Information Documents


28 October 2015[1]


Consolidated report on the conflict in Georgia

(April 2015 – September 2015)


Document presented by the Secretary General


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

2.            The objective of the present report is to take stock of the situation in Georgia following the August 2008 conflict, to report on the related activities of the Council of Europe and to propose further Council of Europe action. It is composed of four parts:

-      update on major developments in the period under review;

-      assessment of statutory obligations and commitments related to the conflict and its consequences;

-      human rights situation in the areas affected by the conflict; and

-      current Council of Europe activities aimed at addressing the consequences of the conflict, their follow-up, as well as proposals for future action.

3.            The 12th consolidated report covers the period between April and September 2015. It builds on the previous consolidated reports[2], as well as Secretariat reports on the human rights situation in the areas affected by the conflict in Georgia[3] and the report on the Council of Europe activities in the areas affected by the conflict[4] and its updates[5].

4.            For the purposes of the report, the Secretariat conducted a fact-finding visit to Tbilisi on 21-22 September 2015 to hold discussions on the situation with the Georgian authorities and representatives of the international community. The Secretariat wishes to express its gratitude to the Georgian authorities for their support in organising the visit and to all interlocutors for their assistance and valuable contributions.

5.            Notwithstanding continuous efforts of the Secretariat, the delegation was not granted authorisation to visit Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The delegation, consequently, had no opportunity to discuss with the de facto authorities the situation on the ground and could not reflect their position in the present report. The Secretary General is nevertheless committed to discussing possibilities of fact-finding visits to Sukhumi and Tskhinvali for the preparation of future reports. Overall, the Secretariat hopes to continue enjoying access to Sukhumi for the purposes of implementation of Confidence Building Measures (cf. Section IV.5).

6.            This report does not replace the monitoring procedures established in the Council of Europe. Nor should it be seen as prejudging any possible decisions in the cases related to the conflict and its consequences, which are currently pending before the European Court of Human Rights.

7.            Nothing in this report should be interpreted as being contrary to the full respect of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders[6].

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

I        Update on major developments in the period under review

9.            The implementation of the so-called “Treaty on alliance and strategic partnership between Russian Federation and Republic of Abkhazia” and the “Treaty on alliance and integration between Russian Federation and the Republic of South Ossetia” (cf. the previous report) continued during the reporting period mainly in the form of preparation of the relevant sub-agreements in various areas. The Georgian authorities and the international community consistently raised concerns on the issue.

10.         In Abkhazia, the establishment of the Information and Coordination Centre between the Ministry of Interior of the Russian Federation and the de facto Ministry of Interior of Abkhazia triggered heated public debate. The political opposition, civil society groups and experts voiced objections to initial proposals to confer on the centre functions duplicating those of the de facto law enforcement agencies, and demanded their reconsideration. The formation of the Joint Group of Forces in the area of defence was marked by similar dispute.

11.         The 32nd round of Geneva International Discussions (GID) that took place on
30 June-1 July was assessed as constructive and frank, despite diverging views and the challenging context. Commitments on non-use of force, international security arrangements, and freedom of movement were the main topics in Working Group I, while Working Group II dealt with diverse humanitarian issues relating to the language of instruction in Gali schools, freedom of movement and mobility, environmental and cultural heritage. The Co-Chairs noted that the situation on the ground was generally stable and calm and welcomed the good co-operation within the Ergneti Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) while noting the importance as well as remaining divergences on means to resume the Gali IPRM.[7] 

12.         The Secretariat’s delegation was informed that the Co-Chairs supported an increasingly pro-active agenda whereby discussion of humanitarian issues has recently led to an increase of concrete positive initiatives on the ground in the fields of cultural heritage, protection of environment, health as well as clarification of the fate of missing persons.

13.         The Georgian authorities stressed to the delegation that their position remained consistent in respect of the purpose of the GID as a format addressing primarily issues of non-use of force, security arrangements on the ground and return of IDPs. At the same time, according to them, this format also provides room for addressing specific humanitarian issues which should create and sustain a positive atmosphere.

14.         On 10 July, the installation of “demarcation” signposts triggered tensions on the ABL with South Ossetia. The “borderisation” incident was condemned in strongest terms by the Georgian authorities as well as representatives of the international community, including the European Union, the Council of Europe and NATO. At the same time, as underlined by international interlocutors, the sides showed restraint and were able to prevent further escalation through a number of measures (see also III.2). Similar other incidents were however observed on 6 and 10 August (cf. § 60).  

