Information Documents

SG/Inf (2014)41

5 November 2014


Consolidated report on the conflict in Georgia

(April 2014 – October 2014)


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

-       update on major developments in the period under review;

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

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

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

3.            This 10th consolidated report covers the period between April 2014 and October 2014. It builds on the previous consolidated reports[1]and related decisions by the Ministers’ Deputies, as well as Secretariat reports on the human rights situation in the areas affected by the conflict in Georgia[2] and the report on the Council of Europe activities in the areas affected by the conflict[3] and its updates[4].

4.            The Secretariat carried out a fact-finding visit to Tbilisi on
29 September-1 October 2014 and had the opportunity to discuss the situation with the Georgian authorities, representatives of international organisations and civil society. The Secretariat wishes to express its gratitude to the Georgian authorities for their support in organising the visit and to all interlocutors for their assistance and valuable contributions.

5.            Further to a proposal by the Georgian authorities, the delegation also paid a visit to the EUMM field office in Mtskheta where it had an extensive briefing by the Head of the Field Office as well as a visit to the Administrative Boundary Line (ABL). The delegation would like to extend its thanks to the EUMM staff both in the Head Quarters and in the Mtskheta Field mission for the organisation of this visit and information shared with the delegation.

6.            For the purpose of this report, despite renewed and continuous efforts of the Secretariat, the delegation did not receive 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 human rights situation on the ground or to reflect on their position on other issues touched upon in the present report. The Secretary General will make further attempts in view of fact-finding visits to Abkhazia and South Ossetia for the preparation of future reports. At the same time and in a positive development, it should be noted that as regards the implementation of the activities under the Confidence Building Measures one such an activity was organised in Sukhumi, which a Secretariat member attended (cf. Section IV.5).

7.            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.

8.            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[5].

9.            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

10.         Although dialogue is continuing in multilateral and bilateral fora, no breakthrough on the main issues at stake may be reported during the period under review.

11.         On the main multilateral track, the 28th round of Geneva International Discussions (GID) took place on 17-18 June. In Working Group I (security issues), the co-chairs noted the overall calm and stable situation despite some repeated incidents. They urged the participants to find a compromise for the resumption of the Gali Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) and welcomed the work done within the Ergneti IPRM. The co-chairs deeply regretted the disruption of Working Group II (humanitarian issues) due to disagreements on certain agenda points among participants and reiterated that discussions on humanitarian issues should not be politicised. The co-chairs noted that a failure to address these issues is a worrying development. To be noted, the meeting was co-chaired for the first time by the
recently-appointed European Union Special Representative (EUSR) Ambassador Herbert Salber.

12.         The 29th round of the GID took place on 7-8 October. Participants reconfirmed their commitment to the Geneva Discussions “as an important platform to strengthen the security and stability on the ground and to address the humanitarian needs of the conflict-affected population”. It was reported by the co-chairs that the discussions in both Working Groups took place in a constructive and positive atmosphere. In Working Group I, the Co-Chairs and all participants assessed the overall security situation as calm and stable. It was agreed to continue working on a draft joint statement by participants on non-use of force at the next round. The co-chairs once again called for the early resumption of the Gali IPRM. In Working Group II, the participants addressed the humanitarian situation, among other things freedom of movement, missing persons, cultural heritage and access to water. The next meeting in the Geneva format is expected to be held on 9-10 December.

13.         On 5 June the UN General Assembly adopted a Georgia-tabled resolution[6] reiterating the right of return of all displaced persons and refugees to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It was reported that as in the previous years the de facto authorities both in Abkhazia and South Ossetia criticised the resolution and lack of possibility for them to express their position on the issue.

14.         During the period under review, both Georgia and the Russian Federation gave indications that the issue of restoring diplomatic relations is not on the agenda at present, and recalled their respective preconditions for such a step. At the same time, further rounds of talks between Mr Zurab Abashidze, Special Representative of the Prime Minister of Georgia in charge of relations with Russia, and Mr Grigoriy Karasin, State Secretary, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation took place on 16 April and on 16 October in Prague, with a view to improving practical issues in the process towards normalisation of bilateral relations. As in previous meetings, discussions were reported to have been focused on trade, transport and humanitarian issues.[7] On 22 April it was announced that, in the context of the Prague dialogue, the Russian authorities released a Georgian national detained on charges of espionage.

15.         Georgia signed an Association Agreement (AA) and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DFCTA) with the European Union (EU) on 27 June and ratified these agreements on 19 July. The impact on Georgia-Russia bilateral trade as a result of the implementation of the DFCTA was discussed by Mr Karasin and Mr Abashidze. Georgia has asserted that it does not anticipate any complications, while Russia has insisted that the issue needs thorough examination, especially against the background of increasing trade turnover between the two countries.[8] Technical expert-level consultations took place in Prague in July on the issue.

