Consolidated report on the conflict in Georgia (October 2011 – March 2012) [SG/Inf(2012)05]

Information Documents

SG/Inf(2012)05

18 April 2012

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Consolidated report on the conflict in Georgia

(October 2011 – March 2012)

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Document presented by the Secretary General

Introduction

1. At their 1080th meeting on 24 and 26 March 2010, the Ministers’ Deputies took the following decision: “The Deputies, restating the previous decisions of the Committee of Ministers, invited the Secretary General to prepare his consolidated report on the conflict in Georgia based on his outline and taking into account the comments made during the present meeting”.

2. The objective of the report is to take stock of the situation in Georgia following the August 2008 conflict, to report on the related activities of the Council of Europe and to propose further Council of Europe action. It is composed of four parts: assessment of statutory obligations and commitments related to the conflict and its consequences; the human rights situation in the areas affected by the conflict; current Council of Europe activities aimed at addressing the consequences of the conflict, their follow-up as well as proposals for future action.

3. This fifth consolidated report covers the period between October 2011 and March 2012. It builds on the four previous consolidated reports1, as well as Secretariat reports on the human rights situation in the areas affected by the conflict in Georgia2 and the report on the Council of Europe activities in the areas affected by the conflict3 and its updates4.

4. The Secretariat carried out an on-the-spot fact-finding visit on 25 February-4 March and had the opportunity to discuss the situation on the ground with the Georgian authorities, representatives of the authorities in control in Sukhumi, local NGO representatives and international organisations. The Secretariat wishes to express its gratitude to the Georgian authorities for their support in organising the visit and to all interlocutors for their assistance and contributions.

5. This report in no way replaces the monitoring procedures established in the Council of Europe. Nor should it be seen as prejudging any possible decisions in the cases related to the conflict and its consequences, which are currently pending before the European Court of Human Rights.

6. Nothing in this report should be interpreted as being contrary to the full respect of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders5, and to the six-point agreement of 12 August 2008 and the implementing measures of 8 September 2008.

7. This report does not prejudge or infringe upon a possible future political settlement of the conflict within the framework of the Geneva Discussions.

I Update on major developments in the period under review

8. In the period under review, two rounds of the Geneva Discussions took place, the 18th round on 14 December 2011 and the 19th round on 28 March 2012. Also, the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism met regularly, providing security actors with an opportunity to discuss incidents and work out practical solutions in order to deflate potential tensions. Following the 14 December round of discussions, the Co-Chairs noted a positive trend towards improving stability on the ground and relayed all the participants’ appreciation of the good and constructive work of the IPRMs. In this respect, addressing participants to the Geneva Discussions during the 27 February Council, EU Foreign Ministers urged them “to work together towards sustainable security arrangements”. They also remarked that “a clear non-use of force commitment by Russia would be necessary”, and asked the Russian Federation “to fulfill its obligations under the ceasefire agreement of 12 August 2008 and the Implementing Measures of 8 September 2008, including by providing access to EUMM to the breakaway regions”.

9. While the security situation on the ground during the reporting period remained mainly calm but volatile, exchanges of mutual accusations affected the climate of political talks and restricted the space for a constructive engagement in negotiations on conflict-related issues.

10. During his State of the Nation Address to Parliament on 28 February, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili announced the lifting of visa requirements for Russian citizens as of 1 March. The Russian MFA relayed the Russian authorities’ readiness to reciprocate when authorities in Tbilisi set in place the appropriate legal conditions to guarantee the security of Russian citizens visiting Georgia. Later, when addressing the State Duma on 14 March, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in reply to questions of parliamentarians said that the visa regime with Georgia would be abolished if the Law on Occupied Territories was withdrawn. Another development was Moscow’s offer to resume diplomatic relations, which was conditioned by Tbilisi on the withdrawal of the recognition of the independence of the two regions and the withdrawal of Russian troops.

