22 April 2015
Consolidated report on the conflict in Georgia
(November 2014 – March 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. This consolidated report covers the period between November 2014 and March 2015. It builds on the previous consolidated reports, as well as Secretariat reports on the human rights situation in the areas affected by the conflict in Georgia and the report on the Council of Europe activities in the areas affected by the conflict and its updates.
4. For the purposes of the report, the Secretariat conducted a fact-finding visit to Tbilisi on 10-11 March 2015 to discuss the situation with the Georgian authorities, representatives of civil society and 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. Despite continuous efforts of the Secretariat, the delegation could not obtain authorisation by the respective de facto authorities to visit Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Secretariat, thus, 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. Notwithstanding, the Secretary General is committed to discuss possibilities of fact-finding visits to Sukhumi and Tskhinvali for the preparation of future reports. It should be noted at the same time that the Secretariat continues to enjoy 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.
8. This report does not prejudge or infringe upon a possible future political settlement of the conflict within the framework of the Geneva International Discussions, nor the implementation of the Six-point agreement of 12 August 2008 and the implementing measures of 8 September 2008.
I Update on major developments in the period under review
9. On 24 November 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin and de facto President of Abkhazia Raoul Khajimba signed in Sochi the so-called “Treaty on Alliance and Strategic Partnership between Russian Federation and Republic of Abkhazia”. The “treaty” entered into force on 5 March 2015 for a period of 10 years following which it can be renewed every five years. For the purposes of the “treaty”, it is foreseen that around 30 new agreements in different areas will be concluded. On 11 March 2015, a Memorandum on mechanisms for conducting coordinated foreign policy was signed in Moscow between the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the de facto Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia.
10. In a similar move, on 18 March 2015, President Putin and the de facto President of South Ossetia, Leonid Tibilov, signed in Moscow the so-called “Treaty on Alliance and Integration between the Russian Federation and Republic of South Ossetia” for an initial duration of 25 years. Earlier on 18 February, Russia and South Ossetia, signed a “Treaty on state border”.
11. Both “treaties” make reference to transition to a qualitatively new level of relations and involve extensive harmonisation of policies and standards. A marking feature which has attracted the concern of many interlocutors is the creation of a common/unified defence and security space through different arrangements. Other parameters which caught attention include coordinated “foreign policy”, simplified acquisition of Russian citizenship, simplified “border”-crossing and customs procedures, together with measures aimed at combatting organised crime and stimulating socioeconomic development.
12. The Georgian authorities firmly denounced these steps, including in various international fora, as directed towards further “annexation” of the country’s territory and violation of fundamental principles of international law and existing agreements by the Russian Federation. The Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister, Khatuna Totladze, reiterated these concerns during her address at the 1224th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies on 1 April 2015.
13. The Council of Europe, EU, NATO, a number of European countries and the US condemned the new agreements in a similar vein as the Georgian government. Detrimental effects on efforts to stabilise the security situation in the region as well as a lack of legal standing from an international law’s perspective have been emphasised. Russia, on its side, has rejected criticism describing the purpose of the “treaties” as consolidating the existing bilateral co-operation with Abkhazia and South Ossetia in response to new challenges in the areas of security as well as the needs for socioeconomic development.
14. After a pause of several months, on 26 February 2015, the Special Representative of the Georgian Prime Minister for Relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, and the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and State Secretary, Grigory Karasin, re-activated their meetings in Prague, focusing primarily on issues related to the Agreement on monitoring of trade between Georgia and Russia, signed in the context of Russia’s accession to the WTO in 2011. Both sides confirmed readiness to soon launch the implementation of agreement. The approach that the “business-like” nature of the Prague dialogue allows for resolving practical questions in the absence of diplomatic relations and irrespectively of differences on principal political problems seems to find common terrain both among the Georgian and Russian authorities.
15. Prior to the Prague meeting, on 24 February 2015, Mr Abashidze indicated in an interview readiness to temporarily put aside “red line” status issues in discussions with Abkhazia and South Ossetia and focus instead on economic, business, education, healthcare, and other humanitarian issues, if Russia was to support direct dialogue. To recall, on 18 December 2014, President Putin suggested that Georgia should establish direct contacts and political dialogue with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Russia was ready to facilitate.
