COMMENTS OF THE ABKHAZIAN SIDE ON THE REPORT FROM GEORGIA
dated October 15th, 2008
GIVEN TO THE INTERNATIONAL COURT OF THE UNITED NATIONS
The Abkhazian side, having become very familiar with the contents of the Report from Georgia presented to the United Nations International Court of Justice in connection with proceedings initiated by Georgia against the Russian Federation, considers that some details in the Report, (frequently referring to isolated incidents which were unconfirmed) are based on information supposedly obtained and published by recognised international and non-governmental organisations. However in the Report there are no references to specific organisations or to persons giving evidence. Thus, the information provided in the Report cannot be verified. In addition, concerning the situation regarding Abkhazia the Report refers to several sources, namely: the OSCE Report “Human rights in the regions which have suffered from war as a result of the conflict in the territory of Georgia” from November 27th, 2008, which in turn refers to data from the HRAM (Human Rights Assessment Mission); the letter of November 27th, 2008 from Ambassador Janez Lenarkik, the Director of the Bureau of Democratic Institutes and Human Rights of the OSCE, to the Acting Chairman of the OSCE Alexander Stubb; the letter of November 27th, 2008 from the Supreme Commissioner on National Minorities Knut Vollebaek to Mr. Alexander Stubb; and also to materials from Internet sources. It is suggested that, in the formulation of a report of this importance, it would be expedient to obtain official confirmation of data included within the report, and for disputed matters to use sources from a more serious level than correspondence between officials, some of whom have never even been to Abkhazia.
Position of Abkhazia concerning return of refugees in Gal region and Kodori Gorge
Comments on paragraph 22: “Discrimination with relation to about 42,000 citizens of Georgian nationality in the Gal region of Abkhazia continues …”
Question 18: “Georgians who fled from Abkhazia (in particular from the Kodori Gorge) cannot return as the Russian and Abkhazian forces do not allow them to do so”.
As is the case elsewhere in the world, the question of the return of refugees demands a careful and balanced approach. Everyone, including international participants in the negotiating process, should realise their responsibility in this matter, and also should be impartial, regardless of national and other differences, in helping all groups who have suffered as a result of conflicts.
In addressing the issue of the return of refugees the Abkhazian side has always strictly complied with the provisions of the Moscow agreement signed on May 14th, 1994, according to which at the first opportunity a safe and dignified return of refugees to the Gal region was provided. It is necessary to underline that the Abkhazian side itself was the initiator of this process of returning refugees. Within sixteen post-war years, more than 60,000 people who wished to go back have already returned to their homes in the Gal region. The Abkhazian leadership had published decrees in which all Russians, Turks, Greeks, Jews, Armenians and Georgians were offered a return to Abkhazia provided they did not participate in any armed conflict against Abkhazia and did not commit any other illegal acts against citizens of the Republic of Abkhazia.
With regard to the return of refugees to the remaining regions of Abkhazia, this issue directly depends upon the degree of trust between parties. However, the Georgian side all these years has opposed the return process and has done everything it could to undermine the peace initiatives of the Abkhazian side. In fact, everything has been done to create conditions under which the safe return of refugees could not be implemented because of continuing subversive and terrorist acts. Until now, there has been no information about the fate of David Sigua, the Chairman of the Election Commission of Gal district, who was abducted by Georgian special services. He was kidnapped on February 3rd, 2007 from his home in Gal, after his public statements calling on the authorities of Georgia not to speculate on the issue of refugees.
The Georgian side has not yet been called to account regarding the provocation aimed against Abkhazian civilians, Russian peacekeepers and UN mission staff, who died in the Kodori Valley in October 2001 as a result of Georgian military provocation. It must be stressed that Georgia has made concerted efforts to destabilize the situation in the Gal region, which is confirmed in the joint report of the UN mission on its investigation of the situation in Gal district (20-24 November 2000), where in chapter C, section III, paragraph 58 it is written: “Throughout several years after the end of open hostilities, armed groups of Georgians committed targeted attacks in the Gal district. In public statements from leaders of the most well-known groups such as the “White Legion” and the “Forest Brothers” it was noted that their main task was to reclaim Abkhazia by force. Their immediate task was to create an atmosphere of fear and instability among returnees to the Gal district in order to show those people that their presence on the territory controlled by the Abkhazian side would not be possible. To do this they used ambushes, kidnappings and targeted mining”.
Shortly before the August events, the secret services of Georgia committed a series of terrorist attacks in the cities of Abkhazia, directed against the civilian population. As a result, innocent people suffered, and on July 6th, 2008 in the town of Gal as a result of a terrorist attack four people were killed and some more were seriously injured, which was another direct confirmation of the involvement of law enforcement bodies of Georgia in terrorist activities against Abkhazia.
