Civil.ge publishes article by head of EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM), Ambassador Hansjörg Haber.
The interval between the second anniversary of the outbreak of the 2008 war on 7/8 August and the end of the second annual mandate of the European Union Monitoring Mission in Georgia on 14 September gives me an opportunity to reflect on EUMM’s work over these last two years and its impact on the situation on the ground.
EUMM was deployed following the EU-brokered 12 August Six-Point Agreement and the 8 September Implementing Measures Agreement in 2008. Thanks to the support of all EU Member States the fastest deployed mission in the history of EU Common Security and Defence Policy, EUMM began its operations on 1 October 2008 with more than 200 monitors on the ground, as stipulated in the Implementing Measures Agreement. Its mandate consists of four important components, namely stabilisation, normalisation and confidence building, as well as reporting to Brussels to inform EU policy making.
Normalisation was the first and most urgent task facing the mission. At its very inception the mission was assisted in the efforts to bring back to normality the lives of those parts of the population living in the areas adjacent to the administrative boundary lines with Abkhazia and South Ossetia and displaced by the hostilities. The Russian Armed Forces’ withdrawal from the adjacent areas eight days after the Mission started patrolling, allowed some 30,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) to return to their homes and to restart their lives. Their departure from places of temporary accommodation did not, however, solve the long-standing problem of IDPs in Georgia. In addition to those displaced during previous conflicts, 30,000 to this day remain unable to go back to their houses in South Ossetia, most likely destroyed in the August 2008 war.
The Georgian government certainly deserves praise for its prompt reaction to the 2008 IDPs’ plight and for including earlier IDPs into a strategy that ultimately aims at finding durable accommodation solutions for all those affected by the recent conflicts. It cannot be ignored, however, that the pressure under which decisions had to be made at that point in time led to a number of serious flaws, which now require addressing. In virtue of its exclusively monitoring role, EUMM has been observing the situation of IDPs, recording their grievances and sharing its insights with both donors, including, of course, the EU, and organizations implementing aid programs, in particular the UN family.
While the Mission’s mandate covers the entire territory of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders, the de facto authorities’ denial of access to South Ossetia and Abkhazia has been hampering the mission’s normalization and stabilization efforts. Especially Georgian interlocutors expected we would gain access as a matter of priority shortly after deployment. Unfortunately, with a few minor exceptions, this has not happened so far. Our Georgian partners have come to accept that this limitation to the implementation of the mission’s mandate is effectively counterbalanced by a consistent EU policy of non-recognition of the entities. At the same time, however, we feel that inability to access areas under the control of Sukhumi and Tskhinvali prevents us from helping bring clarity and resolve incidents that take place on the ground. On concrete issues that affect the security situation in the areas adjacent to the administrative boundary lines and the livelihood of ordinary people on both sides of the divide, EUMM has consistently strived to play an impartial role.
Looking at the stabilization component of the mission’s mandate, we regard the Memorandum of Understanding concluded with the Georgian Ministry of Defence on 26 January, 2009, as a definite success. In the agreement, Georgia unilaterally accepts limitations on the deployment of both troops and heavy equipment in a carefully defined strip of territory around South Ossetia and south of Abkhazia. This goes beyond the obligations included in the Six-Point Agreement. A Russian decision to reciprocate the move would help bring transparency on the presence of military forces also on the other side of the administrative boundary line and increase security for all. Unfortunately, despite repeated invitations by EUMM, this move has so far not been reciprocated by Moscow.
Although still unilateral, we are convinced that the Memorandum works to the distinctive advantage of Georgia. Continually monitoring Georgian military installations and military forces deployed throughout the country, and especially near the administrative boundary lines, as stipulated in the document, EUMM is in a position to issue a "clean bill of health" to Georgia. The great value of this agreement was clearly demonstrated in the spring and summer of 2009, when EUMM, thanks to its observations gathered on the ground, was able to repeatedly refute Russian and South Ossetian allegations of a Georgian military build-up along the administrative boundary line. The Memorandum of Understanding, therefore, is strong evidence of Georgia's willingness to abide by the principle of non-use of force as contained in the Six-Point Agreement.
The positive example of the Memorandum of Understanding illustrates an important principle, namely that in a situation where the sides to a conflict cannot come to an agreement, formal or informal, unilateral concessions by one side might prove the only way to push things forward. As a result, the part that bravely accepts to make such concession not only is not harmed, but can actually benefit from it. It seems to me that recognition of this principle that we could call “constructive unilateralism” is also at the origin of the Georgian State Strategy on the Occupied Territories, and, the subsequent Action Plan for Engagement. Both the Strategy and the Action Plan set out a people-centered policy, aimed at stretching out a helping hand to the civilian populations (citizens of Georgia, to be sure) residing in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
However, the intentions enunciated in these two documents appear to conflict with provisions contained in the Law on Occupied Territories, which had adopted a more restrictive approach. With all respect to a decision of the Parliament of Georgia and to the rule of law, it should be kept in mind that this piece of legislation was passed under the emotional impact of the August war. From the perspective of EUMM, and being mandated to observe the present and potential future effects of both the law and the Action Plan, I think the Georgian authorities should strive to preserve a coherent approach and resolve possible incoherences between the Law on the one side, and the Strategy and the Action Plan on the other, in favour of the latter.
Since EUMM’s deployment, the situation in the areas adjacent to the administrative boundary lines with Abkhazia and South Ossetia has largely stabilized. Yet we are not under the illusion that stabilization equates to the resolution of the conflict. The Georgian people have had plenty of opportunities to learn these lessons between 1993 and 2008, when, in spite of agreements to stabilize the situation and the presence of international organisations to monitor this process, hostilities reignited. EUMM will remain loyal to its commitments and redouble efforts to engage the sides in confidence building measures. However, I am firmly convinced that, regardless of the international community’s best intentions, the task to address the root causes of the conflict rests primarily on the sides to the conflict. Furthermore, Tbilisi, Moscow, Tskhinvali and Sukhumi should strive to keep the interests of the civilian populations at heart and align their decisions accordingly.
EUMM’s mandate has just been renewed until September 2011. Given EU member states’ support for continued engagement in the Southern Caucasus, it will probably be extended again.
But the EU, and EUMM in particular, can only provide a enabling environment for solving the conflicts on Georgian territory. It cannot provide the solution itself, which must be found by the participants to these conflicts themselves. They should therefore prepare to take full responsibility to find sustainable and lasting solutions for the sake of the future welfare and peaceful prospects for all communities in the region.