THE GENEVA DISCUSSIONS - THE SECOND WORKING GROUP
Proposals of the Abkhazian side concerning issues of a humanitarian nature
As a result of the Georgian-Abkhazian war of 1992, and the difficult situation caused by economic sanctions imposed upon Abkhazia by member states of the CIS due to the initiative of Georgia, tens of thousands of people became refugees and forcibly displaced persons who fled the Republic of Abkhazia.
Having unleashed an armed conflict in Abkhazia, the Georgian leadership had undermined the national economy, creating intolerable conditions for a dignified life for the local population affected by the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict.
Tens of thousands of people were subjected to various indignities, insults, torture and execution without trial. During the fighting, and because of punitive actions against the peaceful population of Abkhazia, more than five thousand innocent people perished. More than 20 thousand houses and apartments were destroyed, as well as many cultural values; the ecological balance in the region was disrupted. More than 500 villages and settlements were deliberately destroyed. In territory occupied by Georgian forces indiscriminate robbery was carried out, followed by eviction of the non-Georgian population of Abkhazia. Residents of 23 villages were forced en masse to flee from their homes and escape to territories controlled by the Abkhazian military. Artillery units of Georgian troops were randomly bombarding peaceful villages and towns, using weapons prohibited by the Geneva Convention, which led to civilian casualties and damage to public property.
In fact, the actions of Georgia led to several streams of refugees. Georgia purposefully created unacceptable conditions for the social and economic development of Abkhazia, and also launched three large-scale military operations, forcing those who had returned to become refugees again, in May 1998, October 2001 and August 2006.
The Abkhazian side provides full support to the international humanitarian organizations carrying out projects in Abkhazia, particularly those from the European Commission. Considering reports provided annually to the Foreign Ministry of the Republic of Abkhazia by various international organizations and monitoring missions regularly engaged in their activities in the territory of Abkhazia, the Abkhazian side, as well as international partners, notes the high level of cooperation with these organizations.
However, the fact that the provision of humanitarian assistance is often tied
to the views and interests of the Georgian side causes some concern.
Dependence of international organizations on the decisions taken in Tbilisi
leads to the fact that humanitarian activities, designed to provide assistance
in reducing and eliminating the effects of the war unleashed against Abkhazia,
have been linked with prospects of settling the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict
in favour of Georgia.
Many international humanitarian organizations can not start a project without approval and guidance from Tbilisi. Proof of this is the Georgian side's demand for representatives of international organizations in the region to freeze all projects on economic development and rehabilitation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgian authorities have officially stated that “any attempt by international governmental and non-governmental, private and public companies to recognize the criminal regimes in Sukhumi and Tskhinvali, by means of working with them to bypass the Georgian government, would be seen as a hostile unfriendly step and will have consequences in accordance with Georgian legislation and international law”. Following this declaration by official Tbilisi, the “Save the Children” fund, which had been carrying out humanitarian work and helping the children of Abkhazia since 2005, quickly curtailed these activities.
In addition, the Law on occupied territories adopted by Georgia in October 2008, according to which the Georgian Government imposes non-legitimate restrictions on the free movement of foreign nationals, directly impedes implementation of humanitarian programs conducted by representatives of international organizations. This fact is also confirmed in the report prepared by the Venice Commission, which says: “Entrance to the country is prohibited, regardless of the reasons for entering; it extends to those providing necessary humanitarian assistance. In this regard, the provision may contravene the international obligations of Georgia”.
Political constraints and the continued isolation of Abkhazia from the western community complicate the process of solving humanitarian problems. Some international donors often use Abkhazia as a platform for the implementation of unnecessary projects, with the aim of including them in the reports of an organization that allegedly covered Georgia and Abkhazia in their project work, although the amount of assistance is significantly disproportionate.
Restrictions on the activities of international humanitarian organizations operating on the territory of the Republic of Abkhazia, in connection with the law on occupied territories adopted by the Parliament of Georgia, have a negative impact on the implementation of rehabilitation programs in Abkhazia. The threat itself, to close humanitarian projects for political reasons, is also unacceptable.