Whilst the Georgian government only exacerbated the situation concerning refugees, did not seek to help people return to their homes, was opposed to peaceful coexistence with its neighbours and used the issue of refugees as a pawn in their political games, Abkhazia itself has repeatedly expressed its willingness to adhere to the outline plan proposed by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which in every way would facilitate the process of verification of Georgian refugees, to be carried out within the framework of the UNHCR. Note that it is still not possible for Abkhazia to obtain data on the actual number of people willing and, most importantly, wanting to return to Abkhazia. However, the Abkhazian side has insisted that the process of verification of Georgian refugees should receive greater support from all participants in the peace process, because only through an independent assessment of the situation could a real picture of the position of refugees be revealed, and the authorities of Abkhazia are interested in transparency in this matter.
After the August events, the trust of Abkhazian society was finally undermined. In total, since August of 2008, as a result of terrorist acts on the part of Georgia 5 people have been killed and more than 10 have been injured. This was the result of an amnesty in Georgia, where members of subversive and terrorist groups were released from prison in September 2008 to resume terrorist activities against Abkhazia. If we trace the dynamics of the situation in the Gal region, we can see that a period of stability and security occurred in August 2008 at the time of conducting the operation of forcing Georgia to peace. During this period, more than 20 Russian families living in Georgia were forced to leave the territory of Georgia through Abkhazia, having been subjected to constant harassment and attacks. Several citizens of Georgia appealed to the Abkhazian leadership requesting political asylum, because in Georgia their lives were in danger.
Despite the incessant provocations of Georgia, the Abkhazian side continues to monitor the security situation of ethnic Georgians and to consider the interests of the other ethnic groups living in Abkhazia, even more so because all citizens of Abkhazia, regardless of ethnic, religious and other affiliation, directly or indirectly are affected by the actions of Georgia directed towards the escalation of conflict throughout the region, which once again could lead to war. This refers to Georgian troops entering the Kodori Gorge of Abkhazia in July 2006, which was a flagrant violation of the Moscow Agreement and created a basis for the gradual destruction of the format of the peace process between Georgia and Abkhazia. It should be noted that Paragraph 4 of the Agreement includes: “…from the Kodori Gorge the troops of the Republic of Georgia will be withdrawn to permanent positions outside of Abkhazia”, and in the Protocol on cease-fire, separation of the armed units and assurances on the banning of forceful actions, signed by the parties on May 25th, 1998 in Gagra, it is stated: “… the Georgian side pledges to take effective measures on the suppression of penetration into Abkhazia by armed formations and persons”.
It is well known that the valley was occupied by Georgian troops in order to use this territory for an attack on Abkhazia. Into the Upper Kodori territory of the Republic of Abkhazia were brought units and divisions of the Ministry of Defence, Internal Affairs, State Security, Department of Protection of Frontier and other special services of Georgia. The troops consisted of one light infantry brigade, a battalion of the National Guard, special divisions of both the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Department of Protection of the Frontier.
Armaments consisted of:
mortars - up to 24
infantry fighting vehicles (BMPs) - up to 10
BМ-21 "GRAD" launchers - up to 2
D-30 heavy guns - 6
anti-aircraft 23-2 installations - up to 6
С-60 - 1
anti-tank missiles (SPG-9, PTRK) - up to 20.
The aggregate number of troops during different
periods varied from 1500 to 3000 persons. The reinforcement and maintenance
division included special purpose divisions, intelligence, engineering,
communications, howitzer and mortar artilleries, and support divisions.
Note that a plan for an attack on Abkhazia with
the codename “Rock”, prepared by the Georgian Ministry of Defence to be
implemented in 2008, very clearly describes the military use of this territory.
After the liberation of all the upper Kodori Gorge, it became clear what
significant forces and resources had been allocated by Georgia for a military
attack on Abkhazia. Stored in Upper Kodori were stockpiles of weapons,
ammunition, food, petrol and other fuels, additional items, and also a military
infrastructure capable of placing and preparing for operations more than 6000
troops, to form up to two infantry brigades capable together with Gal and
Tquarchal groups of conducting offensive actions in the direction of Zemo-Lata,
Tsabal and Sukhum.
