*Delivered in situ by Mr Phakiso Mochochoko, Director of Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division on the Prosecutor's behalf
Tbilisi, 18 February 2016
Ladies and Gentlemen of the media,
Thank you for your interest and presence here today.
I would first like to acknowledge the warm welcome which you have extended to my colleagues in the course of our three-day programme of meetings in Tbilisi which comes to an end today.
Why is a team from the International Criminal Court ("ICC") here in Georgia this week? The present ICC mission comes on the heels of the decision by ICC Judges at the end of January, granting my Office authorisation to investigate the alleged crimes in and around South Ossetia during the 2008 armed conflict. It follows the previous visit I personally made to Tbilisi, in October last year, when I explained the legal reasons behind my request to open an investigation.
Over the past few days, my team has held a number of meetings with key persons based in Tbilisi, including from Government, international organisations, civil society and others. These meetings allowed us, firstly, to clarify the roles of the different parts - which we call 'organs' - of the Court; secondly, to explain the next steps in the judicial process, particularly the investigation by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor; and, finally, to discuss the ICC's cooperation needs and procedures. These exchanges are a key element of preparations as we gear up for more regular deployments into Georgia of investigators from the ICC Office of the Prosecutor, as well as staff from other organs of the ICC who are responsible for distinct aspects of the Court's work, such as facilitating defence legal representation, witness protection, and outreach.
I wish to reiterate today what I have already stressed: no part of our investigative activities will be public. They are and must remain completely confidential. This is required in order to preserve the integrity of the investigations and the evidence collected, as well as to ensure we fulfil our legal and fiduciary duties towards witnesses and persons with whom we interact during the course of our investigations.
I want to stress that my Office's own investigators will collect evidence, from a variety of sources. Our investigators will do their work independently and impartially. They will examine relevant places and sites, collect evidence and question persons as witnesses, gather materials and screen documents. Therefore, if you read accounts purporting to detail in any way our ICC investigative activities, you can be assured they are fiction.
You may wonder why the ICC investigation in the 2008 events commences only now. Under its laws, the ICC cannot proceed if the national authorities are already undertaking (or have undertaken) genuine domestic proceedings themselves. Until early last year, this seemed to be the case in Georgia. The timing of this investigation by the ICC has thus largely been determined by the pace, and eventually, lack of, national proceedings here.
Regarding the alleged crimes the investigation will look into, it is important to note that depending on the evidence that emerges, as Prosecutor, I may bring forward charges in relation to any crimes linked to the armed conflict in and around South Ossetia, irrespective of the nationality or affiliation of the alleged perpetrators.
The investigation will take as long as needed to gather the required evidence, and depending on resources, security, and cooperation.
When that time comes, I will request the ICC judges to issue arrest warrants or summonses to appear for those persons assessed to be responsible for the alleged crimes on the strength of the evidence our independent investigations have produced. In other words, we do not start the investigation with specific suspects in mind. There is no list of suspects or targets. It should be absolutely clear that it is only at the conclusion of our investigation, when we have collected and reviewed all necessary evidence, that we will identify suspects.
Finally, my Office, and the ICC more generally, count on full cooperation from all parties to the conflict. Timely and consistent cooperation from the parties, regardless of their status, is in the interest of an effective and efficient investigation. It will lead to establishing the truth and bringing justice to the victims, from whatever nationality or background, who suffered so terribly during the conflict.