15.         On 1 September, Mr Giorgi Kvirikashvili who previously held the position of the Minister of Economy was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs. Elaborating his vision of Georgian foreign policy, Mr Kvirikiashvili asserted the irreversibility of the European and Euro-Atlantic integration course, while indicating that Georgia should make full use of the economic potential of the East-West relations.

16.         Speaking during the General Debate of the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly, on 1 October, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili recalled inter alia the adverse implications of the conflict for the human rights of the Georgian population in Abkhazia and South Ossetia notably freedom of movement, education in mother tongue and the right to return. He also addressed the Abkhaz and Ossetian peoples, inviting them to benefit from the growing Georgian economy and the Association Agreement with the EU including visa liberalisation. He also confirmed progress in a number of areas as part of Georgia’s “responsible and pragmatic” policy towards Russia but made it clear that relations between the two countries cannot be settled at the expense of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

17.         An agreement was reached on 15 April to expand direct regular flights between other cities of Georgia and Russia in addition to the Tbilisi-Moscow route.  

18.         On 15 July, another round of talks between the Georgian Prime Minister’s Special Representative for relations with Russia Mr Zurab Abashidze and Russian State Secretary, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Grigory Karasin took place in Prague. After the meeting, Mr Abashidze spoke of a serious agreement over customs monitoring – a key provision of the agreement the two countries signed in the context of Russia’s accession to the WTO in 2011 – envisaging involvement of an international private company. He also referred to serious steps towards releasing Georgian citizens who currently serve prison terms on charges of espionage in Russia. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs underlined continuation of dialogue on a range of issues where progress was possible in the absence of diplomatic relations, including trade, transport and humanitarian co-operation. It confirmed readiness to further expand the practice of issuing entry visas to Georgian nationals who visit Russia on private, humanitarian, cultural and business grounds.

In Tbilisi, tensions over “borderisation” intensified calls by the opposition and some civil society organisations to end, suspend or revise Georgia’s participation in the “Abashidze-Karasin” dialogue. However, on 24 August, the Georgian parliament voted down a resolution tabled by the UNM proposing to close the format. Meanwhile, Georgia’s new Foreign Minister Kvirikashvili has affirmed that the dialogue will continue.

19.         As of the end of July, it was reported that units of Russian railway troops were deployed in Abkhazia to repair and conduct mine clearance works on the dilapidated railway section linking Ochamchira and Inguri. In addition, military trainings were reported to have been conducted in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

20.         In the context of extension of the EU’s sanctions against Russia over the situation in Ukraine, Prime Minister Garibashvili clarified on 6 August that out of 15 such restrictive measures, Georgia had aligned with only the ban on imports from Crimea. On 14 August, the Russian government excluded Georgia from counter-sanctions against countries supporting the EU policy.

21.         Georgia and NATO opened a Joint Training and Evaluation Centre (JTEC) on
27 August in Tbilisi. NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg attended the event and stressed that Georgia has the necessary tools to move towards membership. T
he Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs cautioned that the step would become a “serious destabilising factor for regional security”. The MFA reiterated Russia’s commitments on providing reliable security to its allies. The de facto leadership of Abkhazia and South Ossetia also warned of measures in response.

22.         During the reporting period, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia started issuing its own quarterly reports on the “human rights situation in the occupied regions of Georgia” based on open national and international sources of information, including the Secretary General’s consolidated report. The de facto authorities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have voiced disagreement in this respect.

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

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

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

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

24.         The procedure on the inter-State application No. 38263/08 in connection with the August 2008 armed conflict continues before the European Court of Human Rights. To recall 1,711 individual applications against Georgia, 208 against the Russian Federation and
23 against both States are also pending before the Court.

25.         It has been reported that the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court,
Ms Fatou Bensouda intends to seek authorisation of an investigation on the situation in Georgia. The Prosecutor has argued that there is a reasonable basis to believe that crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC have been committed in Georgia in the context of the armed conflict of August 2008. The Minister of Justice of Georgia, Tea Tsulukiani stressed Georgia’s responsibility and interest to co-operate with the ICC-led investigation.[8]

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

26.         The ICRC remains engaged in promoting international humanitarian law in Georgia and with the de facto authorities in South Ossetia. It continues to lead efforts on clarifying the fate of persons unaccounted for. No agreement has yet been reached by the concerned parties on resumption of work of the Tripartite Coordination Mechanism on Persons Unaccounted for in Connection with the August 2008 conflict and after under the ICRC aegis which has been non-operational for more than one and a half year.