In the Report (S/2006/771) from September 28th,
2006 the Secretary-General of the United Nations noted that “The situation in
the conflict zone remained stable till July 24th, but it became tense following
the Georgian special operation beginning in the upper part of the Kodori Valley…
Having received the first messages about forthcoming Georgian special action, at
night on July 24th UNOMIG directed a special patrol to a check point of
peacekeeping forces of the CIS on the northern border of a security zone on the
way to the Kodori Gorge. This patrol noticed in the security zone two Georgian
armored military emergency vehicles with five military men and advised the
Georgian side that it had violated the Moscow agreement of 1994. A few hours
later, on the morning of July 25th, peacekeeping forces of the CIS noticed
movement of a Georgian military convoy consisting of approximately 30 trucks, 4
jeeps and 18 four-wheel drive vehicles on which were about 600 - 1000 military
men. This convoy was moving towards the upper part of the Kodori Gorge. On July
26th UNOMIG noticed seven Georgian helicopters, including three attack
helicopters, flying to the Kodori Gorge, and informed the Georgian side that it
had committed another violation … the Georgian side acknowledged the presence in
this region of personnel of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and also
approximately 30-40 artificer officers participating in the repair of bridges.
The presence of military engineers, and also the use of military forces and
equipment contradict the terms of Paragraph 2(d) of the Moscow agreement 1994 on
the withdrawal of troops from the Kodori Gorge (see S/1994/583, Appendix I)”.
In total, in his report dated September 28th, 2006 the Secretary-General of the United Nations advised on 13 violations by the Georgian side of the Moscow agreement 1994. However, no actions of the Abkhazian side were recognised by UNOMIG as illegal or violating the Moscow agreement. “In response to the Georgian operation the Abkhazian side has deployed its forces to the east of Sukhum in the direction of the lower part of the Kodori Gorge, and has moved additional divisions to a zone of restriction of armaments to regain their defensive positions along the Gal canal and to reinforce its position in the conflict zone. However these actions by the Abkhazian side are not an infringement of the Moscow agreement 1994” – (Report S/2006/771, Paragraph 16).
Resolution 1716 of the Security Council of the
United Nations dated October 13th, 2006 expresses “concern in connection with
acts of the Georgian side in the Kodori Gorge in July, 2006 and in connection
with all infringements of the Moscow agreement on cease-fire and separation of
forces from May 14th, 1994, and also other Georgian-Abkhazian arrangements
concerning the Kodori Gorge”. The United Nations Security Council “insistently
urges the Georgian side to ensure that the situation in the upper part of the
Kodori Valley is according to the Moscow agreement and that there are no troops
which are not permitted by this agreement…” In the Resolution, the Security
Council recommended the Georgian side “to address seriously the legitimate
concern of the Abkhazian side regarding security, to avoid steps which could be
considered as menacing, and to abstain from aggressive rhetoric and provocative
actions, especially in the upper part of the Kodori Valley” (Items 3, 4, 8). The
Security Council also appealed to the Georgian side time and again to refrain
from aggressive rhetoric and provocative acts in relation to Abkhazia, but all
such requests were ignored by Georgia, and as a result this led to the events of
Note that during the liberation of the territory
in the Kodori Gorge occupied by Georgian troops, Abkhazian authorities did
everything to avoid any victims among the peaceful population. In order to avoid
civilian casualties, measures were taken to alert the residents of Upper Kodori
about the upcoming offensive action by Abkhazian armed forces. The provision of
a humanitarian corridor benefited not only all the inhabitants of the valley,
but also the Georgian military units whose initial occupation of the Kodori
Gorge had been in order to use this territory for an attack on Abkhazia,
directly endangering the lives of innocent people in the region.
Prior to the start of operations the population of
Upper Kodori was repeatedly warned about the necessary preparation and actions
to liberate Upper Kodori, and were informed about the humanitarian corridor
provided for both the civilian population and for the military. All air strikes
and artillery fire were aimed to avoid damage to settlements or losses among the
civilian population. After the liberation of Upper Kodori by the Abkhazian armed
forces, all reserve divisions were withdrawn. By Presidential Decree, a curfew
area was organised, and a representative of the President of the Republic of
Abkhazia was appointed as the Commander of the region. Thus the operation in the
Kodori Gorge was completed without any casualties or damage to property among
the civilian population of the region, any looting or arson was prevented, and
the norms of international rights were not broken.
As to the number of refugees from the Kodori
Gorge, we will note that according to official data from Georgia, the total
number of civilians in the Kodori Gorge is not more than 360 people, 168 of whom
have already returned to their homes and receive humanitarian aid from the
International Committee of the Red Cross. In the list of permanent residents,
which is located in the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, there are
about 350 people. According to UNHCR data, at present 168 people have already
returned to the Kodori Gorge. With regard to HRAM data alleging more than 2500
inhabitants of the valley, these figures are clearly exaggerated. According to
the Abkhazian side, the number of residents of the Kodori Gorge has never
exceeded 1500 persons.
Currently, work is underway to clear mines from
the valley, eliminate all traces of the Georgian military presence, and rebuild
the social infrastructure. Today, inhabitants of the region have access to the
road from the Kodori Gorge, and can enjoy markets in the rest of Abkhazia. After
liberation the Kodori Gorge, which was used by Georgia as a military base, by a
decree of the President was given the status of a national park of Abkhazia.
