First Occupation Birthday

by Eugene Kontorovich

As Ken noted, it was my birthday when I started my blogging stint here, and as I wind down my stint here, I”ll observe another birthday. In a few weeks it will be the first anniversary of the Russo-Georgian war, which saw Russia  conquere Georgian territory and cement its control on those parts of Georgia it already occupied. I trust I need not belabor here how wildly and flagrantly illegal this is. I believe it is the first successful conquest of territory in decades that did not meet with a strong international rebuke.

Indeed, there have been no consequences for Russia whatsoever. Right after the conquest, it was clear that no one would take any concrete measures to help Georgia. However, the brazenness of Russia’s actions suggested that diplomatic efforts would be taken to signal how seriously the world community regarded such violations of international law. Western countries talked a big game about reducing relations with Russia, even kicking it out of G-8. At the time these seemed like mild measures — but none of them materialized. Today the United States is seeking to reset its relations with Russia, and the consequences of its ongoing illegal occupation are nowhere discussed.

Interestingly, there has been no criticism of the movement of Russian civilians into Abkhazia and other activities that might be described as Russian settlements. Indeed, this summer Russian news agencies reported that Moscow is financing the construction of a new community in South Ossestia, with 180 cottages eight apartment buildings. (Sorry for the Russian link.) Indeed, the settlement is even called “The Muscovite.” A violation of the Geneva Convention? It does not take much to issue a condemnation, so one might think these activities are not simply not regarded as illegal. I have certainly heard no suggestion that the illegal settlers that will occupy this new neighborhood will be have to be removed, or be removable by Georgia should it regain the territory.

To add insult to injury, Russia is now taking strongly criticizing Israel for occupation. It is slamming Israel for allowing a United States citizen to turn a house he purchased more than 20 years ago in E. Jerusalem into apartments, which I think is in the broadest definitions of “transfer” a big stretch. Russia is still a member of the Mideast Quartet, and apparently there is American sympathy for Russia’s long-standing desire to play host to the next round of “peacemaking.”

I’m not naive. I have no expectation that nations will take active measures to confront powerful countries like Russia or China when they seize territory. what I find surprising is not the absence of action, but even the absence of significant and other soft measures, media attention and pressure from human rights groups. One could measure how seriously nations take international law by the price they’re willing to expend to defend it in exactly those circumstances where my not be convenient. Indeed, if nations wish to talk about certain stances that they take as being strictly dictated by international law, as opposed to motivated by politics, animus or other factors, it’s important to take those stances even when it would otherwise be awkward.

The characteristic of law is that it is applied across the board. In the international context, application often has to fall short of enforcement, but certainly the steps that have been taken to protest illegal conquest and settlement and other places could be taken yet, if the principles were considered sufficiently clear-cut and/or important.

http://opiniojuris.org/2009/07/21/first-occupation-birthday/

2 Responses

  1. Thank you for this, a very interesting post. 

    I think the failure, as you say, not necessarily to enforce international law but to take some soft measures in support of it, has the effect of damaging the credibility of advocates of international justice around the world. 

    Failure to recognize that what Russia is doing is illegal makes it that much easier for countries that are critiqued by groups like HRW or the ICRC to dismiss these groups as biased or as having a discriminatory agenda. 

    I wonder how you would explain this silence in the Russian-Georgian case.

  2. One might also contemplate how the lack of any consequences for their Chechnyan campaign encouraged them to deal with Georgia.

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