27.         In parallel, cases of enforced disappearances are regularly raised in the framework of the Ergneti IPRM. It is worth noting that the OSCE, through its GID Co-Chair, has recently undertaken to support the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia in addressing certain cases of missing persons, by offering the assistance of an independent expert and based on previous work of the former Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg.

28.         In South Ossetia, the ICRC continues to facilitate short-term and long-term visits and correspondence of detainees, as well as reunifications of families across the dividing line.
It also runs small-scale economic support programmes for poor households, families of the missing and mine victims.
The number of ICRC-assisted medical evacuations, including
life-saving ones, between Tskhinvali and Tbilisi has increased from 2014 and is expected to reach over 250 by the end of 2015.

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

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

29.         The Georgian authorities informed the delegation that during the period under review they have strengthened their efforts aimed at restoring ties and people to people contacts across the ABL, including with the help of  the Liaison Mechanism. Overall, the Georgian authorities retained their open and supportive position for all international engagement activities and contacts including CBMs across the ABL in view of the reconciliation process. The main international interlocutors gave a positive assessment to the government’s pro-active and constructive approach. However, it is to be noted that further amendments expected to be made to the Georgian Law on Occupied Territories as suggested by the Venice Commission are still pending.

30.         Furthermore, the authorities have indicated their intentions to update their engagement policy with new proposals and incentives. In order to put in place a more
co-ordinated and strategic approach in July, the government instituted a high-level
Inter-Agency Working Group on Conflict Resolution under the Prime Minister.

31.         The international community, notably the UN family (UNDP, UNHCR and UNICEF), agencies and NGOs, remain engaged in a wide range of humanitarian operations, economic support to livelihoods, peace and confidence building activities, as well as other co-operation projects in Abkhazia. Many of these activities are funded by the EU but also individually by some states in line with the engagement without recognition policy. The role of the Liaison Mechanism run under UNDP continues to be instrumental in facilitating the delivery of medical equipment and supplies provided by the Georgian authorities.

32.         The second phase of the UNDP-run Confidence-Building Early Response Mechanism II funded by the EU was completed in September 2015. Since 2010 the programme has supported more than 130 initiatives aimed at strengthening of local communities, local NGOs and opinion makers across the ABL. A new phase is expected to be launched soon with renewed modalities. Some interlocutors underlined to the delegation the need for increased interaction with the local civil society.

33.         At the same time the delegation was informed that the activities of international partners had been subjected to increased security checks by the de facto authorities in Abkhazia. Concern was expressed that this can contribute to a less conducive environment for such activities. Signals on lack of interest from de facto authorities concerning one-off initiatives were also received.

34.         During discussions with the CoE delegation, the Georgian authorities reiterated the view that the possible adoption of a visa-free regime with the EU could make a real contribution to rapprochement efforts. It is worth noting in this context that the de facto authorities, notably in Abkhazia, continue to express concerns on restricted mobility resulting from the continued non-issuance of visas by some EU countries. As pointed by some actors, limitations on travel, access to education, healthcare and participation in different events abroad also contribute to a sense of isolation of the Abkhaz population. In this respect, the Georgian authorities reiterated that they continue to make available Georgian national passports as well as status-neutral travel documents (SNTD) to the residents of the two regions.

35.         As South Ossetia remains largely inaccessible for international organisations activities of a humanitarian nature conducted by the ICRC remain exceptional and with limited impact in comparison to the estimated needs.

36.         Moreover, in South Ossetia it appears that the de facto authorities tend to discourage engagement beyond their direct control and are highly critical of local civil society representatives’ co-operation with their counterparts across the ABL. Such attitude has prompted a number of local activists from the region to suspend participation in joint dialogue efforts, including in international formats.

III      Human rights situation in the areas affected by the conflict

37.         As mentioned, the Secretariat was not able to obtain an authorisation to visit Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The information presented below is based on discussions with the Georgian authorities, international organisations as well as media and official sources.

III.1   Reports on Abkhazia

III.1.i  Security

38.         According to various interlocutors, the security situation in the region has remained mainly calm and stable, though still fragile.