11. On 13 and 28 November two rounds of de facto presidential elections took place in South Ossetia. With results heavily disputed and in the face of protracted civil unrest, a new de facto election was scheduled to take place on 25 March. Two rounds of de facto parliamentary elections took place in Abkhazia on 10 and 24 March. Many actors in the international community, including within the Council of Europe, reiterated their position of non-recognition of the constitutional and legal framework within which the contests had taken place. The Russian Federation recognised the legitimacy of these elections.

12. In connection with the Russian Duma and Presidential elections on 4 December and 4 March, the Georgian authorities strongly protested against the opening of polling stations in the breakaway regions without the consent of the Georgian Government.

13. Concern has been expressed in many fora by Georgian governmental and non-governmental representatives in relation to the protection and safeguard of Georgian cultural heritage sites located in Abkhazia and the region of South Ossetia. During its visit to Tbilisi, the Secretariat was informed directly of allegations that a number of churches, including the Ilori church in the Ochamchira district and the Bedia Monastery, are undergoing restoration works damaging their medieval frescoes and altering their original architectural structure. Concerned that the restructuring might be aimed at obliterating elements of Georgian cultural identity, during the 23-27 January session, the Georgian PACE delegation called for a fact-finding mission to verify the conditions of the sites. In response, de facto authorities in Sukhumi emphasised the Abkhaz cultural identity of the sites, expressed concern for the state of neglect the lack of financial resources has left them in, and expressed their readiness to co-operate with the international community in order to receive competent expertise. Also, during the discussions in the Committee of Ministers under the agenda item 2.1 Council of Europe and conflict in Georgia this issue was raised by a number of delegations.

II Assessment of statutory obligations and commitments related to the conflict and its consequences

14. Below is an update on statutory obligations and specific commitments - as listed in PACE Opinions 193 (1996) and 209 (1999) - which have been selected for the purpose of reporting on the conflict in Georgia and its consequences. This part builds on Part 1 of the first and second consolidated reports on the conflict in Georgia (SG/Inf (2010)8 and SG/Inf (2010)19 final).

i. To accept the principles of the rule of law and of the enjoyment by all persons within its jurisdiction of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to collaborate sincerely and effectively in the realisation of the aim of the Council of Europe

15. On 13 December, the European Court of Human Rights declared admissible, by a majority, the application in the case Georgia against Russia (II) (no. 38263/08). The Government of the Russian Federation challenged the allegations of the Georgian Government.

16. 1,725 individual applications against Georgia are before the Court (including 22 applications against both Georgia and Russia). Nine cases have been communicated. Recently, eleven new applications have been lodged.

17. To date, the Court has also received 208 individual applications involving more than 900 applicants from Georgia complaining against the Russian Federation. Information about these applications has been transmitted to the Russian Government and to the Georgian Government as a third party.

ii. To settle international as well as internal disputes by peaceful means (an obligation incumbent upon all member states of the Council of Europe), rejecting resolutely any forms of threats of force against its neighbours

18. No new developments to report.

iii. To respect strictly the provisions of international humanitarian law, including in cases of armed conflict on its territory

iv. To co-operate in good faith with international humanitarian organisations and to enable them to carry out their activities on its territory in conformity with their mandates

19. According to information provided by the Georgian authorities, until now 94 project proposals have been submitted in the framework of the Georgian Government’s “Modalities for Engagement”. Of these, sixty proposals focused on Abkhazia, thirty on South Ossetia and four on both regions. All 94 received “non-objection orders”. Thirty-two projects were funded through the EU-UNDP Confidence-Building Early Response Mechanism (COBERM), forty-two through other channels, while 20 were not funded.

20. It is worth stressing that the Council of Europe’s co-operation with the Georgian authorities on confidence-building activities has so far proven positive and constructive (cf. section on “Proposals for further action” of the report).

v. To facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable groups of the population affected by the consequences of the conflict

21. In the period under review international organisations’ access to the conflict regions has remained restricted. While a number of projects are taking place on the ground and international representatives are generally allowed to visit Sukhumi and the Gali district, the region of South Ossetia remains mainly out of reach. The EUMM has not yet had regular access to the conflict regions during the period under review. No progress has been registered in relation to an OSCE presence. The Russian Federation takes the view that the Georgian law “On Occupied Territories” constitutes an additional obstacle for ensuring such access.

