against a particular person. With that material, they have to go to the Judges and then the Judges shall confirm an indictment and issuing an arrest warrant.

And, once the arrest warrant is implemented, you get to the actual start of the trial at some point. They have to determine whether the evidence brought by the Prosecutor is enough to convict a person.

How shall people from Georgia and Russia learn about the activities of ICC?

This is my second mission to Georgia in a timeframe of about two months. We are now getting a small country office established by the beginning of next year. We will have a contact person, who will organize communication with all the stakeholders, with the government, victims, diplomats and especially with the media. They will be able to get more information through the country office. We will begin with a small office, but then depending on the progress of investigations, more people may be able to work here in order to improve the outreach, communications, organizing victim participation, protection of witnesses. If we look at other countries wherever we are operating, it usually goes up to 20-25 people. But this might happen in situations where we have actual indictment, when the trial is going on.