39.         In a positive development, it was reported to the delegation that no kidnapping for ransom had taken place recently. At the same time, the high incidence of such crimes like theft and robbery, in particular during the fruit collection season, continues to expose the local residents to safety risks and violence. At the same time, according to various interlocutors, other problematic issues such as detentions on the ABL and lack of adequate documentation contribute to an overall feeling of insecurity among Gali residents.

40.         Regrettably, Gali IPRM meetings have not resumed mainly due to disagreements related to participation, despite the acknowledged need by all sides of a regular contact mechanism to discuss incidents.  While, according to interlocutors the hotline continues to function generally in an effective manner, difficulties were occasionally encountered notably on the question of crossings of the ABL for medical treatment (cf. also § 43).

41.         Local Abkhaz media have reported on several visits in the Gali region by the
de facto Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Economy to discuss security, economic and infrastructure issues, thus suggesting increased engagement by the authorities in control during the period under review. It was also reported that a proposal of granting the region a special “border zone” status through special de facto legislation is being currently considered by the de facto authorities.

III.1.ii Freedom of movement

42.         According to the Georgian authorities and international interlocutors, “borderisation” continues to be of serious concern. “Borderisation” activities regrettably continued during the reporting period and the delegation was informed that fences cover now a stretch of more than 12 km of the ABL. The use of makeshift fences, according to observers on the ground, suggests the main purpose is to enforce compliance with the existing ABL crossing regime and channel the movement through the authorised crossing points.

43.          “Borderisation” and lack of clarity surrounding the identity documents continue to negatively affect freedom of movement across the ABL (see also III.1.iii). This in turn affects the collection of pensions and state subsidies paid by the Georgian authorities as well as access to services, education and healthcare. More specifically, the Georgian authorities drew the attention of the delegation to related fatality cases during emergency medical evacuation from Gali to Tbilisi on the Abkhaz side of the ABL, including one involving a minor on 4 May 2015.

44.         The delegation was informed that the number of crossings through the authorised places had gone up slightly in comparison with the same period during the previous year.
It was however argued that the explanation of this trend might be in the fact that one person commute through the ABL several times per day, especially during the harvest period. A decline in the number of detentions on the ABL was observed during the reporting period mainly due to the fact that currently those who are stopped are subsequently let to go. Nevertheless, the Georgian authorities expressed concerns that detentions for “illegal border crossing” still occur and those detained are released after paying a “fine”.

45.         No follow-up to earlier announced plans on closing all but one crossing point on the ABL was reported in the period under review. Nevertheless, warnings of enforcing stricter controls on the crossing regime continue to be periodically issued. Thus, on 27 August,
de facto President Khajimba called for imposing control over trade activities across the ABL. The delegation was also informed that during summer the de facto authorities decided on collection of tariffs over local produce sold on the Georgian government controlled side of the ABL.

46.         On 2 September, the de facto Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that movement of foreign citizens through the usual crossing-point on the Inguri River was temporarily suspended for technical reasons and would take place exclusively through the Psou River. No other clarifications as to the motives were provided and the measure was reported to have been reversed shortly afterwards.

III.1.iii Identity documents issues

47.         Serious concerns persist on the disputed legal status of the majority of residents in the Gali region and a fraction of population of Ochamchira and Tkvarcheli districts. Following the invalidation of their de facto Abkhaz passports, which were not withdrawn in their large majority, the process of issuing new documentation has not yet started.

48.         In this context, the de facto authorities have announced that 250,000 new de facto passports and 50,000 residence permits will be issued in a new “passportisation” cycle also in connection with the de facto local elections planned for February 2016. The “passportisation” should be completed by the end of 2016. As mentioned in previous reports, the granting of identity documents to the ethnic Georgian population in Abkhazia is expected to be regulated by special de facto legislation on the status of “foreign residents”. According to some interlocutors despite indications that the de facto law would be passed in August, the process has once again been postponed.

49.         Great uncertainty remains on the scope of rights envisaged by the new residence permits, including regarding “electoral” rights in view of the de facto local elections to be held in February 2016. Some observers have suggested that the impending de facto local elections might not constitute an opportune timing for the de facto authorities to proceed with adoption of the de facto legislation, thus predicting additional delays.

50.         It is understood that the legal status of the ethnic Georgians is linked to the broader political debate on their integration into Abkhaz society. Public opinion in Abkhazia continues to be deeply divided on this question. While a part of the political leadership and society presumably would like to grant the ethnic Georgian population only a limited scope of rights tied to a “non-citizen” status, others have argued this would increase their dependence on the Georgian government. The idea of granting full “citizenship” rights, on the other hand, is opposed by those against participation of this population in the “political processes” in Abkhazia.

