Civil.Ge publishes an article by Pierre Morel, EU special representative for the crisis in Georgia and co-chair of Geneva discussions, launched a year ago following the August war.
On 15 October 2008, in accordance with the 12 August ceasefire agreement brokered by the French presidency of the EU that had ended the five-day war in Georgia, “international discussions” were launched in the Palais des Nations in Geneva. On the eve of this event, the highest representatives of the UN, OSCE and EU gathered in Geneva in order to reaffirm the full commitment of their respective institutions to act as Co-chairs of these discussions.
A framework was formally adopted during this first session that was attended by Georgia, Russia and the United States. This allowed for the formation of two working groups: one dealing with security and stability and the other charged with questions related to displaced persons and refugees. Talks within these working groups began also on 15 October and included Abkhaz and South Ossetian participants.
Over the course of the subsequent year, seven sessions of the Geneva discussions have taken place. But where are we now?
A regular dialogue has been established on all important post-conflict issues despite irreconcilable differences regarding the Russian recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that took place on 26 August – two weeks after the end of hostilities.
The work of the two groups has evolved despite these persistent disagreements – disagreements that led ultimately to the very regrettable closure of the OSCE’s mission in Georgia (22 December 2008) as well as of the UN Mission’s activities (15 June 2009).
The main concrete result of the Geneva Discussions has been – until now – the 18 February 2009 decision to put in place a double “Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism” that allows for regular meetings in the respective Abkhaz and South Ossetian theatres between all the local actors responsible for security issues and the maintenance of peace and security. This framework is complemented by the establishment of a ‘hotline’ creating a permanent channel of communication between all parties. The two mechanisms have recently completed their fifth and sixth rounds. The exchanges have been sometimes difficult but they have, nevertheless, proven to act as a useful forum with all sides discovering their own interests in the ongoing discussions.
Concerning humanitarian issues, the needs remain huge. Freedom of access for aid, as established by international law, remains the main priority. It is of great regret to me that it has as yet not been possible to reach an accord on the granting of simultaneous double access – both from the North and South – to deliver humanitarian assistance to South Ossetia. A coherent action plan is currently being developed to be implemented from this autumn on.
The repeated field visits of the three Co-Chairs, in particular those to Sukhumi and Tskhinvali, have led to a constant re-evaluation of possible ways to increase overall security and improve the humanitarian situation.
This concrete framework of dialogue, of facilitation and of fastest possible return to a normal life is certainly both fragile and insufficient. However, it is a process that is simultaneously in place, recognised and used by all participating parties. Given the high emotions wrought by last year’s war, that is no small achievement.
The Geneva discussions are now entering a second phase, whose purpose is to attain a more developed security regime and humanitarian protection framework, designed to increase regional security. This is the clear goal of the ongoing discussions regarding the ‘basic elements for a framework agreement on the non-use of force” that will be examined during the 8th Session of the Geneva Discussions on 11 November 2009.
Once stable security and humanitarian arrangements have been established, more sensitive subjects will necessarily have to be addressed: how to manage more direct relations between former belligerents despite a fundamental discord that will not easily be erased; how to proceed with the complex question surrounding the legal status of individuals in the various entities; how to facilitate of the necessary contacts to enable a better daily life? Contemporary history offers numerous examples of pragmatic ways forward on all these issues that have, in time, contributed to significant breakthroughs, even if each international situation remains specific onto itself.
A political process has been launched. A method has been defined and accepted with the contribution of all sides; step by step, from the bottom up, item after item. Several lessons have already been learned.
Geneva is today the only international forum in which all parties remain engaged.
A permanent link must be maintained between the parties. This is the major concern of the Co-Chairmanship, but the continued commitment of all parties concerned remains indispensable. If confidence has not yet been re-established between the former warring parties, each one of them has nonetheless – and without exception – contributed to the advancement of our common work in Geneva and has, thereby, taken a first step towards the establishment of rational dialogue and, through that, of lasting security.
The agreements of 12 August and 8 September have not been entirely fulfilled. Several disquieting developments require vigilance: a military build-up, warnings and threats, as well as constant and unjustifiable obstacles barring humanitarian assistance. At the same time, however, these challenges are discussed in detail among all the parties.
The clear use of the procedures of dialogue, of consultation mechanisms, as well as security measures serve as the best way to reconstruct peaceful conditions. The Tagliavini Report serves as a reminder of the consequences when these tools break down and provocations increase, leading to the conflict of last August – a sequence of events that could have been prevented.
While they have not disappeared completely, incidents on-the-ground have happily diminished, in particular thanks to the remarkable efficiency of the European Union Monitoring Mission. At the same time, it remains necessary to increase preventive actions in order to resolve old problems and to meet the expectations of the population.
Passions are still alive and this must be taken into consideration. Nothing can be imposed. But life is stronger and the economic crisis has served as a reminder for the necessity of compromise. Only focused work, prepared with patience and determination, can allow the objective need of going forward to emerge.
One year after the war, it is time to take a step back. Throughout its rich and long history, the South Caucasus has dealt with many trials: it remains a sensitive region that plays an important role in the development of relations between civilisations and continents. In particular, its evolution exerts a direct influence on the entire European continent. In Geneva, as with the other ongoing negotiations, no effort should be spared in order to, once again, take the region back to its natural role as a place for crossings and exchanges.