16. During the Secretariat visit, representatives of the Georgian government reaffirmed their readiness to pursue a constructive, pragmatic, humanitarian based approach in respect of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and to engage in a direct dialogue. However, they pointed to a difficult regional context for such action. They underlined the need for intensification of CBMs, people-to-people contacts and increased international presence and access to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The delegation was also informed that a new document prioritising development of areas in the vicinity of the dividing lines with a potential impact to bridge and integrate societies across, was under consideration by the Georgian authorities.
17. Following leadership changes in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in November 2014, Mr Davit Dondua, formerly Deputy State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, succeeded Mr Davit Zalkaliani as first Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Georgia’s chief negotiator in the Geneva International Discussions.
18. The 30th and 31st rounds of the Geneva International Discussions were held on 10 December 2014 and 18 March 2015, respectively. Security considerations associated with new “treaties” were raised in Working Group I. While insisting on a reciprocal commitment on the non-use of force from the Russian Federation, Georgia also argued that such a step should now be complemented by international security arrangements in the region. As in previous rounds, longstanding entrenched contradictions continued to hamper progress on the key agenda items of the non-use of force, international security arrangements as well as the safe and dignified return of IDPs. While reckoning difficulties, all participants have reaffirmed their commitment to the Geneva multilateral track offering a useful and the only platform for discussion in the aftermath of the 2008 conflict. During exchanges in Tbilisi the Secretariat delegation was informed that human rights issues i.e. freedom of movement and the right of education in native language and others, remain high on the agenda and require further reflection in the framework of discussions.
19. During the visit of the Secretariat, interlocutors in Tbilisi assessed talks during the 30th round as tense but overall constructive. Concrete actions undertaken as follow-up to discussions on humanitarian issues in Working Group II, in the areas of healthcare, education and cultural heritage, including sharing of digitalised archive materials with the Abkhaz participants by the Georgian participants, constituted a positive development. Conversely, the 31st round was reported to be very difficult owing also to tensions linked with the coinciding signature of the “treaty” between Russia and South Ossetia on the same day which was regretted by the co-chairs. Discussions on IDP issues were reported to prove particularly contentious resulting eventually in the walkout of some participants. The next round of discussions has been scheduled for 30 June-1 July 2015.
20. Georgia’s Law on Occupied Territories remains in force. No progress was made during the period under review as to the adoption of amendments. To be recalled, amendments to the Law on Occupied Territories are also foreseen under Georgia’s Association Agreement agenda with the EU for the purposes of encouraging trade, travel and investment across the administrative boundary line.
21. On 16 December 2014, the mandate of the European Union Monitoring Mission in Georgia was extended for two years, until 14 December 2016. The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, reiterated on the occasion EU’s firm support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia. Mr Kęstutis Jankauskas, formerly Lithuania’s Ambassador to NATO, was appointed as the new head of the EUMM on 19 December 2014.
II Assessment of statutory obligations and commitments related to the conflict and its consequences
22. 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
23. In Resolution 2034(2015) of 28 January 2015, the Parliamentary Assembly raised concerns on Russia’s actions with regard to its relations with neighbouring countries. The Assembly called on the Russian authorities to dispel such concerns by inter alia implementing Resolution 1633(2008) and Resolution 1647(2009). It also urged Russia to remove any obstacles to the free movement of civilians across the administrative boundary lines.
24. No major developments are to be reported on the individual applications against Georgia, or against the Russian Federation pending before the European Court of Human Rights. In the Inter-State application No. 38263/08 the parties submitted their written observations on the merits on 31 December 2014.
iii. To respect strictly the provisions of international humanitarian law, including in cases of armed conflict on its territory
25. During the reporting period, the ICRC continued to promote norms of international humanitarian law in Georgia and with the de facto authorities in South Ossetia.
26. No visible progress on the clarification of the fate of missing persons was reported during the period under review; meetings of the Tripartite Coordination Mechanism on Persons Unaccounted for in Connection with the August 2008 Conflict and after, chaired by the ICRC, have not resumed. The ICRC has provided assistance to all sides to overcome present difficulties. Recently, Georgian media reported that the ICRC would recommend to the Georgian government establishing a state commission on missing persons in order to facilitate the management of data on missing persons, their families, potential gravesites, and other relevant information.
