Consolidated report on the conflict in Georgia (April – September 2016) [SG/Inf(2016)37]

 9 November 2016[1]

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.            It is recalled that 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. The report is composed of four parts:

-       update on major developments in the period under review;
-       assessment of statutory obligations and commitments related to the conflict and its consequences;
-       human rights situation in the areas affected by the conflict; and
-       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 14th consolidated report covers the period between April and September 2016. It builds on the previous consolidated reports[2], as well as Secretariat reports on the human rights situation in the areas affected by the conflict in Georgia[3] and the report on the Council of Europe activities in the areas affected by the conflict[4] and its updates[5]. It is also to be recalled that, based on the discussion of the previous 13th consolidated report, at their 1255th meeting on 4 May 2016, the Ministers’ Deputies adopted a decision on the Council of Europe and the conflict in Georgia.

4.            A delegation of the Secretariat carried out a fact-finding visit to Tbilisi on
12-13 September 2016 and had the opportunity to discuss the situation with the Georgian authorities, the Public Defender of Georgia, representatives of international organisations and civil society. The Secretariat wishes to express its gratitude to the Georgian authorities for their support in organising the visit and to all interlocutors, in particular the Co-Chairs of the Geneva International Discussions (GID), for their assistance and valuable contributions.

5.            Despite repeated efforts of the Secretariat, the delegation was not allowed to visit Abkhazia and South Ossetia for the purpose of this consolidated report. The Secretariat, consequently, had no opportunity to assess the human rights situation on the ground in Abkhazia or South Ossetia or to discuss other issues touched upon in the present report. Notwithstanding these developments, the Secretary General intends to pursue his efforts in view of fact-finding visits to Abkhazia and South Ossetia for the preparation of future consolidated reports. At the same time, it should be noted that the Council of Europe (the Secretariat and experts) has enjoyed in the period under review access to Sukhumi for the purpose of implementation of Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs) (cf. Section IV.3).

6.            This report does not replace 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.

7.            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 borders.[6]

8.            This report does not prejudge or infringe upon a possible future political settlement of the conflict within the framework of the Geneva International Discussions, nor the implementation of the six-point agreement of 12 August 2008 and the implementing measures of 8 September 2008.

I        Update on major developments in the period under review

9.            On 21 April, Prime Minister Kvirikashvili addressed the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.  He declared that there was a need to rebuild trust between Georgians and the Abkhaz and South Ossetian populations while underlining the need to build consensus within the Georgian society. The Prime Minister reaffirmed, inter alia, that confidence-building measures were a high priority of the Georgian Government.
 
  1. The 36th round of Geneva International Discussions (GID) took place on 15 June 2016. The following round of talks was held on 4-5 October 2016. The overall security on the ground was assessed by the participants as relatively stable and calm, despite a fatal incident that occurred in the vicinity of the ABL with Abkhazia, on 19 May 2016 (cf. paragraphs 37-38). The Co-chairs also welcomed the exchanges of views regarding statements on non-use of force. In a positive development and after a prolonged break, the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism meetings in Gali resumed on 26 May; a step broadly welcomed by all sides. 
 
  1. In Working Group II of the GID on the humanitarian situation, discussions have continued on the outstanding issues concerning documentation, crossings, language of instruction, missing persons and cultural heritage. Diverging views persist on the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) of a resolution on the status of IDPs and refugees. The Co-chairs regretted that some participants refuse to discuss issues related to IDPs and refugees in Geneva and reiterated their call to all participants to engage in a constructive spirit on all issues on the agenda.[7]
 
  1. While the majority of delegation’s interlocutors shared the assessment that the overall climate in the GID has improved and the format has become indispensable to the stability, it was also observed that the state of peaceful settlement process as well as the situation on the ground remains unchanged. In meetings with the delegation, representatives of the Georgian Government stressed the necessity for progress on key issues of the GID agenda, such as non-use of force, international security arrangements as well as the return of IDPs and refugees. They expressed expectations for a more dynamic reconciliation process and hopes that international partners would support it.