Over 16 years after the conflict of 1992-93, the
leadership of Georgia continues to openly support terrorism. The Georgian
President personally decorated Georgian terrorist Levan Mamasakhlisi with a
state award after he was released from prison in Abkhazia at the personal
request of the Council of Europe High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Abkhazian side expresses deep concern over the regular instability in Georgia, which hinders the full development of the region. Also puzzling is the position of the international community, which does not give an objective evaluation of Georgia, but instead heavily arms it, turning a blind eye to obvious violations of human rights and a policy of terror against Abkhazia and South Ossetia, thereby calling into question the impartiality of international mediators seeking to participate in the process of a political settlement of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict. Unfortunately, the main international humanitarian aid organizations aim to help Georgia (especially by the last loan to Georgia, which amounted to $4.5 billion) where only the military infrastructure was attacked, instead of South Ossetia where the civilian population suffered, while there is a real threat that some funds will be used for the restoration of military capabilities. Thus, Georgia will be able once again to attempt a military solution to their territorial issues. In particular, at the disposal of the special services of Abkhazia there are data on the creation and deployment in the vicinity of the border with Abkhazia of a special division of 300 people employed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia. This division was designed to carry out armed attacks not only against representatives of Abkhazian law enforcement organisations, but also against the peaceful Svan population returning to the Kodori Gorge.
On the closing of the border between Georgia and Abkhazia after the August events
Comments on Paragraph 33: “Russia and the
self-proclaimed separatist authorities also obstruct the Georgians living in the
areas of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from going to other parts of Georgia”;
Comments on Paragraph 35: “Persons of Georgian
nationality from the Gal region of Abkhazia have already been prohibited to
cross the administrative border with the rest of Georgia, guarded by Russian
Closure of the border between Georgia and Abkhazia is a temporary measure and was required due to acts of terror on the part of Georgia, as well as the threat of military attack by Georgia, which became a reality in August 2008. The Abkhazian leadership was forced to undertake this necessary action, seeking to ensure the security of its borders, and primarily guided by the issue of safety of the civilian population of the Gal district.
At a time when Georgia is still considering a military revenge as its solution to the Abkhazia conflict, it is impossible to make this border transparent. Unfortunately the citizens of Abkhazia, having learnt from bitter experience, are accustomed to living with the expectation of attacks from Georgia, which is why the issue of security along Abkhazia’s eastern border remains the most important. At present, Abkhazia is negotiating to strengthen the border and prevent possible attacks by Georgian saboteurs on the territory of Abkhazia. The authorities of Abkhazia are confident that demarcation of the border with Georgia would bring long-awaited security and stability to the region. Strengthening the border will put an end to smuggling, kidnapping, terrorist acts and attacks by insurgents and criminal elements who regularly destabilize the situation in border areas, and the opening of the checkpoints would help to reach a new level of civilized interaction with neighbours. With regard to ordinary citizens, they are not deprived of their freedom of movement. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg, on the basis of his visit to Abkhazia on February 9th, 2009, said: “Closed by de facto authorities, the border is now actually open, and people can cross it. This is a positive and extremely important factor.”
The Republic of Abkhazia as an independent and
Key democratic institutions of Abkhazia
Comments on Paragraph 40: “Russia continues to
cooperate with the self-proclaimed authorities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as
with independent states… self-appointed government of Abkhazia…”
According to the Constitution of the Republic of
Abkhazia adopted on November 26th,1994 the Republic of Abkhazia is a sovereign,
democratic, legal state, historically established by the right of the people to
free self-determination. According to data provided by the famous American
non-government organization “Freedom House” (www.freedomhouse.org),
reviewing the status of political rights and civil liberties around the world,
Abkhazia, as well as Georgia, Armenia and Turkey, is among a number of
“partially free/independent” states.
As is known, the most important features of a
democratic state are real representative democracy, the maintenance of the human
rights and freedoms of citizens, the creation and development of a civil
society, independent mass-media, a wide range of democratic institutions and
independent trade unions.
In the Republic of Abkhazia, the people exercise
their power through elected bodies that represent citizens and have the
exclusive right to pass laws. Such an elected institution in our country is the
National Assembly, Parliament of the Republic of Abkhazia, the election to
which, according to the Constitution, shall be exercised on the basis of
universal, equal and direct suffrage by secret ballot. Thus a real
representative democracy is available.
Maintenance of the rights and freedoms of people
and citizens of the Republic of Abkhazia is enshrined in Article 11 of the
Constitution, which states “The Republic of Abkhazia recognizes and guarantees
the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Civil and
Political Rights and other universally recognized international laws”.