A disproportionate approach to the problems of refugees and internally displaced persons is not conducive to the integration of Georgians returning into Abkhazian society. A concentration of international aid only on the problems of returning Georgian refugees creates a negative attitude towards the process of their returning among those who all these years have lived in villages destroyed by the Georgian army, and this does not contribute to the reduction of inter-ethnic tensions. In speaking about the importance of establishing inter-ethnic relations by improving the living conditions of people, Tbilisi has attempted to shift the focus towards the Georgian returnees.
It should be noted that displaced persons within Abkhazia are not embraced by the attention of international donors and humanitarian organizations. Throughout the postwar years, in an attempt to assist in the return of Georgian refugees to their places of origin, international organizations haven’t provided proportional support to the non-Georgian population. This is especially important, as other regions of Abkhazia were affected more seriously than the Gal district. The international community, addressing the negative consequences of the war through humanitarian projects, does not consider equally the interests of all residents of Abkhazia and does not meet the needs of people in proportion. After the events of August 2008, the imbalance in the allocation of financial assistance for refugees in Abkhazia and Georgia has led to the outflow of people who returned to the Gal district back to Zugdidi. This fact has also been noted by many international organizations working in Abkhazia. To resolve this problem, the European Commission hastily allocated 2.5 million euros for Abkhazia.
Nevertheless, the main problem in addressing the humanitarian situation related to the rehabilitation of an infrastructure and assistance to returnees is the lack of accurate information on the exact number of refugees and those who want and have the right to return, as well as those who are no longer refugees. An absence of clear, factual data is the main reason for the issue of refugees and internally displaced persons becoming a political matter, and it also influences the effectiveness of humanitarian aid. Quite often the same people receive humanitarian assistance on both sides of the Georgian-Abkhazian border, while there are other potential beneficiaries who remain without support. The Abkhazian side once again stresses the need for a balanced strategy for humanitarian assistance to returnees and IDPs. The focus of implementation of humanitarian projects is still directed towards the rehabilitation of refugees from the Gal district and improvement of their social conditions. In this way, the provision of selective assistance is discriminatory in relation to the rest of the inhabitants of Abkhazia.
Against the backdrop of the continuing economic isolation of Abkhazia by Georgia, the international community insists that the Abkhazian side should continue to unilaterally arrange for the return of refugees, whilst economic sanctions undermine the economy of the country receiving those refugees. The main burden of addressing the social problems of the returning population falls on Abkhazia, and at the same time the country's leadership is denied not only the possibility of gaining any direct means of improving the lives of the population which has returned, but also of developing the country’s economy, on which the welfare of that returned population depends.
The lack of an adequate assessment by the international community regarding Georgian economic sanctions against Abkhazia demonstrates that international humanitarian aid is not aimed at a sustainable development of an infrastructure and an improvement of living standards. Moreover, Tbilisi claims that refugees from Georgia have more rights to return than ethnic Abkhazians living abroad, or Greek, Estonian and other refugees deported from Abkhazia by the Georgian army during the Georgian-Abkhazian war of 1992-93.
Considering the above-mentioned points, the Abkhazian side, seeking to facilitate the solving of humanitarian problems linked with refugees and internally displaced persons, calls on the international community to support the lifting of Georgian economic sanctions and in the near future to launch a means of verification of all categories of affected people, including refugees and internally displaced persons, as well as those who want or have the right to return. The Abkhazian side also reserves the right to review recommendations from the international community concerning the return of refugees and internally displaced persons through the perspective of the lifting of Georgian economic sanctions against Abkhazia.
(Appendix: Document on justification of economic sanctions against Abkhazia)
Questions of the legal status of refugees, IDPs and other displaced persons, with particular emphasis on requirements for registration, documentation and identification
Clearly distinguishing between the concepts of “refugees” and “internally displaced persons”, the Abkhazian side under the term “refugees” recognizes the Georgian population which left the territory of Abkhazia during the fighting of 1992-1993 and after. This category of persons is in territory adjacent to Abkhazia, within the separate state of Georgia. The category of IDPs means people who were forced to leave their place of habitual residence due to war and the destruction of their homes within Abkhazia.
The Abkhazian side, having launched the process in March 1999 for the return of Georgian refugees, acknowledges for refugees who fled the territory of the Republic of Abkhazia because of fighting the right to a voluntary, safe and dignified return to their homes in Abkhazia, namely in the Gal district within its borders until 2006.