13.         On 27 June, the Georgian Prime Minister’s Special Representative for relations with Russia Zurab Abashidze and the Russian State Secretary and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Grigory Karasin held another round of informal dialogue in Prague to discuss the humanitarian, economic and cultural contexts. Both sides subsequently confirmed a growth in the trade turnover between the two countries, as well as progress in the areas of transport and tourism and it was reportedly agreed to expand Georgian exports to the Russian market.[8] On 22 July, Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov characterised the bilateral relations as manifesting the “right trend”.[9]

14.         Prior to the 27 June meeting, on 6 June, the Russian authorities released three Georgian nationals serving prison sentences on charges of espionage in the Russian Federation. Another Georgian national was freed after the meeting, on 28 June, bringing the total number of those released, since the start of the Abashidze-Karasin talks, to seven. On this occasion, Mr Abashidze expressed hope that the issue would be resolved soon through his contacts with Mr Karasin.[10]
 
  1. Notwithstanding these positive steps, there was a general perception amongst delegation’s interlocutors in Tbilisi that the advancing implementation of Russia’s so-called “treaties” and deriving sub-agreements with Abkhazia and South Ossetia represent a stumbling block not only on the normalisation of bilateral relations with Russia but also on the reconciliation efforts. The process is considered by the Georgian authorities as a growing challenge to the country’s territorial integrity with a negative impact on the overall regional security.
 
  1. In other political developments related to the conflict, it seems important to mention the stepping down of the State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality (SMR) Paata Zakareishvili, on 2 August, in the context of a government reshuffle for the general elections. Subsequently, Deputy State Minister Ketevan Tsikhelashvili was appointed to the post of the SMR.  
 
  1. It should be noted that during the period under review, the political climate in Abkhazia was reported to be marked by tensions between the de facto authorities and the opposition parties, which demanded early de facto presidential elections. A de facto referendum on this issue took place on 10 July, but its results were not taken into account due to the very low turnout. Moreover, following the demise of the de facto government during the summer, de facto Foreign Minister Chirikba who also headed the Abkhaz delegation in the GID resigned on 20 September.
 
  1. On 26 May, the de facto authorities in South Ossetia decided to postpone a de facto referendum on the process of joining the Russian Federation to an unspecified date after the elections for the de facto president in 2017. The issue had previously drawn significant criticism by both Georgia and the international community as going against efforts to strengthen security and stability on the ground. On 29 September, the ratification of the “treaty on state border” between Russia and South Ossetia took effect.

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

19.         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

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

20.         During 6-17 June, the European Court of Human Rights organised in Strasbourg a witness hearing relating to the second Inter-State application Georgia v. Russia (No. 38263/08), which is pending consideration by the Grand Chamber. The interim measure issued by the Court on 12 August 2008, inviting both governments to respect their obligations under the Convention is still in force. In addition, over 1,700 individual applications against Georgia are still pending, including 9 communicated cases in which the parties have submitted their observations on admissibility and merits.

21.         To recall, the Court has received about 200 applications involving more than 900 applicants form Georgia complaining against the Russian Federation, which have been communicated to the Russian Government for information, as well as 23 applications by Georgian nationals against both Georgia and the Russian Federation.

22.         During the visit, the delegation received information that Georgian nationals who are currently internally displaced are considering lodging yet another application, claiming violation of their property rights along with lack of an effective remedy as a result of the 2008 conflict.

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

23.         The caseload of missing persons in relation to armed conflicts represents an outstanding humanitarian plight for the affected populations in Georgia. In total, 180 persons are reported to remain unaccounted for from various conflicts in South Ossetia. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has continued its work on the issue and has been instrumental in achieving progress as regards clarification of the fate and whereabouts of missing persons from the 2008 armed conflict, under the Tripartite Co-ordination Mechanism composed of Georgian, South Ossetian and Russian participants. As of 15 September, 16 out of 58 cases were closed, including as regards 5 people who were located alive. In addition, it has been possible to ascertain 8 out of 138 cases relating to missing persons from the 1990s conflict. The ICRC avails support to families of the missing persons in meeting their legal, psychosocial and psychological, as well as administrative and economic needs.

24.         Alongside work on the missing persons, the ICRC facilitated visits of prisoners’ families on both sides of the Administrative Boundary Line (ABL), as well as medical evacuations from South Ossetia. One hundred and seventy such evacuations since the start of the year were reported to the delegation at the time of the visit. During the period under review, it also pursued micro-economic assistance programmes to the benefit of vulnerable groups such as IDPs, ABL communities and mine victims. The ICRC micro-economic assistance activities will be phased out by the end of 2016 with a view to concentrating efforts and resources on the clarification of the fate of the missing persons.

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

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

25.         In his above-mentioned address to the PACE, on 21 April, Prime Minister Kvirikashvili announced that the government was working actively on reconciliation and a roadmap that would be likely presented in the very near future. During the meeting with the delegation, the new State Minister for Reconciliation expressed the intention to develop human rights and humanitarian policies and stressed that it was possible to find humanitarian solutions to existing problems before a comprehensive political settlement, in co-operation with the international community.

