1299th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies, November 8, 2017. Photo: MFA Georgia
During the 1299th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies on November 8, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjorn Jagland presented his 16th consolidated report on the conflict in Georgia, which covers the period from April 2017 – September 2017 and takes stock of the security and human rights situation in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia.
The CoE Secretary General said in the report that “despite continued efforts, the Secretariat was not given authorization to visit Abkhazia and South Ossetia for the purpose of this consolidated report” that gave them “no opportunity to assess the human rights situation on the ground.”
Consequently, the information presented in the document is based on previous consolidated reports, as well as the CoE Secretariat delegation’s discussions with the Georgian authorities and the Public Defender, and the representatives of international organizations and local NGOs working on conflict reconciliation.
The overall security situation on the ground “is assessed by the GID (Geneva International Discussions) participants as relatively calm and stable,” but the human rights and humanitarian situation of the conflict-affected communities “remained worrying, notably due to persisting and newly imposed restrictions faced by the ethnic Georgian population as regards freedom of movement, documentation as well as access to basic services, including education.”
“Positive effect on the process of normalization” of Georgian-Russian economic and humanitarian relations through the informal dialogue of Zurab Abashidze, Georgian Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Russia, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin was also noted in the report.
The report underlined that the Georgian Government “continues to make available free access to healthcare, education and some other social benefits for all residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” but recalled the stalled amendments to the “Law on Occupied Territories,” which was initiated in 2013 to decriminalize “first time violations of entry procedures to the territories that are not under the control of the central government, by treating them as administrative offences.”
“During the delegation’s visit, the urgent need for modifying the law in a manner that is conducive to a more enabling environment for the international community’s engagement with conflict-affected communities was underlined by international interlocutors. While the flexible approach of the Georgian central government in implementing the law was recognized, specific concerns were raised as regards the potential for restrictions on access,” reads the report.
In Abkhazia, “no major changes were reported as regards the security situation on the ground, although according to some observers the intensification of military drills further undermined the sense of security of the local population.”
“The growing number of restrictions with respect to basic rights and services also enforces perceptions of insecurity and uncertainty,” the Secretary General noted, adding that the predominantly ethnic Georgian population in the Gali district “continues to be the most vulnerable group in this respect.”
The recent closure of four out of a total of six crossing points in Abkhazia has “severely complicated freedom of movement primarily for the Georgian population in the Gali district but also others, resulting in longer travel and ABL crossing times, although the Abkhaz de facto authorities have reportedly sought to mitigate negative effects by improving infrastructure and transport options.”
The Secretary General spoke on the new “residence permits” as well, saying that the new document “seems to grant holders only limited property rights, creating regrettably important barriers for their local integration and deepening the sense of rejection.”
Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia
“No major changes” were reported in respect to the overall security situation in South Ossetia as well.
The so-called “borderization” activities “regrettably continued throughout the reporting period,” with the process remaining “a source of potential tension.” “The so-called “borderization” process and the resulting obstacles on freedom of movement continue to have significant human rights and humanitarian repercussions on the daily lives of the local population, as well as significant security related consequences,” reads the report.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia welcomed the 16th consolidated report on the conflict in Georgia, as well as the statements made by the European Union, GUAM and other partners made at the meeting of Ministers’ Deputies concerning the report, and expressed its hope that the issue would remain on the CoE agenda in the future as well.