The question of the return of Georgian refugees also needs to categorize those who are refugees from Abkhazia, and those who were forcibly or artificially resettled in Abkhazia from Georgia in the Soviet period. Many Kartvelian sub- ethnicities, including Mingrelians, were settled in Abkhazia on no legal basis, as a result of a deliberate policy of the Georgianization of Abkhazia. The process of resettlement was carried out against a background of repression and discrimination against the indigenous population of Abkhazia.
In the early 80s of the XIX century Mingrelians occupied former Abkhaz villages: Abzhakva, Merkheul, Pshap, Akapa, Gumista, Kelasur, Bagazhvyashta, Machara, Gulripsh, Bagbaran, Babushara, Warcha, Naa, etc. It should be emphasized that Georgians who today are claiming their right to ownership of private property received lands in Abkhazia from the state free of charge. Moreover, the State took upon itself the costs of building houses and providing amenities for new settlers.
The mass migration of Georgians to the territory of Abkhazia was undertaken during the reign of Stalin, namely from 1937 to 1954, by settling them in Abkhazian villages, as well as in Greek villages which became empty after the deportation of Greeks from Abkhazia in 1949. Following Beria’s initiative in 1937, practical implementation of the program of resettlement launched during the Menshevik occupation began. A Resettlement Department was created in 1939 at SNK GSSR, headed by V. Rapava. In his explanatory note V. Rapava said: “Resettlement of farmers and peasants in the Abkhazian ASSR was organised to use large quantities of vacant land that could not be exploited by the local population due to insufficient manpower” (CSAA, f. 214, sect. 1, doc. 8, p. 88). It was then that the systematic settlement in Abkhazia by persons of Georgian nationality began.
The following Abkhazian villages were subject to settlement: Adzubzha, Bambora, Bzyb, Atara, Kingisepp, Ldzaa, Aquaska etc. Some reports on the number of settlers by months and years, as well as lists giving an indication of their original areas and new settlement sites, are still preserved. Settlers were mainly from Tsagera, Gegechkori, Chkhorotsku, Tsalenjikha, Abasha, Tskhakaia, Zugdidi, Ambrolauri, Hobi, Tsulukidze, Ozurgeti and other parts of western Georgia.
The Georgianisation of Abkhazia took place against a background of a long-term
ban on teaching in the Abkhazian language (which until 1950 was expelled from
secondary schools and replaced with compulsory study of the Georgian
language), instances of mass violations of the rights of Abkhazians, who were
not allowed to register in towns; they were fired from their jobs, imprisoned,
etc. “Abkhazpereselenstroy” (Abkhazian organization of resettlement) was a
well-known project by Beria, which radically changed the demographic situation
in Abkhazia. Georgians, Mingrelians, Svans and other sub-ethnic groups of
Kartvelians with the lapse of time began to form the majority of the
population in Abkhazia. Stalin's policy was aimed at depriving the Abkhazian
people of their identity. The international community, whilst condemning the
totalitarian regime of Stalin's era, continues to insist on preserving the
boundaries of Georgia as amended by Stalin.
a result of the war of 1992-93 representatives of many ethnic communities -
Greeks, Jews, Russians - left Abkhazia. However, the international community
continues to encourage the return to Abkhazia of exclusively people of
Georgian and Mingrelian nationality, which is a direct discrimination against
the rights of all non-Georgian refugees.
The Abkhazian side insists on official recognition of the fact that more than sixty thousand Georgian refugees have returned to the Gal region, from the total number of 190 thousand refugees who left Abkhazia. The return of a certain number of Georgian refugees to other parts of Abkhazia has not yet been acknowledged, in particular to Gagra, Sukhum, Gudauta and other areas. This category of returnees, as well as the rest of the population of Abkhazia, is not included in the program for rehabilitation of the European Commission and other donors. These refugees should also be included in the program of verification of persons who have returned to other regions of Abkhazia. According to the Office of Public Service of Statistics of the Republic of Abkhazia, as of January 1, 2009 1,210 ethnic Georgians live in Gagra district, 617 live in Gudauta, 786 in Gulripsh district, 2,271 in Ochamchira, 8,033 in Tquarchal, and 2,111 in Sukhum. In total, more than 15 thousand people.