27. In addition to the work on missing persons and different types of support to their families, in South Ossetia, the ICRC is assisting with family reunifications, visiting detainees, and supporting socially vulnerable families and persons. Recently, it has contributed to ensuring access to water supplies in affected villages. According to the ICRC the organisation had facilitated more than 200 medical evacuations across the ABL during 2014. The delegation was also informed that the ICRC mandate in South Ossetia has now been prolonged until 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
28. The Georgian authorities reiterated to the Secretariat-delegation their support for formats that foster incentives for restoring ties across the dividing line such as the Liaison Mechanism, which continues to function. In the framework of the international community’s engagement in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the authorities consider their role in co-ordination of such initiatives as essential for the successful implementation of their own engagement policy in line with the “Modalities for Engagement” of October 2010.
29. The delegation was also informed of initiatives to extend various benefits to the population across the dividing line, in the framework of assistance provided by the authorities to the population residing in villages adjacent to the ABL, in Georgian-controlled territory. Four priority areas will be on the agenda: agriculture, trade and business, social issues and infrastructure development. An Action Plan should be elaborated at a later stage (See also para. 69).
30. The international community continues to implement a wide range of humanitarian and other co-operation activities in Abkhazia in line with the “engagement and non-recognition” policy. The UN family (UNDP, UNHCR, UNICEF), along with international NGOs (ACF, World Vision) and individual states such as US (USAID), UK, and Sweden (SIDA) provide assistance in community-based support, generation of livelihood opportunities, education, child and mother protection, and healthcare. The EU remains a major funder of co-operation initiatives and continues supporting projects facilitating people-to-people contacts and academic exchanges. In addition, international NGOs continued to engage in peace and confidence building.
31. So far 74 initiatives have been funded through the EU COBERM II programme, which continues to support confidence building seeking to prevent and transform local conflicts through the provision of a rapid response mechanism, as well as strengthening actors who positively influence the process. The second phase of the programme implemented by the UNDP with support from the EU and the Government of Sweden will continue to be operational until May 2015.
32. The Georgian authorities asserted that sharing the benefits and opportunities stemming from the EU-Georgia Visa Liberalisation Dialogue and Association Agreement with the populations across the administrative boundary lines fit with their overall policy of engagement. On the other hand, the de facto authorities have persistently publicly raised the problem of travel documents and non-issuance of visas for the Abkhaz population, including for education or medical treatment purposes mostly in EU countries, a practice which they consider discriminatory. At the same time, the Status Neutral Document issued by the Georgian authorities as the official travel document does not appear to be used by the Abkhaz population.
33. Conversely, little or no access to South Ossetia limits the engagement of international actors giving rise to humanitarian and human rights concerns. In addition, some sources point out to a general deterioration of the situation with systematic pressure on civil society. On 2 February 2015, the de facto Committee of State Security of South Ossetia issued a statement targeting the Georgian-South Ossetian “Point of View” dialogue, a confidence-building programme run by the US George Mason University. The de facto CSS criticised the involvement of South Ossetian participants claiming it negatively impacts the development of civil society and constitutes “threats to the statehood and foreign policy” of South Ossetia.
34. The Secretariat was informed that the Georgian authorities continued to provide free medical treatment for the populations in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the framework of a dedicated government programme in place since 2007. The delegation was informed by the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs that 459 patients coming from South Ossetia had been treated in 2014 and 33 in 2015 by the time of the delegation’s visit, whereas figures for Abkhaz patients were reported to be 426 and 67 respectively. A significant increase in medical transfers across the ABL between 2013 and 2014 has in the meantime also been observed whereas difficulties during such transfers appear to arise only in isolated cases. On the other hand, the de facto authorities have recently issued statements aimed at dissuading their residents from travelling to Georgia for the purposes of medical treatment. Additional support of the Georgian government comprises provision of the emergency vehicles, medical equipment, vaccination as well as payment of salaries for medical staff. The delegation was informed by the Georgian authorities about plans to build by 2016 a multipurpose medical facility in the village of Rukhi, adjacent to the ABL with Abkhazia.