26.         During the delegation’s visit, international interlocutors reemphasised that Georgia’s Law on Occupied Territories should be amended in line with international standards for humanitarian purposes. While it was acknowledged that no constraints had been encountered so far when implementing humanitarian activities, concerns were raised on uncertainty due to several provisions that could lead to complications. On this matter, the State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality reiterated that, should the circumstances so require, individual provisions of the law could be improved with a view to simplifying them without repealing the Law. It would appear that, likewise, various provisions in other laws could have a similar effect and would therefore need to undergo changes.

27.         International assistance and humanitarian programmes in Abkhazia have reportedly shown a tendency to increase while remaining dependent on the stability on the ground. There is also a shared perception that the operational environment has become more challenging, partially in connection to the application of new procedures and rules on access; the delegation was informed that, during the reporting period, staff of international organisations had experienced restrictions when traveling to Abkhazia and that on several occasions had been interviewed by the members of the de facto security services. Georgian staff from international organisations and NGOs are prevented from entering Abkhazia. 


28.         The main objective of international efforts continues to consist in alleviating social and economic needs as well as conflict-related hardships of the local population, as the focus gradually transitions from humanitarian protection to early recovery and longer term development. At the same time, support is aimed at contributing to an environment in which political progress could be made through the peace negotiation process under the GID. The delegation was informed that, since last year, the UN agencies (UNHHCR, UNICEF and UNDP), international NGOs (Action contre la faim, Danish Refugee Council, Première Urgence and World Vision) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation have worked jointly under a new memorandum of understanding and in line with their specific mandates and experience to advance these goals. The main thrust of their action spans six main areas: health; education (including mother tongue-based multilingual education), youth and social services; protection; agriculture, livelihoods and economic recovery; housing and infrastructure as well as civil society, including people-to-people contacts and confidence-building. The EU financially supports these efforts in line with its “engagement without recognition” policy.

29.         The EU also continues to fund among other activities the COBERM flagship programme implemented mainly by NGOs in partnership with the UNDP. The delegation was informed that in parallel to its primary confidence-building objectives, the new generation of COBERM projects worth €5.5 million will seek also to develop human rights capacities, including in the field of human rights monitoring, for civil society. In addition, increased emphasis is put on the replication in Abkhazia of co-operation and development programmes, already implemented in territories controlled by the Georgian Government.

30.         Various interlocutors also expressed satisfaction that the Liaison Mechanism operating under the auspices of the UNDP has proved an effective channel of communication across the ABL. The CoE experience confirms the positive role of the mechanism in also facilitating CBMs. The Georgian authorities support international engagement co-ordinated with them.

31.         In the period under review, South Ossetia remained mainly out of reach in terms of international engagement due to the heavy restrictions in place regarding operational access. Efforts are underway in order to achieve access for the purposes of assessing the humanitarian and human rights needs.

III          Human rights situation in the areas affected by the conflict
 
  1. As mentioned in the Introduction to this report, the Secretariat did not obtain access to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The information presented in chapters III.1 to III.2 is therefore based on discussions with the Georgian authorities, representatives of the international community, and civil society as well as on open sources.

33.         Serious human rights concerns remain in relation to the conflict divide. The “borderisation process”, as well as regular incidence of detentions across the ABL have been repeatedly highlighted as the major negative patterns affecting in turn, but not limited to, the freedom of movement, the right to property and family life, the right to education in native language, as well as social and economic rights of the population on both sides of the ABL. It was emphasised during the visit that the situation of the Georgian population living in Abkhazia and South Ossetia deserves particular scrutiny by the international community.

34.         During the meetings, the Georgian authorities maintained that the human rights situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia has not shown signs of improvement. In the framework of the UN Human Rights Council, Georgia tabled two separate statements “On the human rights and humanitarian situation in the occupied territories”, on 29 June and 29 September, supported respectively by 41 and 46 UNHRC members. The Russian Federation along with the de facto authorities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, on the other hand, strongly insist that human rights and humanitarian issues should not be discussed in international fora where they are not represented.

35.         According to some interlocutors, a willingness to work on human rights problems on the ground appears to be emerging. The delegation was informed that a report on the assessment of human rights situation in Abkhazia – commissioned by the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia – is being prepared by former CoE Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg in an independent capacity, based on the findings of his visits on the ground.[11] All interlocutors welcomed the initiative, while some emphasised the need to ensure access for regular international human rights monitoring to the conflict-affected areas.

III.1       Reports on Abkhazia

III.1.i     Security
 
  1. During the period under review, the overall security situation was assessed by the participants of the GID as being relatively stable and calm.
 