22. The Liaison Mechanism continues to be a useful and effective channel of communication and tool for the implementation of projects by the international community in Abkhazia.

III Human rights situation in the areas affected by the conflict

III.1 Security and freedom of movement

23. The security situation in the Gali district as reported by international organisations operating on the ground and local residents has deteriorated since the last visit of the Secretariat. In particular, Gali residents interviewed by the Secretariat spoke about ongoing activities of criminal groups and blamed the “local law-enforcement agencies” for the systematic failure in guaranteeing the security of the population. A number of crimes remain apparently un-investigated.

24. Also, a string of security-related incidents has reinforced the population’s sense of insecurity. A number of international interlocutors pointed to the extreme violence of crimes. Talking to the Secretariat, representatives of the de facto authorities in Sukhumi blamed these incidents on the “external factor”. They also called for information to be provided by the Georgian authorities on a number of arrests and disappearances occurred in Abkhazia. The Georgian authorities deny these allegations and in their turn complain about security-related incidents on the territory under their control.

25. In a separate development, de facto President Ankvab survived an assassination attempt on 22 February.

26. The ongoing process of “borderisation” keeps affecting negatively the local population, especially those living in the proximity of the ABL. Protracted closure of the line in conjunction with the episodic deterioration of the security situation has disrupted the lives of local residents, significantly restricted their freedom of movement and increased their sense of uncertainty. This concerns in particular the collection of pensions, salaries and state subsidies paid by the Georgian authorities, as well as the provision of medical care on the territory under the control of the Georgian authorities.

27. On the side of the ABL under the control of the Abkhaz de facto authorities, the crossing regime allows residents through upon the display of a form of identity, a single-exit permit and the payment of a fee to the de facto local authorities in Gali. Lack of the appropriate crossing documents, or crossing outside the sanctioned crossing points results generally in short-term detentions and the charging of fees. The local population has often reported to the EUMM the payment of bribes.

28. Plans announced in the past that the whole “border” would be securised by the end of 2011 have only partially materialised. The opening of five pedestrian crossing points (Otobaya, Nabakevi, Tagiloni, Saberio and Lekukhona) in addition to the Rukhi bridge - designated as the only crossing point for vehicles - has not yet taken place. The Georgian authorities categorically oppose the plans for “borderisation” and regularly request to agree on the modalities facilitating the freedom of movement within the framework of the Geneva Discussions and IPRMs.

29. As far as the ABL with South Ossetia is concerned, the EUMM reported to the Secretariat the appearance of a total of 4 km of barbed wire, spread out over 15-20 strategic locations and aimed at discouraging the local population from crossing. Twenty Russian border guards’ bases and 45 observation postings are deployed along the whole perimeter of the ABL, while the remaining length of the line is patrolled by border guards with dogs.

30. Alleged violations of the “border” regime by the local population keep resulting in detentions by the de facto authorities in Tskhinvali and Sukhumi. Thanks to arrangements made within the framework of the IPRM, however, arrest procedures seem to have been simplified and long-term detentions in Tskhinvali have been reduced. Following the release of the detainees on 30 December, the number of those currently in custody is reported to be at an all-time low.

31. Against the background of a generally stable security situation due to the absence of serious incidents, NGOs active in the areas adjacent to the ABL highlight the functional link between socio-economic and security issues and the need to address the former with a view to pre-empting the latter. In a recent survey conducted on 800 households residing in villages located on the territory under the control of the Georgian authorities, 90% of those polled identify shortages of firewood provisions, and the consequent ABL crossing in pursuit of the natural fuel, as a possible trigger of incidents and hostilities. Uneven access to gas and water and the general uncertainty to which the population is exposed are believed to be responsible for the steady depopulation taking place in the area.

III.2 Issuing of local IDs

32. Great uncertainty remains as far as the legal rights of ethnic Georgians in Gali are concerned. The de facto authorities reiterated their willingness to promote a policy of full integration. These intentions, however, seem not to have been translated yet into concrete actions. The enjoyment of social rights and benefits (such as education, health services, property, civil registry) in most cases continues to depend on the holding of Abkhaz “passports”, while procedures for their issuing are still applied selectively to Gali residents.