The Republic of Abkhazia is a multinational and
multi-faith state in which representatives of various nationalities and faiths
peacefully co-exist. For them, favourable conditions for living and development
are created, and their rights and freedom are respected to the same extent to
which the rights and freedom of representatives of the titular nation are
respected. Members of these minorities in their respective proportions are
represented in state power structures.
In the Republic national newspapers are published,
national schools function, and Russian, Greek, Armenian, German, Jewish, Polish,
Tatar and Estonian societies are actively involved in public life,. In total,
Abkhazia has about 100 registered NGOs and public humanitarian organizations,
not including the religious organizations.
In accordance with Article 2 of the Constitution
of the Republic of Abkhazia, the bearer of sovereignty and the sole source of
power in the Republic is its people - citizens of the Republic of Abkhazia.
Elections of the President of the Republic of Abkhazia, just like parliamentary elections, are conducted on the basis of universal, equal and direct suffrage by secret ballot.
Article 12 of the Constitution of the Republic of
Abkhazia reads: “Everyone is equal before the law and the courts, regardless of
race, nationality, sex, language, origin, property and official status, place of
residence, religion, beliefs, ideologies, and other circumstances”. Every
citizen of the Republic of Abkhazia has a right to elect and to be elected, and
all are equally subject to freedom of speech, press, meetings, rallies and other
rights secured by law.
Any decision made in the Parliament of the
Republic of Abkhazia is guided by the views of either a simple or qualified
In our republic, as in any other democratic
country, the principle of constitutionalism is followed, according to which the
Constitution has supreme legal authority in relation to all legal norms.
In addition to the above, other democratic
institutions function within Abkhazia:
- an active civil society in close liaison with
- all citizens of the Republic have the right to
freedom of speech, thought and belief, which creates favourable conditions for
the existence of free and independent mass-media;
- according to the Constitution, all people have
the right to association, peaceful rallies, gatherings, processions and
In Abkhazia the Public Chamber functions, which is
designed to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens, to promote the
development of a civil society, and to exercise public control over the
activities of public authorities. In the Gal region of Abkhazia the office of
Human Rights is open and operates successfully. Within the country there are
many different parties and political movements, including those in opposition.
Currently in Abkhazia a structure has been created similar to that of the institution of ombudsman, to handle problems. This was announced, in an interview with a correspondent from news agency REGNUM, by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg on February 26th. According to him, the mechanism which is being formed in Abkhazia is very important and will ensure the effective protection of human rights. “I talked to the representative who has been appointed by the President of Abkhazia, and I think we can assist them in building this structure,” said Mr. Hammarberg.
Today, the Republic of Abkhazia is an internationally recognized state (on August 26th, 2008 its independence was recognized by the Russian Federation, and on 3rd September of the same year by the Republic of Nicaragua). For more than 15 years, Abkhazia has been a Presidency Member of UNPO (Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization), the main slogan of which is: “indigenous peoples living in their territories but against being enslaved by ‘alien’ states”. Abkhazia remains open to an international presence, seeking to preserve peace and stability. The position of the country's leadership is aimed at preserving and strengthening the role of the UN mission, the mandate of which will, however, require certain reconsideration in the light of new political realities.
Certification in the Gal district of Abkhazia
Comments on paragraphs 23, 25: “Citizens of
Georgian nationality in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are forced to receive Russian
passports and the passports of separatist entities under threat of eviction...”
The authorities of the Republic of Abkhazia have officially stated that no forceful actions are used to issue passports. This idea is actively used by the Georgian authorities to speculate on alleged violations of the rights of the population of the Gal district of Abkhazia. A resonance artificially created in Georgia, it is aimed primarily at international observers. However, attempts to further discredit the government of Abkhazia have been unsuccessful. People in the Gal district are issued passports only at their own request, because residents in the area consider themselves to be inhabitants of this country and wish to become full citizens of Abkhazia. Abkhazian authorities consider it impossible and illegal to deny people their right to decide which state they wish to be citizens of, as prescribed in the Constitution of the Republic of Abkhazia. Moreover, according to current official figures from the passport-visa service of the Gal district, there are queues of people waiting for a passport, and the number of those wishing to acquire Abkhazian citizenship is constantly growing.
The activities of international humanitarian
organizations in the territory of the Gal district of Abkhazia
Comments on Paragraph 37, Questions 10, 11:
“International and non-governmental organizations note that Russia hinders the
delivery of basic humanitarian assistance to civilians of Georgian nationality
in South Ossetia and Abkhazia… A number of international organizations have not
been allowed into the Gal district of Abkhazia…”; “Russia hinders the delivery
of humanitarian assistance to Georgians in Abkhazia”.