Ethnic Georgians occupy responsible positions in higher bodies of legislative, executive and judicial branches of Abkhaz management; they work not only in public institutions, but also in hospitals, schools, banks, and the militia, and also study in higher educational institutions. Equality of people regardless of race, nationality, sex, language, origin, employment status, residence, attitude to religion, beliefs, ideologies and other factors is defined at legislative level in the Republic of Abkhazia.
Registration and employment of staff is fulfilled on the basis of identity
documents - USSR passport, passport of a citizen of the Republic of Abkhazia,
or identity form 9.
The admission and registration of children in schools requires the birth certificate of the child and the residency permit of the parents. For transactions on registration of real estate or other agreements one must have an RA passport or USSR passport, but in the absence of these documents, a transaction can be carried out with the help of identity form 9. Reception and care of patients in all the hospitals of Abkhazia, including Gal hospital, is carried out following the production of any identity document, and in cases of emergency medical assistance is provided even without such documents and emergency treatment is free. According to the Administration of Gal district, as of June 21st, 2009 1,642 residents of Gal district have already received Abkhazian passports of their own volition and under no pressure.
Persons who do not have citizenship of the Republic of Abkhazia, but are holders of passports of the USSR or identity form 9 have the same rights and privileges as other citizens of Abkhazia.
Abkhazia, as an independent, legal and democratic state, has the right to grant inhabitants of the Republic Abkhazian passports if they wish to become citizens of the RA. It should be noted that the issue of Abkhazian passports facilitates the integration process of returning refugees, as evidenced by the data of international organizations stationed in Gal district. To date, the Abkhazian side does not have any evidence of the forcible issuing of Abkhazian passports. There has been no evidence of any coercion to obtain Abkhazian passports. It will be recalled that a permanent Human Rights office operates in Gal, as well as the offices of such organizations as UNHCR, NRC, DRC, and others who continuously provide expertise and assistance to Gal residents.
Unfortunately, groundless accusations from Georgia regarding a policy of the forced issuing of passports to returned Georgians in Abkhazia are reflected in the position of the international community, which is based on false facts and is an effective propaganda tool for Georgia, in addition to the whole issue of refugees.
The international community should make efforts to ensure that Georgia has intensified the process of social and economic integration of refugees within Georgia into Georgian society. Unfortunately, the problem of refugees in Georgia continues to remain highly politicized, and is often used to attract the attention of world public opinion to the issue of restoring the lost territorial integrity of their state. Many returning refugees continue to feel their vulnerability not only in Abkhazia but also in Georgia. The reason for their insecurity is primarily the volatile environment that has been inspired by the Georgian side. Continued provocation from Georgia has a negative impact on the lives of ordinary people, especially residents of the Gal district of Abkhazia on the border with Georgia.
Since August 2008, as a result of terrorist acts by the Georgian side, 5 people have been killed and more than 10 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. 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 Abkhazian side has once again asked for assistance in the investigation of the Sigua case and to make those who are responsible for his disappearance answerable. The Georgian side also has still not answered for the provocation aimed against the peaceful citizens of Abkhazia and Russian peacekeepers, as well as UN mission staff, who died in the Kodori Gorge in October 2001 as a result of Georgian military provocation.
Despite incessant provocations by 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, because all citizens of Abkhazia, regardless of ethnic, religious and other attributes, indirectly or directly have been affected by Georgian actions aimed at an escalation of the conflict throughout the region.
On the promotion of voluntary, safe return or resettlement
Acknowledging the right of refugees to an adequate and safe return, and
supporting the basic principles of international humanitarian law, the
Abkhazian side continues to insist on the necessity of its participation in
international treaties and conventions. The participation of Abkhazia in
‘Convention of 1951’ would allow Abkhazia to fully respond to recommendations
of the international community on issues related to refugees and internally
The Abkhazian side has repeatedly stated its willingness to adhere to the long-term plan proposed by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and in every way to facilitate the process of verification of Georgian refugees within the framework of the UNHCR. The international community, as well as Abkhazia, has not yet received information about the actual number of people willing and, most importantly, wanting to return to Abkhazia. However, the Abkhazian side insists that the process of verification and producing profiles of Georgian refugees should receive greater support from all parties to the peace process, because a real picture of the situation regarding refugees could only be obtained through such an independent assessment.
order to avoid inaccuracies and registration misunderstandings it is necessary
to work in close collaboration with UNHCR and other humanitarian
organizations. The Abkhazian side once again expresses its readiness to work
together on the introduction of complex procedures and the registration of
persons who left the territory of Abkhazia during the war in 1992-93.