51.         Notwithstanding this debate, the documentation gap continues to restrict the local population’s freedom of movement and creates obstacles to their access to basic services, protection and socio-economic benefits. This has rendered the population increasingly vulnerable and prone to abuse. As underlined by some interlocutors, pending the issuance of new documents to the local population, it was necessary to relay information with respect to rights and benefits of the new legal status as soon as possible in order to allow for informative choices and remove current uncertainty about the future.

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

52.         It was reported to the delegation that the Russian language was adopted as the formal language of instruction in grades from one to four in all 11 schools in Lower Gali effective from the beginning of the new school year. The delegation was also informed that in these grades the hours dedicated to Georgian language and literature would be significantly reduced, while no subjects in Georgian would be taught in preparatory classes with new textbooks supplied from the Russian Federation. It is understood that Georgian would continue to be used by the higher grades during this school year. The Georgian authorities also noted that all kindergartens are converted into Russian language.

53.         These changes have put significant constraints on schooling in the Georgian language. In meetings with the delegations, the Georgian authorities raised concerns regarding the implementation of the right to education in mother tongue, and stated that they intended to raise the issue in Geneva. They also pointed to the example of Upper Gali, whereby the Georgian language was gradually replaced by Russian language in all 20 schools and was now being taught as a facultative subject in only a few ones, for a minimum of one hour per week. Moreover, they claimed that the compliance with new measures was being enforced through inspections by the de facto authorities.

54.         It was underlined to the delegation that not all teachers in the Gali schools could provide quality education in the Russian language. Yet, in some cases teachers are reportedly able to conduct classes in the Georgian language.

55.         Concerns also persist about freedom of movement of children who cross the ABL to access schooling and the related documentation. The delegation was informed that their number had further declined during the period under review.

56.         The Georgian authorities confirmed their intention to continue their support programmes to the teachers and other school personnel in some schools in the Gali region. In addition, in the period under review, the Ministry of Education and Science also provided considerable support in terms of free textbooks, trainings on professional development, as well as university entrance exams. In this context, the Ministry underlined that teachers who travelled for training purposes to Tbilisi encountered difficulties and were often prevented from crossing the ABL. The delegation was informed that the Ministry will also continue to run its social programme, under which it provides funding of 1st cycle of higher education studies for students from Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

III.1.v   Property issues

57.         Georgian authorities and international interlocutors expressed renewed concerns on the property rights of the conflict-affected population in Abkhazia. In addition to the already reported difficulties with acquiring, inheriting and registering property, the delegation was informed that a new “tax on land” had been instituted. Allegedly the local de facto administration required this tax to be paid by 15 October.

III.2   Reports on South Ossetia

58.         Observers met by the delegation converged in their views regarding an improvement of the security situation across the ABL despite various incidents. They tend to agree that over the years following the 2008 conflict this has been by and large a result of Geneva International Discussion’s arrangements and the contacts between the sides on the ground.

59.         Reportedly, no “borderisation” activities similar to the ones observed in Abkhazia are currently conducted on the ABL in South Ossetia. Also, unlike in Abkhazia, the consequences of “borderisation” in South Ossetia are felt mainly by the population residing in the territory controlled by the central government; in this respect, concerns persist with restrictions to freedom of movement and access to farming land and other type of livelihoods for those residing in the proximity of the dividing line.

60.         These problems came to central stage during the summer in a string of events widely covered by the media. As mentioned above, on 10 July two “demarcation” signposts with the inscription “Republic of South Ossetia” were installed on the ABL in the vicinity of the Georgian villages of Tsitelubani and Orchosani. These actions triggered an incident involving the removal of the signpost by outsiders. While Georgian police and Russian border guards were both present at the scene no security incident were reported. Eventually the signpost was reinstalled by the de facto authorities. The situation is known to be complicated by the fact that different administrative maps dating from various periods are in use on the ground. Installations of signposts also took place on 10 August in the villages of Tamarasheni and Tseronisi[9].

61.         While some have pointed to the political implications of the incident and security concerns, the major consequence seems to be the direct loss of land and livelihood – now located beyond the signposts – for over 150 villagers from above mentioned villages altogether. The delegation was informed that some of these villagers will have access to their livelihoods until the end of the year based on an informal agreement reached during summer. However, the Georgian authorities insisted that restrictions on the area had been imposed right after the end of August.