  1. Despite this general positive trend, a fatal incident occurred on 19 May when a Georgian national was killed in the village of Khurcha in the vicinity of the ABL with Abkhazia, triggering high public concern in the Georgian society. The de facto authorities have reportedly opened a criminal investigation and the perpetrator has purportedly been placed under house arrest. On the other hand, the Georgian authorities insist that the perpetrator is tried by a Georgian court and be in the meantime isolated for security reasons. The GID Co-chairs have called for a swift and objective investigation, for the co-operation of all relevant actors on the ground, as well as prosecution and detention of the perpetrator.
 
  1. In the wake of the incident, the resumption of the Gali IPRM was accelerated and on 27 May an extraordinary meeting was held upon the request of the Georgian side and based on earlier agreements reached in the GID framework. Four other meetings were convened during the period under review. The Khurcha incident remains in the spotlight of IPRM talks, which appear to take place in a constructive and positive spirit. The delegation was informed that the Georgian side has been able to present and submit full evidence on the crime.
 
  1. The delegation’s interlocutors welcomed the fact that the situation has not escalated. There is also a common view that the incident was of an isolated nature and did not announce further similar problems. However, the delegation’s interlocutors stressed that it needs to be duly and adequately handled in order to prevent future incidents. The importance of security arrangements on the ground, in particular the IPRM, as well as the presence of the EUMM to defuse tensions, was emphasised.
 
  1. During the reporting period, all sides continued to exchange mutual accusations and express strong security-related concerns on the conduct of various military exercises.

III.1.ii     Freedom of movement

41.         “Borderisation” activities have been reported to continue throughout the period under review in what appears to be an effort by the de facto authorities to transform the ABL into a “state border”. Fences now reportedly cover 22 km of the ABL combined with earth berms, ditches, as well as surveillance equipment. Moreover, as of May, two crossing points in Lekukhona and Tagiloni were closed down. Currently four crossing points continue to function. However, the de facto authorities appear intent on closing down two of them, once the relevant infrastructure has been rehabilitated. At present, approximately 2000 crossings per day are reported, the large majority of which – some 1600 – take place at the main crossing point on the Inguri bridge.

42.         Against the background of ongoing “borderisation”, very serious concerns persist with respect to freedom of movement. Detentions for “illegal border crossing” or “violation of the border zone regime” continue to occur. According to the delegation’s interlocutors, some 30 detentions are registered per month, although it is recognised that not all cases are reported. In this respect, the Office of the Public Defender of Georgia raised strong concerns about allegations that in some cases, those detained were subjected to physical abuse and even forced labour, deepening the sense of insecurity.

43.         As regards crossing documents, the delegation was informed that the ethnic Georgian population is still allowed to use invalidated Abkhaz de facto passports, former Soviet Union internal passports, as well as the so-called registration “Form nr. 9”. Ambiguity surrounds the application of the new de facto law on procedures of entry into and exit from Abkhazia, which requires, inter alia, that citizens of all countries that have not signed “a visa-free agreement” with Abkhazia to obtain an “entry visa”. The delegation learnt about instances when these reciprocity provisions were apparently tested in practice resulting in further complications of the crossing regime. 

44.         Many interlocutors noted that the “borderisation” process and the related constraints of freedom of movement exacerbate the conflict divide, contribute to isolation of communities and affect in multiple negative ways the human rights of the local population, in particular in Gali. The process has continued to draw strong criticism from the Georgian government as well as various international bodies and governments. International humanitarian actors have continued to advise strongly against such restrictions, including the closure of additional crossing points.

III.1.iii.   Identity documents

45.         The situation with the identity and residence documents of the ethnic Georgian population living in Gali (and to a lesser extent in Ochamchira and Tkvarcheli) continues to be marked by lack of clarity. It is recalled that the large majority of the local population lacks valid identity documents following the invalidation of their Abkhaz de facto passports, many of which were subsequently withdrawn.  


46.         The de facto law on “on the legal status of foreign citizens” which lays down the different categories of identification and residence documents, entered into force on 1 April. However, the application of the de facto law in Gali appears to have been put on hold. While this could be an indication that de facto authorities recognise that the de facto law is problematic and cannot be implemented in its current form, the delegation was informed that several consecutive motions to introduce amendments have been rejected at the level of the de facto parliamentary committee.

47.         In this context, a temporary solution appears to have been found in re-issuing the so called “Form No. 9” to the ethnic Georgian population in Gali, in order to facilitate day-to-day activities. Holders of these documents are reportedly allowed to cross the ABL but are not granted the right to receive pension or other allowances, conduct property ownership transaction or exercise voting rights (enjoyed by holders of de facto passports). In this respect the Georgian Public Defender Office raised concerns on the fact that several other documents are necessary to obtain “Form No. 9”, on its relatively high cost for the local population and the long waiting times.