The Office of the General Prosecutor of Abkhazia has reliable data on the persons amongst Georgian refugees who were involved in war crimes committed on the territory of Abkhazia in 1992-93. These individuals were involved in murder and other crimes, as well as in assisting the occupying forces of Georgia in the genocide of Abkhazian people.
At least one third of the refugees from Abkhazia left their historic homeland of Georgia, which is experiencing an economic crisis, in search of a better life. These people joined a Georgian diaspora of ex-citizens of Georgia, which numbers more than one million people who have left Georgia in search of work during the past decade.
Many refugees have become citizens of other countries. Obtaining dual citizenship is not permitted under Georgian legislation, therefore refugees from Abkhazia who left for somewhere outside Georgia are now actually citizens of another state according to Georgian law.
Under Article 10 of the Georgian Law on Refugees, refugee status ceases if:
a) a person acquires citizenship of Georgia or of any other country;
b) a person voluntarily uses the protection of the country whose territory that person was forced to leave;
c) a person leaves Georgia for permanent residence elsewhere;
According to Article One (item C) of the International Convention on the Status of Refugees dated 28th July 1951, refugee status does not apply to a person who voluntarily acquired a new citizenship and enjoys the protection of the country providing that citizenship. Thus, persons who fled from Abkhazia and acquired citizenship of the country of their current residence, be it Russia or any other state, automatically cease to be refugees. It should be noted that Georgian authorities give refugee status to all residents expelled from Abkhazia, irrespective of their residence. Georgian authorities continue to receive substantial assistance from international foundations and organizations for non-existent refugees.
However, as a result of the Georgian-Abkhazian war, in Abkhazia there were
massive migrations of the population (mostly ethnic Abkhazians) from eastern
areas of the Republic. As a result of fighting and ethnic cleansing, the
Abkhazian population fled to western districts of Abkhazia. Entire villages
and towns in a literal sense became empty or were burnt to ashes by Georgian
According to an expert assessment by independent international organizations, Gal, Tquarchal and Ochamchira districts were recognized as the regions most affected by Georgian aggression. Humanitarian disaster has become the major impediment for the local population to begin to return to the places of their original residence. Houses, hospitals, schools and farms, as well as other facilities, had been destroyed there, the infrastructure was severely damaged, and there were no roads and no drinking water. People were forced to adapt themselves to new realities and to flee from affected areas.
Migration imbalance which occurred in the aftermath of war has had a negative impact for the Republic on the demographic distribution of the population in general. To resolve this problem, a complex resolution of socio-economic problems in eastern Abkhazia is necessary. Restoration of the infrastructure in the Gal, Ochamchira and Tquarchal areas is seen as an opportunity to facilitate the return of internally displaced persons in Abkhazia.
The process of verification and profiling of refugees will also help to obtain more reliable information about the possible return of refugees to eastern Abkhazia. One must have a clear picture about the financial costs necessary to restore the damaged infrastructure, and subsequent reintegration activities, such as job creation, etc. Abkhazia does not possess the necessary infrastructure to receive tens of thousands of people, as proposed by the Georgian side. To implement a plan of return of refugees proposed by the Abkhazian side to the UNHCR, it is necessary to develop a program of social rehabilitation and integration of refugees, to prepare the necessary ground for the dignified return of refugees, to develop the economy, to create an infrastructure and jobs, to address the issue of demographic imbalance, and to return Jews, Greeks, Armenians and Russians who left Abkhazia, and representatives of the Abkhazian diaspora living abroad, who wish to return to their homeland.