62.         The local population also refrains from accessing lands and pasture due to fear of detention which remains an acute concern; indeed, among those detained are farmers or herders who cross the ABL for livelihood purposes. According to observers, detentions for “illegal border crossings” stood at the same numbers as last year. Meanwhile, according to publicly available information, 99 Georgian citizens were apprehended for violating the
de facto law on “state border” during the first half of 2015. “Illegal crossings” continue in their large majority to be treated as administrative offences, punishable with “fines”.

63.         Movement across the ABL was reportedly suspended on multiple occasions mainly in relation with local festivities in South Ossetia. More recently, the de facto authorities have been supportive of the idea of opening a new simplified crossing point at the Khelchua/Zardiantkari villages[10] in addition to the existing ones.

64.         Freedom of movement remains of particular concern in the Akhalgori region. More than 2,000 temporary permissions issued to the Georgian population in Akhalgori expired in December 2014 and have not been renewed or replaced. According to delegation’s interlocutors, the de facto authorities plan to introduce two types of new documents: a de facto passport for those residing permanently in Akhalgori and a residence permit for those who reside on the other side of the ABL (e.g. in IDP settlements but commute to the region for work and other reasons). In July the de facto authorities announced they would start issuing new “South Ossetian passports” resulting in some 1,000 applications from the local residents, but the process was reportedly suspended. It is hoped that the new documents would solve among other things the serious problem of family separation that many still face as a result of the inconsistent process through which the temporary permissions were issued in 2014.

65.         According to the Georgian State Security Service, eight ethnic Georgians remain in detention in Tskhinvali. The delegation also learnt that in one case a Georgian detainee sentenced in 2012 was released on health grounds.

66.         The delegation was informed that South Ossetia’s de facto authorities had recently provided new information on missing persons to the Georgian State Security Service in the framework of the IPRM (cf. previous report). Thus, in one case, a person who went missing reportedly after having been detained by the de facto authorities was located in the Russian Federation, where he allegedly asked and was granted asylum. The Georgian authorities stated that this information needs to be verified through diplomatic channels.

67.         The IPRM meetings in Ergneti continue to be held on a regular basis and have proven effective in devising workable solutions to a number of problems. For instance, through an extraordinary IPRM in July, the sides succeeded in temporarily deflating tensions surrounding the installation of signposts on the ABL. Also in the framework of IPRM, Georgian and South Ossetian representatives recently agreed on the resumption of irrigation water supply for the villages adjacent to the ABL an end to a long-ending dispute.

68.         The first “general census” is expected to take place in South Ossetia from 15 to 30 October.

III.3   The situation of Internally Displaced Persons

69.         No progress has been achieved with regard to the right to a safe return of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to their places of origin.

70.         On 3 June the UN General Assembly adopted its eighth resolution on the status of IDPs and refugees; it also examined the UN Secretary General’s report on this matter. The resolution emphasised, inter alia, the need to respect the property rights of all internally displaced persons and refugees affected by the conflict and to refrain from obtaining property in violation of those rights. The de facto authorities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have continued to raise objections to the consideration of the issue in the UNGA in their absence. They reiterated that return of IDPs is conditional on the signature of declarations of non-use of force by Georgia.

71.         Provision of Durable Housing Solutions continued to receive primary attention from the government. In line with the objectives of the IDP Action Plan during the reporting period, the authorities continued to invest their efforts and resources in multiple programmes implemented in different regions: construction and purchasing of new apartments/housing units, rehabilitation of collective centres, as well as purchasing of rural houses with land plots. The privatisation programme which envisages the transferring of housing units to IDPs’ ownership is underway with 3,116 IDP families having benefited so far. Moreover, the delegation was informed that under a new programme that was launched in spring, the authorities will also provide loan repayments for a certain number of IDPs who purchase housing with their own means.

72.         On 29 September, Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili announced that 10,000 IDP families had been provided with housing since the government took office in 2012. Progress in this field was acknowledged by the Public Defender and international interlocutors.

73.         It is worth stressing that the scale of housing needs continues to outmatch the impact of the government’s programmes. The MRA puts the figure of IDP families requiring housing at some 56,000 of the total of 86,000 registered, with approximately 30,000 to 32,000 requiring urgent help. This concerns in particular IDPs living in destitute conditions in collective centres, but also a fraction of those living in private accommodation. While international aid agencies notably the SDC and DRC continue to support the government, the need for additional significant financial resources is evident.