III Human rights situation in the areas affected by the conflict
35. As mentioned, the Secretariat was not able to obtain an authorisation from the de facto authorities to visit Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The information presented below is based on discussions with the Georgian authorities, civil society representatives, international organisations as well as open sources. In general, access to South Ossetia remains highly restrictive, whereas the international community enjoys some access to Abkhazia. During the period under review, the Georgian authorities and international actors continued to call for establishing international human rights monitoring mechanisms on the ground.
III.1 Reports on Abkhazia
36. Different interlocutors met by the delegation described the security situation on the ground as generally calm with no major incidents.
37. The delegation was informed that criminal activity remains the major security threat for the local population who continues to be exposed to kidnappings for ransom, robberies and assaults in particular in Lower Gali, mostly populated by ethnic Georgians. Some interlocutors maintained that criminal incidents, e.g. kidnappings for ransom had become of a more violent nature.
38. At the same time, as criminality dynamics fluctuated during the period under review, some interlocutors shared with the delegation perceptions of recent signs of certain improvement. They associated such state of affairs inter alia with efforts of the de facto authorities to curb criminal activity in the area. However, Georgian interlocutors claimed that the increased presence of Abkhaz armed security forces is perceived as a personal security threat by the ethnic Georgian population in Gali, in particular by the elderly, women and children. International actors have continued to advocate the need for stronger confidence-building efforts between local residents and de facto law enforcement structures in order to establish mutual trust.
39. It was reported to the delegation that on 12 January 2015, Abkhaz forces jointly with Russian border guards were quick to respond to a kidnapping case in Gali by conducting a security operation which resulted in the death of two kidnappers. In addition, one Abkhaz member of security forces and one Russian border guard reportedly lost their lives during the operation.
40. Throughout the period under review the Gali IPRM mechanism remained non-functional despite the growing understanding and declared readiness of the sides for an expeditious re-activation to address practical issues on the ground. At the same time, the delegation was made to understand that efforts were being made by all sides to overcome the blockage. As noted in previous reports, the hotline continues to function regularly and effectively in particular for purposes of emergency medical evacuation.
III.1.ii Freedom of movement
41. According to several interlocutors met in Tbilisi, the period under review was, regrettably, marked by an intensification of “borderisation” activities on the ABL, notably through the installation of fencing, the purpose of which appears to be interdiction of “unauthorised” crossings. According to the Georgian authorities the length of fencing/barbwire installations is estimated to have reached 12km. In addition, the authorities anticipated the construction of a 30km wall on the Abkhaz side of the ABL to prevent “unauthorised” crossing, although a specific timing on such plans was not available.
42. It was also reported to the delegation that the de facto authorities plan to improve the road linking several villages on the ABL in order to facilitate transport and crossings through the main crossing point on the Enguri road bridge. The construction process would involve expropriation and demolition of a number of houses belonging to ethnic Georgians, with compensation in return. Some interlocutors shared their concern that closure of the other four crossing points across the Enguri River could follow upon completion of road construction, which seems to be in line with some recent statements of the de facto authorities. Humanitarian actors have been consistent in discouraging a reduction of crossing points warning such step might trigger an increase in the number of “unauthorised” crossings with unwanted consequences.
43. During the visit, the Georgian authorities reiterated their grave concerns on “borderisation” and more restrictive crossing regimes emphasising the disruptive effects on freedom of movement, access to livelihood opportunities, social benefits and other rights for the local residents. The authorities underlined that measures envisaged to reinforce the “Abkhaz-Georgian border” would eventually shift the infrastructure of the Russian-Georgian border at the Psou River to the ABL, turning the later into a de facto state border and further deepening the divide but also the isolation of the Gali district.
44. Predictability and transparency of the crossing regime at the ABL continue to be hindered by the confusion surrounding the validity of documents used for crossing purposes. While the majority of people use an Abkhaz “passport”, in some cases Forms N° 9 and old Soviet passports reportedly continue to be accepted. The period of validity of their use however remains unclear.
45. According to publicly available official Russian data, during the January-March 2015, more than 550 people were detained on “illegal border crossing” grounds. The practice of detentions and release after payment of fines continues to be enforced. It was also reported to the delegation that a more “heavy-handed” approach of Russian border guards had been observed in several detention cases linked to “unauthorised” crossings. The delegation was informed that local residents have recently become more apprehensive with regard to ABL crossings.