To speak about the return of refugees against the background of persistent attempts by Georgia to commit military revenge against Abkhazia is more than irresponsible. It is necessary to take into account the mood of the local population and their willingness to accept Georgian refugees. The level of ethnic hatred is still high on both sides of the Georgian-Abkhazian border. The possibility of implementing projects aimed at confidence building is precarious, unless based on a firm agreement on non-resumption of military actions, signed by both sides. 16 years of the aggressive policy of Georgia is an obstacle to the emergence of trust in both Abkhazian and Georgian society. The genocide conducted by Georgia against the people of Abkhazia is a compelling reason to break any relations with Georgia, especially on the issue of the return of refugees. The slogan repeatedly declared by the Georgian political elite, namely “when we bring Abkhazia back, then former refugees will live well there”, is clear proof that Georgia is considering the issue of the return of refugees in the context of a military operation against Abkhazia.
(A short promotional video for the Georgian army shows Georgian young men, signing up as volunteers for the army, marching to the barracks. A sub-title under this sequence says: “We must realize once and for all that we will never be able to regain lost territory by prayers or hope for the League of Nations, only by force of arms. Adolf Hitler, 1932”.)
Georgian authorities continue to escalate the situation regarding refugees, preventing them from returning to their homes. This is proven by the latest facts linked to the issue of the return of refugees to the Kodori Gorge, to which Georgian authorities did not officially recommend a return. With respect to the number of refugees from the Kodori Gorge in Abkhazia, this is deliberately overstated by the Georgian side. According to official data from Georgia, the total number of civilians in the Kodori Gorge is not more than 360 people. According to the list of permanent residents from the UNHCR, there are about 350 people, of whom 168 people have already returned to their homes and receive regular humanitarian aid from the International Committee of the Red Cross.
When speaking about 3 thousand refugees who fled from the Kodori Gorge, the Georgian side hides the fact that these men were soldiers of the Georgian regular army. Abandoned and existing infrastructure in the Kodori Gorge confirms the fact that not more than 400 civilians could live on this territory, but the number of military barracks and fortifications speak about the possible deployment of up to 6 thousand soldiers. 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, and 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.
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 Georgian military units. All the operation was undertaken to avoid damage to settlements, houses, schools or hospitals. 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.
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.
The Abkhazian side is concerned by the fact that basic humanitarian assistance from international organizations, to a total of $4.5 billion aimed at rebuilding the infrastructure of Georgia after the August conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia, could be used to restore the military infrastructure of Georgia, as it was the military infrastructure which was damaged, whilst civilian buildings suffered little damage. However, in South Ossetia, where civilians suffered enormous losses, support from the international community is only about 1% of the total amount appropriated for Georgia. Reportedly, Georgia has restored and is modernizing its army. NATO Staff exercises in Georgia are also evidence of military support for Georgia by the international community. There is no guarantee that Georgia will not make another attempt at a military solution of their territorial issues. In close vicinity to the border with Abkhazia special forces are deployed, numbering more than 300 people, which are within the structure of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia. The unit is designed to carry out military operations not only against the law enforcement organisations of Abkhazia, but also against the peaceful Svan population returning to the Kodori Gorge.
In order to prevent possible provocations by Georgia, Abkhazia is currently negotiating to strengthen the border with Georgia. 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 checkpoints would help to reach a new level of civilized interaction with neighbouring Georgia.
With regard to ordinary citizens who daily cross the Georgian-Abkhazian border, 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.”
Consideration of issues of property rights and housing with a view to restitution and/or compensation
Speaking about the prospect of a mass return of Georgian refugees to Abkhazia, it is necessary to clearly determine the validity of claims of this or that category of people to property in Abkhazia. In the Soviet period, when the Abkhazian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was a part of Georgia, Abkhazia was inundated by a wave of settling by Georgian citizens, within the targeted policy of Georgianization aimed at an artificial change of ethnic balance in the region. Those who now are called Georgian refugees are direct descendants of people who moved into Abkhazia within the Abkhazia Resettlement program authorized by the Soviet Government of Georgia. This fact calls for an independent international assessment, since the question arises as to whether the claims of Georgian refugees to their originally belonging to Abkhazia, as well as to the possession of private property and the return of its entire territory, are justified.