48.         It is evident that the documentation gap is widening and the local population is becoming increasingly wary of the perpetuation of the legal status limbo. Pending a viable solution, international humanitarian actors have called upon the de facto authorities to urgently undertake outreach efforts and offer assurances, in order to counter any perception of uncertainty and ethnic based discrimination that in turn risk prompting new displacement.

III.1.iv    Access to education, including teaching of/in the native language

49.         During the period under review, the situation with education in the Georgian language in Abkhazia continued to receive sustained attention. The delegation was informed that, since the start of the new school year, the Russian language had become the formal instruction language also in grade V in addition to grades I to IV. This policy seems to be applied in all 11 schools in the Gali district. In these schools, Georgian language is limited to three lessons per week along with two lessons of Georgian literature.

50.         The Georgian authorities have resolutely objected to the severe limitations in access to the Georgian language and continued to protest strongly against the new rules in the framework of the GID. In meetings with the delegation, they emphasised that they were not against the teaching of Russian in schools, but argued that this should not be done at the expense of receiving education in the mother tongue while also noting it was extremely difficult to provide quality education in this language to the Georgian children in Gali who had little or no knowledge of Russian. In this context, the training and qualification courses organised by the de facto authorities to tackle the Russian language gap of local teachers in Gali were deemed to be insufficient. Georgian interlocutors also raised concerns that school inspections conducted by the de facto authorities with the aim of ensuring obedience to the new rules in some occasions amounted to harassment.


51.         In this context, increased emphasis appears to be put on the broader state of education in Abkhazia. Some interlocutors indicated that the de facto authorities have expressed willingness to follow international standards and work on multilingual education but pointed at the challenge of increasing the understanding of such standards as well as the lack of financial resources. In this context, a programme of mother-tongue based multilingual education launched by UNICEF has been welcomed by all sides. Georgian and international interlocutors expressed willingness to co-operate with the Council of Europe in this field. It was also noted that the GID could serve as a forum where the sides could try to build consensus on education issues.

52.         Restrictions of freedom of movement continue to have a negative impact on access to education for children who attend school on the other side of the ABL. The delegation received information that, in order for the children to be allowed to cross, parents must register their names with the local de facto authorities. While all interlocutors acknowledged that the Abkhaz side has shown a constructive approach, in practice, discrepancies with the lists occurred, at times leading to detentions. At the same time, the introduction of the Russian language is believed also to play a role.

III.1.v    Other human rights developments
 
  1. No progress has been reported on the election of a new de facto Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsperson) of Abkhazia in accordance with the new de facto legal framework adopted in February 2016.

III.2   Reports on South Ossetia
 
  1. The delegation received information about new “borderisation” activities along the ABL with South Ossetia. While ABL fencing has been ceased, the installation of “border signposts” (some 200 so far) seem increasingly problematic. Their appearance at several locations during the period under review continued to lead to effective loss of access to property and livelihood as well as detention of the local population. The delegation’s attention was drawn to a case from August 2016 where tensions heightened after Georgian farmers were not allowed to harvest their crops and due to the installation of a new signpost in the Gduleti area.
 
  1. In addition to reiterating its firm opposition to the “borderisation”, the Georgian authorities reiterated their strong concerns that as a result of the process the central government has effectively lost control of the territory in several locations.
 
  1. The reported situation illustrates the overall confusion surrounding the location of the ABL. In addition to the negative impact on the local residents’ access to livelihood and freedom of movement, the situation harbours the potential risk of armed security actors of both sides encountering each other. The South Ossetian participants continue to raise the issue of “demarcation” in the framework of the Ergneti IPRM, but the initiative is strongly rejected by the representatives of the Georgian authorities.
 
  1. At present less than 500 crossings are reported to take place daily mainly through the crossing point in Mosabruni leading to the Akhalgori district. Detentions for “violation of the state border” occur on a regular basis, mostly due to local residents crossing the ABL, intentionally or inadvertently to chase stray cattle, access livelihoods or visit the area, including for participating in religious and funeral services. Detention numbers remain at the same level: according to the Georgian Security Service, as of mid-September, 109 people have been detained since the start of the year. Allegations of physical abuse during apprehension have been reported in some of the cases.
 
  1. While in most instances those detained are released after paying a “fine” the Georgian authorities brought to the attention of the delegation the case of a Georgian national who was arrested for “illegal border crossing” in June, and latter remanded to pre-trial detention in Tskhinvali on new charges apparently in connection to the August 2008 conflict.
 