III.1.iii Identity documents issues
46. Identity document gaps remained a pressing concern for ethnic Georgian population primarily in the Gali, but also Ochamchira and Tkvarcheli districts. As reported earlier by the Secretariat, with the validity of over 22,000 “passports” annulled under the amended so-called “Law on the citizenship of the Republic of Abkhazia”, the legal status and rights of this group, in particular those related to freedom of movement and property ownership, continue to be called under question with adverse implications for their daily lives. This in turn contributes significantly to the feeling of insecurity.
47. On 19 March 2015, it was reported that the issuance of the new internal Abkhaz “passports” to the population will start in August 2015 and is expected to be completed by February 2016. The delegation was also informed that in the meantime the de facto authorities had started the process of registration for persons in possession of a Georgian ID, living in Gali.
48. There were no new developments regarding the draft “legislation” defining the status of foreigners in the territory of Abkhazia which is currently pending in the de facto parliament. It is generally understood that the new “law” will provide for a residence document valid for up to five years as an alternative to the Abkhaz identity documents for ethnic Georgians living in Abkhazia who do not wish to renounce their Georgian citizenship. International humanitarian actors have recommended that assurances be given to the concerned population with respect to their future rights and obligations, that they be consulted in the process on their future status and documentation and that interim measures be put in place pending issuance of new documents.
49. On 26 February 2015, it was reported that the de facto parliament had passed amendments simplifying the procedure for changing ethnic origin, which can now be based on willingness to restore “historical justice” in respect of one’s ethnic descent. According to media reports, the amendments appear to be based on the assumed Abkhaz origin of the population of the Gali district in its former boundaries. On the other hand, critics of the initiative have alleged the amendments are aimed at providing a “legal” basis for ethnic Georgians to restore their previously annulled “Abkhaz citizenship”.
III.1.iv Access to education, including teaching of/in the Georgian language
50. According to various interlocutors, ensuring unimpeded freedom of movement for children crossing the ABL in either side to attend school remains a severe and acute challenge for access to education. The delegation was made aware of a case involving the detention of schoolchildren crossing from the Georgian-controlled territory in Nabakevi and other detentions near the village of Saberio. Delays have been reported with issuing the relevant documents by the de facto authorities in Gali which together with lack of clarity over the lists of schoolchildren who should be allowed to cross result in irregular school attendance. It was reported to the delegation that this situation also prompts the parents to withdraw children from schools.
51. The Georgian authorities provide support to 31 schools mostly in the Gali district, but also in parts of the Ochamchire and Tkvarcheli districts, in the form of teachers’ salaries and textbooks. So far, such practice allows for Georgian to be the language of instruction in eleven schools in Lower Gali. Conversely, in some schools in Upper Gali where Russian is in use and the Georgian language is taught as a facultative subject, a reduction of Georgian language classes has been reported from the previous year. According to the Georgian authorities, approximately 90% of children and teachers in the area are ethnic Georgians.
52. While the de facto authorities, including the de facto President Khajimba, have provided assurances that they do not intend to prohibit education in the Georgian language they have spoken in favour of using textbooks prepared in Abkhazia. On 26 March, the de facto head of the Gali district administration announced that starting from the next year all 11 schools where Georgian continues to be the language of instruction will move to the Abkhaz education curricula and use textbooks validated by the de facto Ministry of Education.
III.2 Reports on South Ossetia
53. As opposed to the ABL with Abkhazia, it was reported to the delegation that generally no further “borderisation” activities involving fence extensions were observed in South Ossetia during the period under review. The increase in number and upgrading of observation points nevertheless continued to take place. The “borderisation” process and its negative effects on the local population, in particular on freedom of movement and livelihood continue to raise concern. As was reported to the delegation, over 800 families residing in the vicinity of the ABL remain affected by restrictions on access to their land and properties.
54. As far as freedom of movement is concerned, according to the Georgian authorities on average 200-300 crossings take place daily in and out of the Akhalgori district together with goods, produce and food, while the rest of the perimeter remains blocked.