The Abkhazian side, aware of the complexity and ambiguity of the question of restitution in this particular case, is nevertheless ready to start negotiations on compensatory restitution in the spirit of international law and in accordance with acknowledged worldwide practice, in order to conclude an agreement on restitution, which would settle mutual claims by the parties. The process of negotiations could include professionals and international mediators who could provide guidance and other support in the settlement of claims for restitution and return of cultural property to the countries of origin. The Abkhazian side is ready for technical cooperation with all interested parties.
Aware of a high political and legal responsibility to the category of citizens severely affected by the war of 1992-93 who were deprived of shelter and suffered serious damage, as well as taking into account the actual situation, it is necessary to undertake a series of specific steps to conduct an independent assessment of damage to Abkhazia during the war 1992-93, including an invitation to international observers and experts. This study should serve as the basis for a comprehensive and thorough document, which would also provide political and legal assessment of the events of 1992-93, in order to: prevent the ongoing and continually repeated Georgian thesis about the “equal responsibility” of the parties to the conflict; urge Georgian authorities to fulfil their obligations to restore property and other rights, and to give compensation for moral damages and for destruction of property to all citizens of the Republic of Abkhazia who suffered from the war; to determine the prospects for implementation of compensation and rehabilitation measures, and to establish mechanisms to facilitate its implementation and attract a committee of international experts; to hold proper monitoring and carrying out of an expert review of court decisions on the existing civil actions for restitution; to determine the method of calculation of the value of property for restitution purposes (including the rights of people who lived in state (municipal) housing).
For the implementation of restitution / rehabilitation measures there are steps necessary to change law enforcement practices in Georgia. It is to be noted that so far no forms of responsibility of Georgia to citizens of Abkhazia who have suffered all post-war hardships, as well as to refugees, Greeks, Jews, Russians who were compelled to leave the country in 1992-1993 - neither financial, legal nor political - have been admitted. One has to note that massive violations of the rights of Abkhazians started even before the escalation of armed conflict on the territory of Abkhazia. Georgian authorities have never responded to anyone for their illegal actions based on ethnic differences.
There is still a continuing lack of clarity about responsibility for beginning an anti-Abkhazian campaign in Georgia, as a result of which the war started, and there has also been no clear political and legal assessment of the events of 1992-93. This may have a direct impact on the practical implementation of restitution, which is of concern to the authorities of Abkhazia.
International observers are aware of and confirm the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever of violence or involvement in any illegal activities on the territory of Georgia by citizens of the Republic of Abkhazia.
Priority should be given to a process of restitution, to ensure adequate housing and compensation for property damage to individuals who have suffered in the territory of Abkhazia.
The Abkhazian side is ready to offer to the Georgian side, for consideration, a number of reciprocal measures for compensation to forced migrants - on the grounds that a right to restitution would enable the forced migrants to sell property, and so obtain some form of monetary compensation, thereby observing international legal norms, and “to ensure the availability of an effective right of sale of property at the market price and the lack of obstacles to such a sale”. Thus, the right to choose between various forms of restitution / rehabilitation will be respected. The right to receive compensation for the loss of (alienated) property can be guaranteed for that category of citizens who do not intend to return to Abkhazia.
For the implementation of the restitution process is necessary to have clear data on the number of persons having the right to restitution, and this will help to determine the ratio of those actually wanting to return to Abkhazia to those wishing to stay in Georgia, Russia or any other country and applying to receive compensation for lost property.
It is necessary to take into account the issue of prosecuting perpetrators of crimes during the massive illegal actions in the territory of Abkhazia in 1989-93, against the citizens of the Republic. Persons involved in illegal activities, or in committing military and other war crimes against the citizens of Abkhazia, will not be considered as recipients for obtaining compensation.
The implementation of the same compensatory measures by Georgia, and the performance of its direct obligations, may not only positively affect the image of the state, but also rehabilitate the Georgian state for its massive violations of the rights of citizens of the Republic of Abkhazia, committed during the 1992-1993 war. In addition, the authorities of Georgia will be given a real opportunity to resolve the question of their own responsibility before tens of thousands of their own citizens.