74.         Moreover, international interlocutors continued to raise concerns regarding the generational factor in the context of government’s efforts towards the integration of IDPs, in particular inheritance of the IDP status from parents to their children. The authorities confirmed to the delegation that, for the time being, there were no plans to shift entirely from the status-based to needs-based assistance. While arguing that this transition would not be easy, the MRA indicated that it was conducting a comprehensive analysis on this subject.

75.         Regarding access to livelihoods and employment, which continue to be subjects of recurrent concern, the delegation was informed that a revised Livelihood Action Plan for IDPs is being developed. The IDP Livelihood agency, established as special entity of public law in February 2014 with EU support, will be in charge of the implementation of the Action Plan and is currently examining livelihood needs.

76.         At the same time, international interlocutors expressed the view that Livelihood Action Plan while being a welcome initiative would serve a rather limited purpose. It was stressed that a conscious effort to mainstream the needs of the IDPs, including through proper attention in national and regional development plans is key to the socioeconomic integration of the IDPs.

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

IV.3    Operational activities

Cultural heritage

77.         Based on a request from the Ministry of Culture of Georgia in July 2015 preparations have started on a new Local and Regional Development Project. This project is envisaged as a follow up to "Post-Conflict Actions for the Social and Economic Revitalisation of the Communities and the Cultural Environment in the Municipality of Gori" undertaken in response to the damage caused by the August 2008 conflict to cultural heritage, and by extension, to the built environment. The form and the content of the new project are currently being defined in co-operation with the Georgian authorities. The project will envisage fundraising and identification of a pilot region for implementation.

Emerald Network activities

78.         Sites located in Abkhazia and South-Ossetia are among areas proposed to be included in the Emerald Network of nature protection of sites in the context of establishment of the network in Georgia, based on a request by the Georgian Ministry of Environment Protection. These candidate Emerald sites are now going through an extensive scientific evaluation process, which will be conducted until 2017-2018. The Emerald Network should be operational and the management measures put in place for the Emerald sites by 2020.

Access to Justice for Women IDPs

79.         In the framework of the regional project on “Improving women’s access to justice in Five Eastern Partnership countries” and in line with the Gender Equality Strategy 2015-2017, the Council of Europe focuses on consequences of multiple discrimination, including among women with an IDP background. The project is implemented under the CoE/EU Eastern Partnership Programmatic Co-operation Framework 2015 – 2017.

IV.4        Operational activities on confidence-building measures and their follow-up

(a) Activities organised during the reporting period

80.         The Secretariat continued to implement and further develop the programme of CBMs both in terms of number, areas of expertise and quality of participants’ involvement leading to more structured and result-oriented activities. This chapter gives an overview of CBMs activities implemented during the period under review, as well as an outlook on those already planned until the end of 2015 and early 2016.

CBMs with Abkhazia

81.         As a follow-up to their meeting in February 2015, civil society representatives from Tbilisi, Sukhumi and Gali involved in multicultural education met in Istanbul on 9-11 July to continue their work on developing a teachers’ multicultural approach module to language learning. A third meeting is planned for the end of 2015 and should finalise the module which would then be used for trainings in 2016. Along with the training on multicultural education tools, the aim will be to develop confidence and strengthen the relationship between teachers from different locations involved in the project. The project is implemented with the scientific support and expertise of the CoE European Centre for Modern Languages (ECML) in Graz.

82.         As regards cultural heritage, follow-up to the meeting of the Group on architectural heritage management which took place in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in March 2015, was ensured. This work focused on methodology parameters, including finalisation of a core data sheet for cultural heritage objects/sites together with the necessary training.
It also involved an active joint preparation of the onsite pilot phase which the Group has decided will take place in the Novi Afon site.  It is to be stressed that good co-operation was facilitated by a joint study visit to the Council of Europe of two young architects – one from each location across the dividing line – who prepared the meeting in Sarajevo and were trained to the methodology envisaged.

However, the pilot phase, initially scheduled for September, had to be cancelled due to a last-minute decision of the de facto Abkhazia authorities. As favourable meteorological conditions and sufficient hours of light are necessary, the field visit is now planned for April 2016.