55. Difficulties with access to documentation continued to negatively impact freedom of movement. The delegation was informed that the usage of new crossing documents (so called propusks) issued in 2014 has now been informally extended by the de facto authorities. According to some sources their validity will last informally until July 2015. New restrictive rules will then apply to freedom of movement whereby the South Ossetian “passport” shall be the sole document allowed for crossing purposes.
56. Georgian and international interlocutors voiced concern that the enforcement of the new crossing regime would potentially imply loss of access to Akhalgori for the IDP population originating from the region and further separation of mixed families which already face significant obstacles due to inconsistency in issuing crossing permits. Restrictions on crossings, transport of merchandise and trade are also anticipated to have a negative bearing on the local economy and income-generating opportunities for the local population. The delegation was informed that this issue is regularly raised by the Georgian authorities at the Geneva International Discussions.
57. During the reference period, alleged violations of the “border” regime by local residents comprising incidental crossings kept resulting in short-term detentions and payment of fines which in some cases were reported to be unusually high. According to civil society representatives, fines constitute an additional burden on local families which already suffer financial hardships. The Georgian authorities referred to 20 detention cases associated with ABL crossings during the period January-March 2015. It was reported that on 28 November 2014, the de facto authorities released a man imprisoned since November 2012 for “illegal border crossing”.
58. The fate of the two missing persons mentioned in the previous consolidated report has been of significant concern. With regards to the first case involving a 19-year old ethnic Georgian who went missing in Akhalgori in June 2014, his remains were handed over to the Georgian authorities on 28 February 2015 amidst serious claims that he was beaten to death at the Akhalgori “police” building. The second disappearance case remains to date unresolved and continues to be regularly raised in the agenda of the IPRM meetings.
59. The IPRM mechanism with South Ossetia continues to convene on a regular basis in Ergneti. Five such meetings were held during the period under review with the most recent taking place on 25 March 2015.
III.3 The situation of Internally Displaced Persons
60. No progress was reported to have been achieved with regards to the right of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to a safe, dignified and voluntary return. During the reporting period, the Georgian authorities continued to raise the issue in the framework of the Geneva International Discussions.
61. In the absence of conditions conducive to return, the government continued to focus its IDP policy on three important components: provision of durable housing solutions, access to livelihoods and financial assistance. The delegation was informed that a new Action Plan on IDPs for the period 2015-2016 was approved in January to ensure harmonisation of government’s policy with the revised Law on IDPs, in force since 1 March 2014. In another indication of the government’s prioritisation of IDP issues, the MRA’s budget for 2015 was increased by 45% from the previous year.
62. The authorities informed the delegation that they continue to view the provision of durable housing solutions for IDPs as their overarching priority, allocating substantial amount of resources to the construction of new living spaces, purchasing of houses and rehabilitation of existing shelter. According to the MRA, of the total 86,000 IDP families registered in Georgia, approximately 70% still require a housing solution. The needs of 50% of these were assessed by the Ministry as immediate. 16,000 families are in need of a housing solution in Tbilisi.
63. The delegation was informed that two new initiatives on durable housing solutions were launched during the reporting period. In November 2014, the government launched a project in co-operation with developer companies, first focusing in purchasing living spaces for IDPs in newly constructed buildings and at a second stage on employment opportunities in the construction sector. In addition, approximately 148 village houses with land plots have been purchased through another project launched in October 2014, which seeks also to offer integration opportunities in rural areas. The government also covered the accommodation rent costs for up to 960 IDP families in 2014.
64. Purchase and rehabilitation of collective centres and their transfer into IDPs ownership continued during the period under review; the delegation’s attention was however drawn to the fact that despite significant funds involved, in some cases no integration opportunities exist in such places for the IDPs concerned. According to the MRA, IDPs can apply for housing in their place of integration.
65. As far as privatisation of living spaces by IDPs is concerned, according to the MRA 1730 families were able to complete this process throughout 2014. The delegation was informed that an Action Plan on privatisations had been submitted for approval to the government and will benefit some 10,000 IDP families.
66. In addition to accommodation, access of IDPs to work and employment, healthcare and education is reported be of recurrent concern. The delegation was informed in this respect that an Action Plan on Livelihoods and Employment opportunities was approved and will be launched in the coming months. It is generally understood that pending return to the places of origin and in the conditions of phasing down of international humanitarian support, a significant shift is required in the government’s policy from an emergency response to addressing IDP integration needs as part of broader durable development strategies.