  1. As reported to the delegation, as of next year, the de facto authorities plan to start issuing new registration/crossing permissions (propusks) for the ethnic Georgian residents of Akhalgori, the majority of whom have an IDP status and reside in territory controlled by the Georgian central government. The measure is reportedly related to the expiration of previously issued documents, even though it seems that de facto authorities continue to allow their use. In this respect, some humanitarian actors expressed caution about the fact that the number of those who receive documentation tends to decrease with each new turn. It is estimated that lack of regular documentation hampers the free movement of some 5000 persons from the Akhalgori district.
 
  1. The security situation across the ABL has been assessed by observers as stable although not free of challenges. The Georgian and South Ossetian participants continued to meet regularly and discuss security, freedom of movement and humanitarian issues in the framework of the Ergneti IPRM. The hotline meanwhile continues to be recognised as an effective early warning mechanism, frequently used by all sides for addressing security concerns and exchanging information on incidents.

III.3   The situation of Internally Displaced Persons
 
  1. As regards the right of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to a safe, dignified and voluntary return, regrettably no progress can be reported. In May 2016, the UN Secretary General admitted that no timetable for the return of refugees and internally displaced persons has been developed “given the prevailing environment and continued discussions among the parties” and that peaceful settlement talks under the GID along with international engagement, while contributing to some improvements of the security and humanitarian situation have not resulted in conditions conducive to return.[12]
 
  1. With 76 votes in favour, 15 against and 64 abstentions, on 7 June, the UN General Assembly approved for the ninth year in a row a resolution sponsored by Georgia, reiterating the right of return of all displaced persons and refugees to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The passing of the resolution has resulted in strong divergences as regards the discussion of the return of IDPs and refugees in the framework of the GID (see also part I).
 
  1. In the absence of conditions conductive to return, concerns persist on the generational aspects of displacement. It is reported that the number of displaced persons continues to grow, primarily as a result of births, reflecting the general demographic trend in Georgia. According to the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees (MRA), the total number of IDPs at present equals 270,859.[13] In this context, the government has continued to progress in ensure durable solutions in terms of IDP reintegration.
 
  1. Provision of durable housing solutions represents the main thrust of the government’s reintegration efforts. The MRA has pursued the implementation of various housing alternatives, including construction, rehabilitation and purchasing of housing and apartment units. It has expanded its regional housing programmes, including by combining the provision of shelter with livelihood opportunities, succeeded in building partnerships with local governments and private investors. The government continues to cover the costs of mortgage loans and rents.
 
  1. With regard to the privatisation programme, the delegation was informed that a new government decree was issued in respect of 1,687 families out of which 1,400 families have already registered their living spaces as private property. In this respect, the MRA stressed that the rights of the IDPs and the original owners need to be equally protected, resulting at times in complicated procedures and a lengthy process.
 
  1. As reported in previous occasions, the scale of the housing needs however remain a formidable challenge for the government to overcome both in terms of financial resources and timeframe. According to the data provided by the MRA, out of 87,948 IDP families, currently 34,534 have so far received housing. Domestic and international observers have noted that, despite the progress made, considerable and urgent needs endure as regards IDPs living in collective centres whose conditions remain destitute, as well as those residing in private accommodation. 
 
  1. Support for socio-economic integration of IDPs has also increased. For the first time, the government has allocated budget for sustaining self-employment of IDPs under the new IDP Livelihood Action Plan 2016-2017. The IDP Livelihood Agency has started supporting vocational education for socially vulnerable IDPs by covering the transportation or accommodation costs of those who choose to enrol in such programmes offered by public education institutions. Other types of assistance aimed at increasing the participation of IDPs in state agricultural programmes, as well as grants, are also being implemented.
 
  1. It is reported that the Interim Governmental Commission has continued its work in 2016 with the aim of alleviating the remaining difficulties of the returnee population residing adjacent to the ABL with South Ossetia with respect to access to drinking and irrigation water, heating and livelihoods, as well as access to social and medical infrastructure. 


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

IV.1    Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
 
  1. PACE President Pedro Agramunt paid an official visit to Georgia from 30 June to 1 July 2016. The situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia was raised during official meetings with President Margvelashvili, Prime Minister Kvirikashvili and Minister of Foreign Affairs Janelidze. President Agramunt reiterated the Assembly’s full support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and praised Georgian authorities’ policy towards the regions based on increasing Confidence-Building Measures and reducing political tensions. Discussions focused also on the Khurcha incident on 19 May 2016. Monitoring Committee Co-rapporteurs, Boriss Cilevičs (Latvia, SOC) and Kerstin Lundgren (Sweden, ALDE), carried out a fact-finding visit to Georgia from 2 to 5 May 2016.