83.         On 27-30 April 2015, Ombudsmen from Tbilisi and Sukhumi along with staff from their respective offices and representatives of the civil society met in Segovia, Spain, to follow up discussions held during their first meeting in November 2014 on human rights issues linked to the consequences of the conflict and exchange views on reinforcement of the Ombudsman role in promoting and protecting human rights. The topics of discussion consisted of human rights in prisons, the right to health care, the right to free movement in relation in particular to travel documents, prevention and measures to address violence against women, as well as the role of the ombudsman in raising awareness on human rights.

84.         Further to the meeting on prevention of violence against women and domestic violence in Istanbul, Turkey, in February, a study visit on the same topic was organised to Sarajevo, Mostar, Banja Luka and Zenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina on 12-19 July 2015.  This activity was held upon the request of civil society and academics from both sides of the ABL, as well as the discussions during the meeting between the Ombudsmen in Segovia. Participants had a possibility to learn from the experience of Bosnia and Herzegovina in providing protection and assistance to women victims of violence by visits to specialised institutions and exchanging with those in charge of them. Participants also agreed on concrete steps ahead namely the organisation of a special meeting for psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers working with children traumatised by violence in families. This activity is scheduled to take place in October 2015 in Istanbul.

85.         Museum management was the topic of a first meeting held on 14-16 April 2015 in Venice, Italy, with the support of the CoE programme Office in Venice and the Venice International University. It brought together museum directors, archaeologists and scientists to discuss how to modernise ways in which museums are managed in the region based on current European practices. During discussion an analysis of the current situation in regional museums (strengths and weaknesses) was provided together with proposals for improvement. Follow up action is planned for the end of 2015 or early 2016 with scientific support of the CoE experts which contributed to the first meeting.

CBMs with South Ossetia

86.         The Secretariat maintained its contacts with civil society in South Ossetia. Unfortunately, limitations on access as well as an unfavourable climate for co-operation with local civil society partners pose considerable constraints and delays in this regards. In this context, no activities took place during the reporting period.

(b) Plans for further action

87.         The Secretariat will continue efforts to reach out to and involve civil society and professional groups from both sides of the ABL in the CBMs programme. The following activities are envisaged with respect to Abkhazia:

88.         A new initiative on drug prevention and treatment is planned for 24-27 November 2015 and a second one on environment protection and sustainable development is envisaged to be launched in spring 2016. It is also planned to revive initiatives for journalists with a view to implementing joint trainings on certain human rights related topics of mutual interest.

89.         The Secretariat will continue to facilitate contacts between Ombudsmen with a view to develop new targeted initiatives along the various components identified. One such proposal for project has been already developed and submitted for extra-budgetary contributions. Provided that financing is secured, the project will seek to contribute to the implementation of many of the recommendations of the Segovia meeting, in addition to the current format of two Ombudsmen’s meetings per year.

90.         A second event on “European lectures” in Sukhumi is planned. The specific topics will be identified jointly by the participants.

91.         As regards CBMs with South Ossetia, a second advanced training seminar on language teaching methods in a multicultural environment for language teachers from Tbilisi and Tskhinvali is planned for 4-6 November 2015. In early 2016, it is also envisaged to organise the follow-up to the seminar held in February this year in Venice, Italy, with the support of the Venice International University.  The Secretariat will try to build on the experience gained from work with Abkhaz architects and related professionals.


List of acronyms and abbreviations

ABL              Administrative Boundary Line

CBMs            Confidence Building Measures

COBERM       Confidence-Building Early Response Mechanism

DRC             Danish Refugee Council

EU               European Union

EUMM           European Monitoring Mission in Georgia

ICRC            International Committee of Red Cross

IDs              Identity Documents

IDPs             Internally Displaced Persons

IPRM            Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism

GID              Geneva International Discussions

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

NATO           North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

OSCE            Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe

SDC              Swiss Development and Cooperation

SNTD            Status Neutral Travel Documents

SMR             State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality

UN               United Nations

UNDP           United Nations Development Programme

UNHCR         United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

UNICEF         United Nations Children’s Fund

UNM             United National Movement

[1] This document has been classified restricted at the date of issue; it will be declassified in accordance with Resolution Res(2001)6 on access to CoE documents.

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

[7] Press Communiqué of the Co-Chairs of the Geneva International Discussions, Geneva, Switzerland 1 July 2015

[8] Comments by the Minister of Justice of Georgia on the Ministry’s website on 8 October 2015.

[9] Statement of the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 11 August 2015

[10] Since 2013, crossing at this point has been limited to only 8 Ossetian families who reside in the Zadiantkari village.