33. Human rights activists in Gali, whom the Secretariat met during its visit, remarked that, despite promises during the de facto presidential campaign last summer, no improvement in the pace and conditions for the issuing of the documents has taken place. According to human rights activists in Gali, the total number of “passports” issued to ethnic Georgians residing in Gali remains 10,000.

34. It should be recalled that the Georgian authorities keep objecting firmly to the issuing of Abkhaz “passports”, which they see as an illegal document. Following up on provisions included in the Georgian Government’s Action Plan for Engagement, the Georgian authorities have proposed the introduction of Status Neutral Identification Cards (SNID) and Status Neutral Travel Documents (SNTD). Relevant legislation was adopted in July and October 2011 that allows the issuing of these documents. According to data provided by the State Ministry of Reintegration, as of 23 February, 62 SNIDs and seven SNTDs have been issued, while six SNID and one SNTD applications are pending.

35. Five countries have already recognised the SNTDs as a valid travel document, though a number of interlocutors from the international community in Tbilisi expressed to the Secretariat their concern in relation to the documents’ potentially restrictive character. In their view, if used as the only legal document to travel abroad, as required, the SNTD could limit rather than expand travel possibilities for individuals.

36. De facto authorities in Sukhumi contested the SNTDs’ presenting the issue in terms of a potential human rights violation and a “collective punishment” for the whole population residing in Abkhazia. According to the Georgian authorities, by introducing the SNTD, the Government of Georgia pursues the aim of ensuring that the eligible persons enjoy the right to travel abroad. The Georgian authorities consider the document in question as neutral to the Georgian citizenship.

III.3 Teaching of the Georgian language

37. Discrepancies between a de jure and a de facto situation in relation to the teaching of the Georgian language in the Gali district remain. Although it is the language of the second largest ethnic group, no higher education in Georgian is provided in the region. As far as ordinary schooling is concerned, interlocutors in Gali told the Secretariat that, while in practice in Gali town teaching in Georgian is limited only to a few hours per week, all schools in lower Gali normally use Georgian. This provision is, however, not formally authorised. Ethnic Georgian teachers report persisting discrimination against them, both in terms of salary provisions and career perspectives.

III.4 Military conscription

38. The question of military conscription in the Abkhaz de facto army, compulsory for all male “citizens”, also raises concern among Gali residents. With young men required to apply for a “passport” and register with the local “military authorities” as soon as they reach the legal age, cases are often reported of ethnic Georgians fleeing the district to avoid being drafted.

III.5 Reports on South Ossetia

39. The Secretary General will continue his efforts to ensure that the Secretariat can undertake a visit to the region of South Ossetia in view of further reports.

40. The Secretariat was informed by many international interlocutors that the human rights situation remains critical, particularly in connection with the protracted domestic instability registered around the two rounds of de facto presidential elections in November and the ensuing popular demonstrations. Humanitarian organisations highlight the region’s extreme poverty and the local de facto authorities’ inability to tackle even basic social security needs.

41. The Akhalgori valley remains a cause for concern, given the reported depopulation, occasional freedom of movement restrictions and limited access to some public services.

III.6 The situation of Internally Displaced Persons

42. As regards the right of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to a safe, dignified and voluntary return, regrettably no progress has been registered.

43. During the reporting period debates continued on the status and living conditions of IDPs. The amendment on 30 December of the 1996 “Law of Georgia on Forcibly Displaced – Persecuted Persons” regulating the status of IDPs was met with criticism. International NGOs active on the subject conveyed to the Secretariat their concern that, by amending also the definition of Collective Centres (CCs), the law weakens the IDPs’ right of protection against eviction.

44. With the process of eviction from publicly-owned illegally occupied CCs now completed, the MRA has been criticised both for the way the process was conducted and for its outcomes. Critics suggested that more emphasis should have been placed on the issues connected to economic development, poverty reduction and social integration and not only on housing. Remotely located and unable to provide for their residents’ economic and social needs, some NGOs fear that the new settlements have the potential of becoming isolated.