IV.2    Operational activities

Protection of conflict-affected population
 
  1. During April-June 2016, the Council of Europe (DG I) carried out trainings aimed at reinforcing the protection impact of the regional offices of the Public Defender of Georgia against discrimination of vulnerable groups, including the conflict-affected population. Several cascade trainings will be organised until January 2017.

Cultural heritage
 
  1. Preparations are ongoing for a project that will build on previous CoE action to address the 2008 conflict’s impact on cultural heritage and built environment. The project is also considered as natural follow-up to the Joint Council of Europe/EU project “Community-Led Urban Strategies in Historic Towns” (COMUS), and should therefore begin after June 2017, building on the COMUS project results.

Youth

72.         Twelve young people and youth organisations from Tbilisi and Sukhumi took part in the Youth Peace Camp 2016 from 10 to 18 July (see also part IV.3.a). Three project concepts were developed as follow-up by participants from Tbilisi and Sukhumi. The projects focus on Georgian-Armenian dialogue; dialogue between Abkhaz, Georgians and IDPs; and on the No Hate Speech Movement Campaign. Participants’ initiatives with local partners are foreseen as follow-up, and measures will be taken to ensure Abkhazians and South Ossetians can participate in the 2017 Youth Peace Camp planned for 28 April-6 May 2017.

73.         Activists and leaders from Georgian youth organisations together with 70 other participants from the States Parties to the European Cultural Convention took part in the VIII International Youth Camp “Dialogue”, in September 2016, in the Kaluga Region (Russian Federation). The aim of the camp, which is part of the Action Plan for 2016-2017 of the Framework Programme on co-operation between the Council of Europe and the Russian Federation in the youth field, is to provide an educational environment for youth leaders and activists from various cultural backgrounds to practice and develop their competencies in intercultural dialogue for fostering peace in society today.

IV.3    Operational activities on Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs) and their
follow-up

 
  1. Activities organised during the reporting period
 
74.         During the reference period, the programme has been driven by the need to respond to concrete common problems faced by the populations in conflict-affected areas as identified jointly by the different actors across the divides. The implementation of CBMs has evolved in terms of the diversity of themes and participants. At the same time, the follow-up has been ensured for a number of initiatives taken previously, with an aim to maintain the mutual trust already established between participants. All activities were closely co-ordinated with the Office of the Georgian State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality (and the UNDP Liaison Mechanism) as well as other international actors active on the ground. This chapter gives an overview of CBM activities implemented during the period under review, as well as an outlook on those already planned until December 2016.

CBMs with Abkhazia

75.         The training of a group of 24 teachers from Tbilisi, Sukhumi and Gali on interactive, multicultural approach to language teaching was completed in the third training session, which took place at the European Centre for Modern Languages (ECML) in Graz on 7-10 June 2016. Teachers from the three locations developed concrete projects for classroom work on the basis of a common approach and themes. Successful co-operation between teachers, especially between teachers from Sukhumi and Gali, has been developed. In view of the positive results reached and of the high motivation of most teachers to continue in this direction, the Secretariat is currently exploring ways to implement a follow-up in the form of a project, including also a training of trainers (ToT) aspect, using some of the teachers from the previous group as multipliers and “ambassadors” of the methodology among colleagues, trainers and schools leadership.

76.         The third meeting between ombudsmen and civil society representatives from Tbilisi and Sukhumi took place in Budapest from 29 June to 1 July. The meeting’s agenda covered the key issues of minority languages in education and the right to property. The meeting took place in the context of the adoption of a new de facto law on the Ombudsman in Abkhazia. This strand of the CBM programme will be further developed through a ToT session on CoE “Compass” on human rights education, which will be organised in Budapest on 23-27 November.

77.         In parallel with the third meeting between ombudsmen and civil society, the Secretariat organised the first training session on simultaneous interpretation from/to Abkhaz language for professionals from Tbilisi and Sukhumi in Budapest on 27 June – 1 July. A follow-up is planned in the course of the autumn, but in the meantime the group is practising on the basis of glossaries and remain in contact via the Internet.

78.         Activities on the inventory of architectural heritage objects have focused on preparing the onsite pilot phase, which the group of experts from Tbilisi and Sukhumi proposed to organise in Gudauta. The planning mission to Abkhazia by the Secretariat and experts for the field phase of the project took place on 25-30 April 2016. The actual pilot phase is scheduled for the end of October 2016.