67. The authorities have made continued efforts to ensure an equitable and needs-based treatment of vulnerable IDPs based on the social vulnerability scoring system. Approximately 3,150 IDPs families were reportedly provided with social assistance in 2014.
68. Under the circumstances when the IDP status is inherited legislatively, some interlocutors however pointed at the generational implications of the status-based assistance. In this respect, they argued about the necessity of decoupling the IDP status from assistance which should be fully based on the needs in order to avoid cycles of dependency and stigmatisation.
69. According to the Georgian authorities, some 24,000 people who returned to their homes in the villages adjacent to the ABL with South Ossetia, in the Shida Kartli region, continue to be faced with different hardships in their daily lives in the original place of residence as a consequence of the 2008 conflict. In a positive development, the Interim Governmental Commission for the Needs of Villages located near the Dividing Line has resumed its work focusing mainly on rehabilitation of infrastructure for communities adjacent to the ABL with the first results expected before the next winter according to interlocutors in Tbilisi. Works are close to completion on the provision of gas to some 33 villages and 8,800 families, through a GEL 19 million worth project according to media reports. Support has also been provided among other things in terms of access to potable and irrigation water, construction/rehabilitation of schools and kindergarten’s infrastructure. In addition, the government has approved financing of tertiary education studies for 554 students.
70. In what appears to be an effort to reach out and render socio-economic benefits available to the population across the dividing line, it was reported to the delegation that in particular cases infrastructure shall also be extended to ethnic Ossetian families on the other side of the ABL, upon request.
IV Activities of Council of Europe organs and institutions and their follow-up
IV.3 Operational activities
71. Within the framework of the implementation of the Action Plan for Georgia, the CoE continued to assist the Public Defender's Office (PDO) to enhance its capacity to address the situation of IDPs and other conflict-affected individuals. With the CoE’s support, the PDO continued to monitor IDP settlements and provide legal advice to IDPs. An essay competition for students on the topic of internal displacement in Georgia was launched in December 2014.
IV.4 Operational activities on confidence-building measures and their follow-up
(a) Activities organised during the reporting period
72. 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 CBM activities implemented during the period under review as well as those that took place in October 2014 but were not covered by the previous 10th report.
73. During 6-10 October 2014, an advanced training seminar for language teachers who had already participated in earlier trainings/meetings took place at the CoE European Centre for Modern Languages (ECML) in Graz, Austria. In addition, as a follow-up to the meeting on 1-2 October, civil society representatives from Tbilisi, Sukhumi and Gali involved in multicultural education met in Istanbul on 18-19 February 2015. A concrete outcome of the meeting was the agreement of all participants on the content of future workshops on multicultural approach to language learning. The project benefits from scientific support and expertise of the ECML.
74. Activities focusing on cultural heritage continued with a meeting of the group on architectural heritage management, which took place in Skopje, “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, on 21-23 October 2014. Participants, who included architects, archaeologists, historians and history of arts specialists from Tbilisi and Sukhumi, had the opportunity to observe concrete fieldwork carried out by local professionals within the framework of a CoE regional project and exchange experience. The Secretariat wishes to express thanks to the representatives to the Ministry of Culture of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” for the organisation of the visit. The meeting in Skopje was followed by a 5-week training at the Council of Europe for one young architect from Tbilisi and one from Sukhumi, during January-March 2015. The aim was to facilitate a better understanding of current European standards on architectural heritage surveys and collect the necessary information for the pilot field phase. A fourth meeting was organised in Sarajevo from 24 to 26 March 2015 on methodology parameters, including finalisation of a core data sheet for cultural heritage objects/sites together with the necessary training.
75. On 12-14 November 2014, ombudspersons from Tbilisi and Sukhumi, staff from their respective offices and representatives of the civil society met in Istanbul to discuss human rights issues linked to the consequences of the conflict and exchange views on reinforcement of the ombudsperson role in promoting and protecting human rights. It was the first such meeting between the two ombudspersons. It took place in an open and constructive atmosphere. A follow-up meeting in the same format is foreseen during the next reporting period.