The authorities of Abkhazia have always rendered
assistance to international organizations with their work in the territory of
Abkhazia, and, moreover, have always appreciated the considerable efforts of
humanitarian organizations to assist people affected by war. According to the
Abkhazian Foreign Ministry, no international humanitarian organization has
complained about any restriction of the organization’s activities on the
territory of Abkhazia, including the Gal district, where the representatives of
virtually all humanitarian organizations operating in the territory of Abkhazia
are located. The competent bodies of Abkhazia are not aware of any complaints
that the Russian Federation has impeded or is impeding the delivery of
humanitarian aid to the population of Abkhazia through its territory, including
aid to ethnic Georgians living in the Gal district.
Furthermore, Russian troops have replaced the
collective peacekeeping forces in the conflict zone, whilst guarding against an
armed threat from the Georgian side, taking into account the change in the
status of Abkhazia, and have continued to be present in the border zone of the
Gal district. According to the authorities of Abkhazia, Russian troops do not
restrict the activities of humanitarian organizations and do not hinder the
delivery from Georgian territory of humanitarian aid to residents of Abkhazia.
Official registration by the authorities of the
Republic of Abkhazia has not been denied to any international humanitarian
organization, and none is hindered in carrying out its activities in the
territory of Abkhazia. With regard to the humanitarian organizations of Georgia,
ostensibly seeking to implement projects on the territory of Abkhazia, a Foreign
Ministry official said that none from Georgia has filed a formal reference or
request in this respect. After the events of August 2008 the presence of any
organizations from Georgia seems to be impractical and inappropriate in the
context of the constant threat of aggression from Georgia.
The authority and jurisdiction of Georgia does not extend to the territory of Abkhazia, and in accordance with regulations, Georgia has no right to permit or forbid access by international humanitarian organizations on the territory of Abkhazia, or to impose restrictions on their activities.
The problems of national minorities in Georgia
Comments on Paragraphs 5, 7: “Georgia has not
committed any acts aimed at racial discrimination and has not promoted, has not
defended and has not supported any action aimed at racial discrimination against
any citizen, group of citizens, organizations or institutions in their
territory…”; “The aspiration of Georgia for equality for ethnic and national
minorities is reflected both in life and law…”
Following its declaration of independence in 1991
Georgia became a member of major international organizations - the UN and the
OSCE - and began the process of ratification of documents from several
international human rights institutions. The entry of Georgia into the Council
of Europe in 1999 imposed upon it a direct obligation to establish a legal
framework that meets international standards in the protection of human rights
and of minorities, in particular through the adoption of the Framework
Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) and the European
Language Charter. According to an obligation to the Council of Europe, Georgia
had to resolve the issue of repatriation of Meskhetians by 2011. In July 2007,
the Parliament of Georgia passed a law on the repatriation of Meskhetians
deported by Stalin in 1944, but this was the target of acute criticism from the
opposition and mass-media, which pointed to the ethnic and demographic balance
in the zones formerly inhabited by Meskhetians, where the Armenian ethnic
community currently resides. Thus, the question of the return of the
Turks-Meskhetians has not so far been resolved.
Official Tbilisi denies the existence of a problem
with national minorities in the country however the authorities continue a
policy of unification, and discriminate against ethnic minorities. International
human rights and public organizations in Georgia do not cease to express concern
about the exclusion of and discrimination against national minorities, as well
as the xenophobic sentiments that prevail in Georgian society, and which are
regularly fuelled by Georgian mass-media. In October 2007, the International
Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) spoke about violations of human rights of
Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Georgia. In particular, according to FIDH, in
Kvemo-Kartli national minorities are discriminated against by the authorities.
(Human Rights violations in Georgia / / FIDH, Paris-Tiblisi, 15 Oct. 2007)
As members of the unions representing the
interests of national minorities in Georgia declare, residents of regions with a
high proportion of national minorities are generally poorly informed about the
activities of such organizations. For these reasons, organizations do not often
deal with complaints about infringements of rights.
The most acute issue is the language question.
According to numerous statements made by representatives of public organizations
and parties representing the interests of national minorities in Georgia, after
the “Rose Revolution” the situation regarding the conservation of languages has
considerably worsened and continues to worsen.
The main cause of discontent at Azerbaijani and
Armenian schools is the fact that history and geography are taught in Georgian.
