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Council of Europe Issues Report on Conflict in Georgia

The Council of Europe (CoE) issued 22nd consolidated report on the conflict in Georgia, presented by the organization’s Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić, which reviewed security and human rights situation in Georgia’s Russian-occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia, covering the period from April to September 2020.

According to the report, dated November 17 and released on November 26, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Co-Chairs of Geneva International Discussions remained engaged and continued addressing security and humanitarian issues, noting, however, that the 51st round of the talks was postponed twice, currently expected to take place in December.

The CoE report noted that the Ergneti Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) meetings resumed during the period, held twice and in a “positive and constructive atmosphere,” while Gali IPRM did not, despite the Georgian government’s efforts.

The CoE highlighted that during the review period crossing points that connect Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions with Georgia proper remained “essentially closed,” noting that restrictions on freedom of movement complicated medical treatment, transportation communication and access to livelihoods.

The report also drew attention to international engagement in aiding people affected by the conflict, noting that the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) assisted 4,000 internally displaced persons (IDP) in Georgia proper with, among others, food parcels, and provided medical supplies and equipment to health care facilities along the occupation line. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Georgia Red Cross Society “provided humanitarian assistance in villages adjacent to the ABL,” the CoE added.

UNHCR, UNDP, WHO and ICRC provided assistance to the Abkhaz population, while the Georgian government “directly helped Abkhazia in its response to the COVID-19 related challenges,” the CoE report noted, adding however that international engagement to the Tskhinvali Region remained limited only to ICRC, with Moscow-backed authorities denying humanitarian assistance offered by Tbilisi as well.

State of Affairs in Abkhazia

The 22nd consolidated report by the CoE highlighted that “borderization” activities continued, “including in terms of refurbishing existing structures and/or adding fences,” with the Georgian government reporting 14 related incidents.

Regarding freedom of movement, the CoE noted that the restrictions “drove people to desperate measures,” with several cases of people swimming across the river to Georgia proper, including Otar Jobava, who lost his life in his attempt. “Against this background, cases of arbitrary detention for crossing outside the crossing points continue to be reported,” the CoE added.

Issues of ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia, such as restrictions for residence, work, property rights and education in the native language also persisted during the review period, according to the report.

Situation in Tskhinvali Region

Recalling tensions in the Chorchana-Tsnelisi area in August-September 2019, the report said “it was followed in the subsequent months by a build-up of armed personnel, as well as by the construction of new positions on site.”

In the same period, according to the document, the “borderization” process increased in several locations and the Georgian government reported 46 such incidents. The CoE highlighted illegal detentions in the region as well, particularly underscoring the cases of Khvicha Mghebrishvili and  Zaza Gakhaladze, who was shot as well before being apprehended.

“The delegation was informed that, since September 2019, there have been 16 cases of people who died while waiting and/or requesting a medical transfer,” the report said, asserting that the closure of crossing points impacted medical evacuations and cases of emergency, especially in occupied Akhalgori.

The CoE said no progress was seen in issues of ethnic Georgians access to education in the native language in the Tskhinvali Region either, as well as regarding the “voluntary, safe, dignified and unhindered return of internally displaced persons.”

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