The international community, as well as organizations representing that community, should confirm the responsibility of Georgia to an overwhelming majority of the refugees who were forced to flee Abkhazia. Georgia has not yet assumed any responsibility for unleashing wars. This responsibility - if it is recognized by the Georgian side - should find its proper embodiment in the national Georgian legislation, as well as in consultation and agreement between Georgia and the Republic of Abkhazia on the full range of issues, primarily in an Agreement on Safeguards to ensure there is no resumption of military actions and no use of force.
This initiative could become a basis for effective assistance from the Georgian side to tens of thousands of people who are victims of war, which will help to improve the overall atmosphere and build confidence between the sides.
Numerous international discussions on the question of refugees also include the aspect of insecurity or lack of integration mechanisms in the return process. The forcible return of refugees to the territory they left is inhuman, because on their return to places of their former residence, unfortunately they do not always have an easy life. In fact, to help refugee migration policies in many countries, special efforts of international organizations for refugees become the practice of deportations and forcible displacement. As a result, refugees become victims of thoughtless policy and fall into the trap of political games. This is especially true for post-war territories and zones of ethnic conflicts. As is known, it was decided to end projects for the return of refugees to Kosovo, because of the impracticality of further investment in the return process.
Trying in all ways to return refugees to their own territory, well-wishers harm those refugees. Refugees have become an effective instrument of blackmail to solve political issues. But the most important issue for Europe is to prevent refugees from leaving conflict zones and entering Europe. European and American organizations working with refugees are making all sorts of attempts to smooth the influx of migrants, in particular by conducting a “policy of development” in the so-called poor countries in post-conflict regions and zones of ethnic conflict. However, the efforts of donor countries often do not bring the expected success.
Georgia is a partner of the European Neighborhood Policy. The issue of return and protection of the rights of refugees and internally displaced persons is the subject of ongoing discussions, and it is actively used as an accusation against the Abkhazian side.
At the same time in Georgia there is the still unresolved question of the Meskhetian Turks. Recall that when joining the Council of Europe in 1999, one of the conditions set out in front of Georgia was the repatriation of Meskhetian Turks to their homeland in Georgia. Even the timing of their return had been determined, but the process has not even begun.
Advertising itself as a democratic country, a follower of basic democratic values and principles, the policy of Georgia is far from international principles with regard to ethnic minorities. Georgia has systematically violated the rights of national minorities, while continuing to receive the full support of the international community.
International human rights and public organizations of 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 are stirred up by Georgian mass media. Georgian authorities deny the existence of problems of national minorities, pursuing a policy of silence and hiding the obvious.
Since independence in 1991 Georgia has become a member of major international organizations - the UN and the OSCE - and has begun the process of ratification of several international human rights agreements.
The entrance of Georgia into the Council of Europe in 1999 imposed upon it a direct obligation to establish a legal framework that meets international standards for the protection of human rights and minorities, in particular through the adoption of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) and the European Language Charter (ELC).
By ratifying FCNM in 2005, the Georgian parliament adopted a special resolution which made some refinements to its implementation of the Convention. In particular, the Parliament stressed that it could not guarantee full implementation of the Convention until restoration of the territorial integrity of Georgia, and asked the Council of Europe to assist in resolving conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. With regard to support for the use and development of minority languages (under terms of the Convention), the Parliament of Georgia noted that the state must grant national minorities the opportunity to study the state language, but did not recognize the State's obligation to maintain and promote the development of national minority languages.
The right of minorities to receive education in their native language has not been abolished, but the non-Georgian schools (of which Georgia has more than 100) must now comply with the national program, according to which the teaching of history, geography and social studies should be conducted only in the Georgian language.
Georgian citizens of Armenian origin are not able to get a full higher education in the Armenian language, and in their residential regions they do not have the right to contact the local executive and judicial authorities in their mother tongue. The Armenian Church in Georgia has no officially recognized status. Accepted Georgian Parliament educational and language laws are a striking example of a violation of international norms against ethnic minorities, which Georgia is obliged to observe under international commitments taken by Georgia. Civil society organizations have repeatedly made statements accusing the authorities of Georgia of conducting politics of “demographic terror”, and repression against members of national minorities.
It should be noted that representatives of international organizations have repeatedly pointed out Georgia’s failure to comply with its assumed obligations (as Georgia signed the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities) and the clear violation of the rights of national minorities on its territory.