Many politicians fear that a number of Georgian dialects, for example,
Mingrelian and Svan will be recognized as regional languages, which will
ultimately negatively affect the integration of national minorities. Support for
minority languages is also perceived by the authorities as a threat to the
integration of Javakheti and Kvemo-Kartli regions, populated by Armenians and
After the war in August 2008, the activities of
social and political movements of ethnic minorities increased. In particular,
official Yerevan received many requests from various socio-political
organizations to take real action to protect the national rights of the Armenian
population of Georgia, including providing a special status to the Armenian
region Samtskhe-Javakhetia. In addition to the Georgian authorities ignoring the
characteristics and needs of the local population, people who live there have
serious concerns about their future, including a possible Turkish expansion, the
unresolved problem of mass unemployment after the withdrawal of Russian military
bases from Akhalkalaki, and the lack of any sound program in Tiblisi for the
development of this depressed region. There is an active public organization
“Javakhk”, and the party “Virk”, which incidentally has not been registered
officially. Their main activity is to defend the fundamental rights and freedoms
of Armenians in Georgia, and they struggle to have the Armenian language given
an official status in areas where the Armenians continue to live.
It should be noted that protests against ethnic
discrimination and the requirement to respect the rights of Armenians are
nothing new for Georgia. In September 2005 the third congress of Armenian public
organizations Javakhk passed a resolution which stated the need for the region
to receive broad autonomy within Georgia. In July 2008 the Ombudsman of Armenia
Armen Harutyunyan expressed concern in connection with an explosion in the
regional centre of Akhalkalaki, populated mainly by Armenians, and the killing
of two Armenian policemen (“The Defender of Human Rights of Armenia is concerned
about the situation in Javakhk” / / REGNUM, 24 July, 2008)
On January 22nd, 2009 the Georgian authorities
arrested two residents of Akhaltskh of Armenian nationality, the Director of the
Armenian Youth Centre Grigor Minasyan and the President of the “Charles
Aznavour” charity organization Sergei Hakobjanyan, on charges of espionage and
participation in armed groups ... The authorities arrested the leaders of the
Armenian organization “Unified Javakhk” and members of their families, which was
seen as an attempt to suppress the activity of the Armenian population in
Samtskhe-Javakheti region. (Georgian lawyers for a variety of reasons refuse to
protect the rights of Armenians arrested in Javakhk).
On the eve of an official visit to Armenia by the Georgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Grigol Vashadze, a joint statement was made by compatriot's charity organisation “Javakhk”, analytical centre “Mitk” and the Union of NGOs for Repatriation and Development “Erkir”, in which the Armenian public organizations accused the authorities of Georgia of conducting a policy of “demographic terror” against the Armenians of Javakhk (Samtskhe-Javakheti) and demanded a stop to “anti-Armenian reprisals”. The statement says: “The arrests of Armenian political activists of Javakhk Vahagn Chahalyaan, Grigor Minasyan, Sargis Hakobjanyan, and Grisha Avakyan, the terror of Georgian law enforcement agencies in relation to the other Armenian activists of Javakhk, gross lapses by the Georgian authorities in the ongoing trial of Vahagn Chahalyan and his family and artificial barriers erected by the Georgian side in the Georgian-Armenian border at the check point Bavra lead to the situation of the local Armenian population living in an atmosphere of fear and despair, which in turn leads to an increase in the rate of emigration of Armenians from the region.” The document notes that all this can be described as a deliberate policy of “demographic terror” carried out by the Georgian authorities, the main aim of which is the assimilation of the Armenians of Javakhk into Georgia, thus establishing complete and absolute control over the region through the destruction of the Armenian social and political structures. In connection with the visit of Grigol Vashadze to Armenia, a signed statement from public organizations requested the Armenian authorities to include a discussion of four main issues within the agenda of Armenian-Georgian inter-state relations and to show consistency in their decision:
The immediate cessation of repression in Javakhk, as well as the termination of criminal prosecutions and the release from detention of social and political figures of Javakhk arrested in July 2008..
Permission to legally use the Armenian language in all spheres of public life, and in particular in the administrative offices in the regions of compact settlement of Armenians in Georgia (Samtskhe-Javakhk and Tsalka).
The creation of a joint Armenian-Georgian university in Akhalkalaki in order to reduce the scale of emigration of Armenian youth of Javakhk.
Legal registration of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the return of the confiscated Armenian churches.
Representatives of Azerbaijani organizations also repeatedly made accusations against official Tbilisi. In particular, charges of violating the rights of Azerbaijanis living in Georgia were made by Azhdar Taghizade, the representative of the World Congress of Azerbaijanis. The main accusations were violations of land ownership, and the right to education in their mother tongue was stressed. In 2005, during a meeting with the Ombudsman, representatives of the Azerbaijani community alleged violations of the rights of citizens, in particular regarding the use of firearms by the police against the population, humiliation of human dignity at customs points, and ignoring the appeals of Azerbaijani state authorities. (“Azerbaijanis of Georgia have met with the Ombudsman of the country / / REGNUM, 19.10.2005”). The organisation “Tolerance” in an alternative report on Georgia’s compliance with the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities reported a sharp decrease in the number of Azerbaijani schools and the appointment of a number of Azerbaijani schools directors with no knowledge of the Azerbaijani language (“Alternative report on the implementation by Georgia of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in the region of Kvemo-Kartli”, Tbilisi, 2008, p.58-59.)
