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Council of Europe Issues Report on Conflict in Georgia

On April 23, the Council of Europe (CoE), an intergovernmental human rights organization, released its 21st consolidated report on the conflict in Georgia, presented by the organization’s Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić at the meeting of CoE Deputies. The report covers the period from October 2019 to March 2020 and reviews security and human rights situation in Russian-occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia.

According to the report, the overall security situation on the ground has “deteriorated,” particularly in light of serious “security challenges” in the Chorchana-Tsnelisi area since August 2019.

“The human rights and humanitarian situation of the conflict-affected communities remained under strain, notably due to persisting and/or newly imposed restrictions of freedom of movement, documentation issues, and obstacles [regarding] access to basic services,” reads the document.

The CoE report raised concerns over the prolonged restrictions on crossing dividing lines which bar residents from traveling from the occupied regions to Georgia proper and vice versa. Due to the actions by Moscow-backed authorities in the occupied regions, vulnerable groups have suffered from the lack of access to humanitarian and medical assistance, the CoE noted.

As stated in the report, “notwithstanding continued appeals at the international level, regrettably, no progress has been made to ensure unfettered access for human rights monitoring mechanisms, including those of the CoE,” to Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region.

The CoE stressed that there  “remains an urgent need for regular and standards-based assessments of the application of principles and standards of the European Convention on Human rights and other international human rights treaties.”

State of Affairs in Abkhazia

The 21th consolidated report by the CoE highlighted the fact that continued restrictions with respect to basic rights and services had compounded “perceptions of insecurity and uncertainty” in the region. The CoE singled out predominantly ethnic Georgian population in the occupied Gali district as “the most vulnerable group” in this respect.

The report drew attention to the inability to resume the meetings of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) during the period under review have failed. However, it noted, the hotline run by the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) continued to operate.

The CoE reported that “borderization” process was going on “at an incremental level” and that it constituted “a major obstacle” to the freedom of movement. The Georgian government and the international community staunchly oppose to this process, the CoE stated.

The report underlined “harmful impact” of the “borderization” on the local population with regard to the freedom of movement, livelihood and security issues. According to the report, this particular matter was regularly raised at the rounds of Geneva International Discussions (GID).

The CoE mentioned that residents of the occupied region were only been allowed to enter Georgia proper via two passages, one of them being Enguri Bridge crossing point. According to the CoE report, “the crossing points remained open during most of the period under review… however, since the end of January, medical checks had been conducted by [Moscow-backed Abkhaz] authorities, reportedly to prevent the spread of viral diseases in the region.”

The report noted that, following the outbreak of the pandemic, Moscow-backed Abkhaz authorities have imposed additional restriction, which resulted in the “full closure of the bridge as of March 14.”

As maintained in the document, “the absence of crossing documentation remained a major constraint on the freedom of movement” affecting residents of the occupied region. In this regard, the CoE said, concerns over restrictions barring ethnic Georgian holders of  “old Abkhaz passports” from crossing the dividing line persisted.

“All these measures combined continue to seriously limit people’s access to basic rights and services in the territory controlled by the Georgian government, and to impact the humanitarian situation through disruption of access to livelihood opportunities,” emphasized the CoE.

The CoE raised the problem of issuance of “foreign temporary residence permits” by Abkhaz authorities for ethnic Georgian residents of Abkhazia. According to the report, obtaining the said document is the “only option” for most of ethnic Georgians residing in the region to enjoy “basic rights.”

Concerning the state of education in Georgian language in Gali district schools, the CoE reported “no progress” during the period under review. According to the report, Georgian, native language of the majority of Gali population, is only sparsely taught in elementary and secondary schools, while most of the subjects are taught in Russian.

“Georgian authorities reiterated to the [CoE] delegation that they consider such practices to be discriminatory, [impairing] access to quality education,” reads the report.

The CoE document mentioned the resignation of Abkhaz leader Raul Khajimba on January 12 following popular protests calling for overturning of results of leadership “polls.” Khajimba’s resignation paved the way for new “polls” on March 22, which were “vividly condemned” by the Georgian government as illegitimate, the CoE noted.

Situation in Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia

Over the course of the reporting period, “borderization” activities were recorded along the dividing line, the CoE stated. In particular, it mentioned the “fencing activity” in the vicinity of Gori.

“Efforts towards de-escalation took place at technical meetings in Ergneti, facilitated by the EUMM and the OSCE,” the CoE said, adding the seven such meetings had been conducted during the reporting period – the last one in November 2019.

The Georgian government underlined to the CoE delegation the importance of IPRM meetings to address the immediate security and humanitarian issues and highlighted the necessity for their unconditional resumption, noted the Council of Europe.

The CoE report mentioned that the crossing points, including the major one in Odzisi/Mosabruni, essentially remained closed [shut down by Tskhinvali authorities], allegedly on security grounds, despite “grave humanitarian cases.”

By the end of January, Tskhinvali authorities indicated that the major crossing point would be open for ten days every two months to allow ethnic Georgian residents collect their pensions, noted the CoE. However, it said, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the whole dividing line was closed by the end of February.

Several interlocutors of the CoE delegation described the situation engendered by permanent crossing point closures as a “serious impediment to the freedom of movement,” that severely affected local population, especially in Akhalgori in terms of humanitarian conditions, access to livelihoods and to basic necessary services.

The report mentioned seizure of Tbilisi-produced medicines from local pharmacies by Tskhinvali authorities, which was strongly denounced by Georgia as an act “going against humanitarian principles.” The CoE raised concerns that the said practice, coupled with the closure of the crossing points, had created a shortage of medicine and supplies, further aggravating humanitarian situation.

According to the report, the Georgian government and the international community also voiced  concerns over the closure of crossing points, citing the death of a woman in need of urgent medical evacuation as a “tragic” aftermath of Tskhinvali authorities’ actions.

The CoE highlighted the arbitrary detention practice of local residents, adopted by the Tskhinvali authorities, that raised major issues “from a human security and human rights perspective.” More than 30 people had been detained while attempting to cross the dividing line during the period under review, the CoE reported on the authority of the Georgian government.

According to the report, cases of arbitrary detention were handled through the EUMM-managed hotline, though it functioned poorly, as Georgian security authorities stated.

The report put special emphasis on the illegal detention of Doctor Vazha Gaprinashvili, which prompted national and international concerns.

The CoE stressed the fact that the last remaining Georgian schools in Akhalgori district have now been obliged to switch to the curricula standards imposed by the Tskhinvali authorities and to adopt Russian as the language of instruction in grades one to four.

During the period under review, the CoE reported “no progress” with regard to “voluntary, safe, dignified and unhindered return” of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees on the basis of internationally recognized principles.

The CoE noted that Georgian authorities created a new agency charged with the implementation of state policy towards the IDPs and eco-migrants regarding their resettlement and amelioration of their socio-economic conditions. “The establishment of the agency is a further demonstration of the priority given to the issue by the Georgian government,” the CoE stated.

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This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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