79.         As a follow-up to the previous activities on prevention of violence against women, including domestic violence (decisions taken in Istanbul in October 2015 and Yerevan in February 2016), a specialised meeting of psychologists and psychiatrists took place in Budapest, on 16-19 May 2016 in order to exchange good practices and increase capacities to help traumatised children. This first session will be followed by a series of other practical trainings. Moreover, a special training for women on leadership capacities is planned for the first half of 2017.

80.         Based on recommendations issued during the first training focusing on “Drugs prevention and treatment” for professionals coming from Tbilisi and Sukhumi, held in Frankfurt in November 2015, a second training took place in Berlin on 4-8 April 2016. Some 21 professionals from the medical and social field involved in prevention and treatment of drugs addition took part in the workshop, which included visits to a variety of institutions focusing on drugs therapy and prevention, as well as on target groups (notably women, children and migrants). A follow-up to the above events in Frankfurt and Berlin is scheduled to take place in the course of the autumn.

81.         The CBMs programme continues to support the joint development of a publication based on archive materials existing in Tbilisi and Sukhumi on victims of 1937-38 repressions in Abkhazia. The aim of the publication is to collect and make available information on the disappearances, circumstances of imprisonment, convictions and executions of over 2000 persons. The third meeting took place in Yerevan on 24-27 May 2016, and it is planned that the publication will be finalised in the first half of 2017.

82.         A second training on “Modern Approaches to Museum Management” took place in Budapest on 11-14 July, with the participation of 12 professionals such as directors of museums, scientists, and archaeologists. The programme included a study visit to the Petőfi Literary Museum in Budapest. Participants requested a continuation of the training to take place in the course of autumn 2016.

83.         The CBM programme also ensured the participation of Georgian and Abkhaz young people in the Council of Europe Peace Camp in Strasbourg, during 10-18 July (see paragraph 73 above).

CBMs with South Ossetia

84.         The Secretariat has pursued efforts with a view to ensuring that participants from South Ossetia are involved and benefit from the CBMs programme. Various factors, not least the strict requirements of operational access to South Ossetia currently do not allow for a meaningful engagement. Under these circumstances, the Secretariat will continue to ensure access to activities organised for Abkhazia to a limited number of participants from South Ossetia.

(b)     Plans for further action

85.         The Secretariat will continue to reach out to and involve civil society and professional groups from both sides of the ABL in the CBMs programme. Proposals for several initiatives are currently under discussion with the Georgian authorities and stakeholders in Sukhumi (via the Liaison Mechanism). Notably, preparations are ongoing on the development of new activities focusing on protection of rights of persons with disabilities, as well as a new project on education as follow-up to the completed trainings on interactive, multicultural approach to language teaching.

86.         The initiatives for psychology and psychiatry specialists working with traumatised children, interpreters from/to the Abkhaz language, historians and museum management specialist will be developed further, as well as activities focusing on architectural heritage, drug addiction and domestic violence. A stronger involvement of journalists in the CBMs programme is still being explored, including activities on the role of media in addressing questions related to women’s rights and women empowerment.

87.         The exchange of views and conclusions of the meetings of the public defenders and civil society representatives from Tbilisi and Sukhumi play, inter alia, the important role of the feedback channel for the impact of the project. In the above-mentioned third meeting of public defenders and civil society representatives, it was agreed that a number of confidence-building initiatives should be taken in such areas as teaching of regional and minority languages in the school system, property rights and the management of immovable property.

88.         The demands for more CBMs activities are growing and they can be answered only if the necessary resources through the voluntary contributions are available. Until now, the programme has been financed by the Ordinary Budget of the Organisation. One voluntary contribution has been made available to organise the fourth meeting between ombudspersons and civil society either at the end of 2016 or early 2017.
 
 
[1] This document has been classified restricted until examination by the Committee of Ministers.
[5] SG/Inf(2009)5 Addendum and SG/Inf(2009)5 Addendum 2.
[6] 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.
[7] Press Communiqué of Co-Chairs of Geneva International Discussions, 15 June 2016.
[8] See comments of the Office of the PM of Georgia, 28.06.2016 and press statement of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 27.06.2016.
[9] See comments of Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov during an annual youth forum in Russia, on 22 July.
[10] See comments of the Georgian PM’s Special Representative for relations with Russia Abashidze, 6 June 2016 (Source: Office of the PM of Georgia).
[11] See Georgian MFA press release on the meetings of Thomas Hammarberg with Foreign Minister Janelidze and Deputy Foreign Minister Dondua respectively on 17 and 9 June.
[12] See Report of the UN SG on the Status of internally displaced persons and refugees from Abkhazia, Georgia, and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, Georgia, 16 May 2016.
[13] As of January 2015, the MRA number of registered IDPs as quoted by the UN totalled 262,704.

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