Talking about the problem of Ossetians in Georgia, who comprise approximately 0.9% of the population, particularly after the August events, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg said that these problems largely relate to the Ossetians in Georgia itself. “I saw the situation, I have been to Vladikavkaz, the local authorities there clearly assured me that they would not tolerate any violence or negative actions against the Georgians. And we have not received any reports about this. As for the Ossetians in Georgia, we have information that they have been evicted from there, but we have also received assurances from the Georgian authorities that such phenomena will be prevented. This is an issue that needs to be monitored. I welcome the fact that the authorities on both sides are making efforts to prevent racism and xenophobia” said the CE Commissioner in an interview with a correspondent from news agency REGNUM on February 26th.
Teaching in the Georgian language in Gal schools
Comments on Paragraph 25: “In the Gal district, citizens of Georgian nationality are increasingly concerned not only with their own security, but also with the possibility of retaining their identity, language and culture…”
Teaching in the Georgian language at schools in the Gal region has not been stopped, which is confirmed by the international observers. Authorities of Abkhazia have always declared their readiness to convert teaching at the Georgian schools totally into the Georgian language, but for the complete process it is necessary to translate Abkhazian textbooks, particularly in such subjects as history, literature and geography, into Georgian. All participants in negotiations, including the international intermediaries, agree with this, because it is obvious that in a case where there is an ethnic conflict, this issue is always acute. Sizing up the possibility of Georgians receiving an education in their native language in the Gal region of Abkhazia, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg in an interview with news agency REGNUM on February 26th, 2009 noted: “Now in Abkhazia an educational system which will allow Georgian schools to open has been formed. In my opinion, the course taken by authorities of the country is going in the right direction”.
It should be emphasized that the bulk of the population of the Gal district consists of Mingrelians, a separate ethnic group and a sub-ethnos of the Georgian people. Georgians and Mingrelians are different in mentality and character, but the main thing is that they have different languages, so you can say that they have different identities. During the course of history Mingrelians time and again have been engage in open confrontation with the Georgians, who conducted a forceful assimilation of the Mingrelian population. In 1925 in West Georgia, a movement began for the establishment of an independent Mingrelian autonomy, but by 1926 Mingrelians had already disappeared from the census form as a separate ethnic group. In the 1930s the Mingrelian language was banned. As a result of centuries of influence from the Georgian language, the Mingrelian language almost lost its written form. (Mingrelians are considered as a part of the Georgians, Mingrelian language continues to be considered as a dialect of Georgian and the development of Mingrelian writing is not encouraged). In 1939, together with Svans and Adjarians, in the All-Union census Mingrelians already appeared as Georgians, and in the box “nationality” the Mingrelians, as well as the Svans, Adjarians and Jews had to be written as “Georgians”. In Soviet times, to the question: “The life of which people is the shortest?” representatives of the Mingrelian nation responded: “Mingrelian. Because at 16 years of age the relevant entry in the passports of all of them is Georgian” (G. Gegelia, 25.09.1993 - from the archive of the newspaper “Soviet Russia”).
Today’s accusations by the Georgian side that “the Georgian population” of Gal are under oppression, with their rights allegedly violated, is nonsense. The majority of the population of the Gal region are actually representatives of Mingrelian nationality, and are strenuously trying to forget Georgian authorities. For a long time Mingrelians as a nation were suppressed by Georgian authorities, who imposed Georgian identity upon them, trying thereby to secure themselves from creating one more “problem ethnic region”. Nevertheless, in Abkhazian society there is a clear understanding that Gal residents are Mingrelians with their own language, culture and history.
Rights of citizens to freedom of movement
Comments on Paragraph 6: “Georgia has undertaken
everything in its power to ensure the safety of citizens and their right to
freedom of movement…”
According to Article 4 “Restriction of free movement in the occupied territories”, the law of Georgia accepted on October 23rd, 2008 that the movement of foreign citizens and stateless persons: “... is prohibited and punishable by the Criminal Code of Georgia”. Thus, in the group of persons who are prohibited from movement within the territory of Georgia will automatically enter not only the residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, who have dual national and Russian citizenship, but also representatives of international humanitarian organizations, as well as ethnic Georgians who have received Russian citizenship. This article of the law is contrary to Georgian international obligations. It would be useful to recall the commitments made by Georgia to observe the 1951 Convention on Refugees, which prohibits the contracting states from imposing “sanctions, because of illegal entry or presence, on refugees who enter directly from a territory where their life or freedom was under threat…”
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Abkhazia