45. While overall the initiative to privatise collective centres - as foreseen under the amended law - can be regarded a positive, also in view of integrating IDPs in local communities, concerns have been raised about delays in this process, the insufficient increase in IDP’ allowances for those in privatised buildings to cover utility costs and the potential lack of protection offered to families living in mixed-ownership collective centres, which are considered to have been privatised. Information to IDPs has in general to be improved.

46. At the same time, according to the Georgian authorities, the amended Law envisages annulling the status of CCs for those buildings that were privatised and transferred into legal ownership of IDPs. The Law also foresees the possibility of granting a private accommodation status as the building is transferred from the State ownership to the private ownership of IDPs.

47. According to figures provided by the MRA, in the period under review, the construction of a total of 64 residential buildings in the towns of Poti, Batumi and Tskhaltubo was completed, while ten more are expected to be built in Zugdidi in the coming months. The Minister estimates that of the 34,521 families previously living in CCs, about 24,000 have already been provided for, while 6,000 will receive housing by the end of the year. Of the total 88,977 IDP families currently registered, 54,456 reside still in private accommodation, in conditions that the Public Defender defines as “deplorable”. Given the draining of economic resources, many are pessimistic that a durable housing solution will be provided to all.

48. According to the Georgian authorities, pursuant to the IDP Action Plan, housing and livelihood components are considered equally important, however, livelihood activities are most efficient and sustainable when implemented under a durable housing solution. In parallel with accommodation, various income generation and livelihood activities are implemented in co-operation with partner organisations. The Georgian Government informed the Secretariat that the residents of new settlements have access to education, healthcare and other basic social services facilities.

IV Activities of Council of Europe organs and institutions and their follow-up

IV.1 Commissioner for Human Rights

49. As part of its support to efforts to address the situation of IDPs and other persons affected by the conflict, the Office of the Commissioner funded activities on the situation of IDPs in Georgia organised by the Office of the Public Defender (PDO) which were held in Kutaisi, Zugdidi and Batumi from 7 to 11 November 2011. In each of those places, the PDO organised an information-sharing meeting with the participation of IDPs and local representatives of the MRA; a discussion with local NGOs and representatives of international structures; and an awareness-raising session with students. The main issues debated were the privatisation and rehabilitation of housing for IDPs, the situation of IDPs in private housing, as well as other questions pertaining to IDPs and conflict-affected persons.

50. The Office of the Commissioner also funded a training on social rights for the staff of the PDO with the aim of supporting their work on the protection of IDPs. Held on 17 and 18 November in Georgia, this event was organised by the PDO and supported by the EU. Seventeen participants from PDO staff in Tbilisi and the regions attended the training, which included sessions on international standards related to economic and social rights, including the right to adequate housing, and an examination of the situation in Georgia in this context.

IV.2 European Court of Human Rights

51. As regards the Inter-State application (No.38263/08) which was lodged by Georgia against Russia a hearing on admissibility took place on 19 December (cf. above paragraph 17).

52. The state of play with regard to individual cases is described in paragraphs 18 of the report.

IV.3 Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

53. Ms Tina Acketoft (Sweden, ALDE), Rapporteur of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons on “Follow-up on the humanitarian consequences of the war between Georgia and Russia: the humanitarian situation in the war-affected areas” carried out a second visit to Georgia from 12 to 15 December 2011 in the context of the preparation of her report. She visited Abkhazia, spending time in both Gali and Sukhumi, meeting NGO representatives, representatives of international organisations and also representatives of the de facto authorities.

54. A first discussion on a memorandum prepared by the Rapporteur is expected to take place in the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons at its meeting in Brussels on 29 March 2012. The Rapporteur plans to visit Tskhinvali as soon as this is possible.