76. A delegation composed of Secretariat members and experts visited Sukhumi on 10-11 February 2015, to deliver a series of presentations and lectures on a selection of previously agreed topics – overview and the role of the Council of Europe, current European standards in the field of higher education, environment and sustainable development, key issues and European approaches on preventing use of illicit substances by youth. The audience comprised over 50 participants from the education sector, civil society, academia, and local decision-makers in the relevant sectors.
77. A meeting on prevention of violence against women and in particular domestic violence was held in Istanbul on 16-18 February 2015, with civil society and academics from both Tbilisi and Sukhumi following their request emphasising the high relevance of the issue in the region. Concrete actions were identified to raise awareness of the population and to provide women with assistance in case of need.
78. The Secretariat pursued contacts with civil society in South Ossetia and made efforts to replicate the good practices developed as a result of implementation of activities in Abkhazia even though restrained access hampers progress. During the period under review, two activities were organised.
79. A training seminar on language teaching methods in a multicultural environment for language teachers from Tbilisi and Tskhinvali took place at the ECML, in Graz, on 24-26 November 2014.
80. On 23-25 February 2015, a seminar for architects and related professional groups was organised in Venice, Italy, with the support of the Venice International University. The seminar focused on current standards and practices of architectural heritage management and offered preliminary knowledge on the subject as well as a peer-to-peer platform for professional exchanges.
(b) Plans for further action
81. The Secretariat will continue to reach out to and involve civil society and professional groups from both sides of the ABL in the CBM programme.
82. Continuation of the work on multicultural education is envisaged with three joint training workshops for language teachers in June 2015, November 2015 and June 2016. Along 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. This work will be complemented with teacher trainers to ensure better sustainability for the skills and the approach used. An advanced training for language teachers from South Ossetia is envisaged as follow-up in October 2015.
83. Concerning activities on protection of architectural heritage a pilot field visit in Abkhazia is planned later during the year. Ways are also being examined to achieve a similar sustainability of the initiative focusing on South Ossetia and support mutual trust among the experts involved.
84. On 27-30 April 2015, a second meeting between the Ombudspersons, their staff and civil society from Tbilisi and Sukhumi will take place in Segovia, Spain, to discuss a range of priority human rights issues identified during the first meeting.
85. Along with these activities, recent lectures and exchanges with in Sukhumi have allowed for identification of other areas of mutual interest where CBMs could be developed in the future. These initiatives should also cover through a series of lectures and traineeships the standards that are elaborated, adopted and implemented in Europe in a number of areas of expertise of the CoE and professions. Proposals for training supporting cross-ABL journalism on non-political topics, environmental protection as well as drug prevention and treatment are currently under discussion with the relevant interlocutors.
List of acronyms and abbreviations
ABL Administrative Boundary Line
ACF Action Contre La Faim
COBERM Confidence-Building Early Response Mechanism
EU European Union
EUMM European Monitoring Mission in Georgia
ICRC International Committee of the Red Cross
IDs Identity Documents
IDPs Internally Displaced Persons
IPRM Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism
MRA Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees of Georgia
PDO Public Defender’s Office
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
 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.
 As far as trade between the two countries is concerned, according to Georgia’s National Statistics Office (GEOSTAT) Russia became Georgia’s third largest trading partner in 2014, moving up from fourth place in 2013. Georgian exports to Russia showed an increase of 44.1% in 2014 as compared to the previous year.
 See “ICRC Helps to Clarify the Fate of Missing Persons”, the Messenger Online, 17 March 2015
 Statement of the de facto president of South Ossetia, Leonid Tibilov, during the meeting of the de facto government, RES news agency, 2 March 2015.
 In addition, the delegation received information that international humanitarian organisations were insisting on assurances with respect to the following rights: permanent residence; political rights; equal protection before the law, social security; healthcare; employment; education; freedom of thought, conscience and expression; cultural life.
 Some interlocutors claimed that renunciation of Georgian citizenship in this context would be technically impossible; according to them in order to satisfy a citizenship renunciation request the Georgian authorities would need proof of acquisition of another citizenship in order to avoid statelessness risks.
 Remarks of de facto President Raul Khajimba during his meeting with the population of the Gali region, Sputnik News, 12 March 2015.