IV.4 Operational activities

IV.4.i DG II Democracy Directorate of Human Rights and Anti-discrimination

55. Covering the period 1 January – 31 December 2012, in partnership with the Georgian PDO and UNHCR, which also provides co-financing, DG II Migration Co-ordination is undertaking the project “Support to the Office of the Public Defender to enhance its capacity to address the situation of IDPs and other conflict-affected individuals”. Inter alia, the project aims at providing support also to conflict-affected populations, especially in relation to healthcare provisions and security perceptions.

56. Through regular monitoring of the situation, recommendations are made for the appropriate authorities to address structural shortcomings adversely affecting IDPs and other vulnerable groups’ living conditions. The project focuses also on specific issues such as monitoring of the allocation of IDP housing and awareness-raising among the receiving population in communities where IDPs are relocated with the view to facilitate their integration.

IV.4.ii Confidence Building Measures activities and follow-up proposed

(a) 2012

57. The CoE has been working in close co-operation and consultation with a number of international organisations (in particular the EU, the OSCE and the UN) and other relevant actors to implement the projects proposed by the Secretary General in the previous Consolidated Reports.

58. On the practical side, however, it is worth remarking that the question of the bilateral format of the events and the use of SNTDs has been raised with increasing frequency by Abkhaz participants.

Training of journalists

59. Further to the 7-9 June 2011 activity on the training of journalists on standards and principles of balanced coverage of politically sensitive events, a meeting of selected participants was held in Istanbul on 25 January 2012. The aim was to discuss practical modalities for further co-operation on specific future joint initiatives and in particular the practical arrangements for a possible jointly managed website.

60. In addition, the Secretariat is exploring proposals to continue the work with journalists with a practical session of joint production on a selected topic.

Providing publications on human rights protection

61. Further to the summer 2011 initiative aimed at providing civil society groups and educational institutions with Council of Europe publications on human rights issues, the Secretariat is currently studying the possibility of translating into the Abkhaz language more Council of Europe documents.

The use of new technologies to enhance intercultural communication skills

62. Further to the training seminar held in Kyiv on 12-16 September last year and on the basis of a proposal put forward by the Georgian authorities, the Secretariat is considering the idea of a training for teachers working in a multicultural environment. The training would be held in 2012.

Artists for dialogue

63. The Secretariat has established contacts with the managers of a cultural event in Turkey to be held in the summer 2012. Within the framework of this event, arts college students would be invited to work together on a common topic under the coaching of artists from both sides of the divide as well as other artists present at the event.

The Seminars on Patients’ Rights and the Training for teachers dealing with children suffering from psychological distress

64. These two activities have been indicated as high priority.

65. Through the activity on Patients’ Rights, the Council of Europe intends to promote among healthcare professionals principles for the protection of rights both in daily and hospital care. The objective would also be to widen patients’ participation in the decision-making process.

66. The seminar for school teachers and teacher trainers would be aimed at addressing cases of children in psychological distress following extremely stressful or traumatic situations. The activity is also meant to assist practitioners in the early detection of distress and the elaboration of appropriate responses to violent or anti-social behaviour.

(b) Proposals for further action

67. The Secretariat in co-operation with the Georgian authorities and all relevant partners, is currently considering activities aimed at addressing issues related to the conservation of cultural heritage.

Appendix

List of acronyms and abbreviations

ABL Administrative Boundary Line

COBERM Confidence-Building Early Response Mechanism

EUMM European Monitoring Mission to Georgia

IDs Identity Documents

IDPs Internally Displaced Persons

IPRM Incident Prevention and Reaction Mechanism

MRA Minister of Internally Displaced Persons from the occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees of Georgia

PDO Public Defender’s Office

SNID Status Neutral Identification Cards

SNTD Status Neutral Travel Document

1 SG/Inf(2010)8 and SG/Inf(2010)19 final

2 SG/Inf(2009)7, SG/Inf(2009)9 and SG/Inf(2009)15 final

3 SG/Inf(2009)5

4 SG/Inf(2009)5 Addendum and SG/Inf(2009)5 Addendum 2

5 It is a fundamental objective of the member states of the Council of Europe to uphold the territorial integrity of Georgia. However, the Russian Federation recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states on 26 August 2008.

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