16.         During the reporting period Georgia was also offered, as an outcome of the NATO Wales Summit of 5 September, an extensive package of enhanced co-operation measures to help it advance in its preparations towards membership. However, concerns regarding this issue were raised by Russia during the last GID. Georgian participants however objected to raising this issue within the GID.

17.         During the period under review a serious political crisis unfolded in Abkhazia, leading to important changes in the de facto executive. In May the opposition organised mass protests in Sukhumi calling for the resignation of de facto President of Abkhazia Aleksandr Ankvab. It also seized several administrative buildings, including the de facto presidential headquarters. Having lost the support of the de facto Parliament, Mr Ankvab resigned on 1 June. On 24 August, Raul Khajimba, head of the opposition “Forum of Abkhazia People’s Unity Party”, and a leading figure behind the protests, was elected de facto President of Abkhazia after receiving 50.57% of all ballots cast, according to the de facto Central Election Commission. He was sworn in on
25 September for a five-year term as the 4th de facto President of Abkhazia. Statements condemning these so-called early presidential elections as being illegal were issued by Georgia[9], several international organisations and several Council of Europe member States.

18.         Meanwhile, so-called parliamentary elections took place in South Ossetia on 8 June. The “One Ossetia party” obtained a large victory with 43.19% of the votes, according to the de facto Central Electoral Commission. Statements condemning these so-called parliamentary elections as being illegal were issued by Georgia[10], several international organisations and several Council of Europe member States.

19.         On 26 September, addressing the UN General Assembly, Georgian Prime Minister Garibashvili reaffirmed that his government is “committed to the path of reconciliation and restoring Georgia’s full territorial integrity and sovereignty.” We must work to find a way for you [populations of Abkhazia and South Ossetia] to participate in our success, including the benefits of our new EU Association Agreement”, he stated[11].

20.         Meanwhile, Georgia expressed concerns at Russia’s reported plans for closer
co-operation with de facto authorities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. On 15 October, President Margvelashvili called on the Georgian Parliament to promptly discuss the issue of the proposed “draft treaty between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Abkhazia on partnership and integration”, stressing that it “is a direct threat to Georgia’s security, defensibility and stability” and that its enforcement “will worsen the situation in terms of human rights protection, and the humanitarian situation in general.”[12] On 15 October the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement underlining the threat thus posed to the process of normalization of Georgia-Russia relations and emphasising that the signing of this agreement would be “assessed as a step towards the annexation of Abkhazia followed by the relevant international legal consequences”.[13] Mr Abashidze reiterated Georgia’s concerns during the last meeting with Mr Karasin on 16 October.[14] Similar concerns were also repeated in a statement adopted by the Georgian Parliament on 17 October.[15] The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on the other hand, issued a statement on 16 October stressing that “no one could prevent Russia and Abkhazia from improving their bilateral relations to a new stage”, and that such a perspective “did not constitute any threat to the normalisation of relations between Russia and Georgia nor to the Geneva International Discussions.”[16]
On 28 October 2014, the de facto speaker of the Parliament of South Ossetia announced an intention to sign a comprehensive “treaty” with the Russian Federation in 2014, providing for a higher level of integration.

21.         The Georgian law on Occupied Territories continues to be applied. As for the adoption of the legislative amendments to this law – initiated by the State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality (SMRCE) with an aim to modify and liberalise the sanctions for entry into Abkhazia and South Ossetia via entry points other than the territory under the control of the Georgian authorities – little progress has been made since their adoption by Parliament in first reading on 17 May 2013. The delegation was informed by representatives of the government that the draft is under consideration in Parliament for the second plenary reading.

22.         During the reporting period, the process of “borderisation” along the ABL showed no sign of being reversed.  This could have serious consequences, and many of the delegation’s interlocutors underlined that the issue therefore will continue to have a negative impact on the situation in the region (cf. III.1 and III.2). The Russian Foreign Ministry maintains the view that this issue falls within the competence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

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.         Since the last report, the procedure of the European Court of Human Rights continues. There are no major developments to report on the individual applications against Georgia, or the Russian Federation. In the Inter-State application No. 38263/08 the time limit for submission of written observations by the parties has been extended to 31 December 2014. The interim measure of the Court inviting both the Georgian and Russian Governments to respect their obligations under the Convention is still in force. 

25.         The examination of the 1711 pending individual applications against Georgia is connected with the progress in the Inter-State application No 38263/08. There are no major developments to report on the 23 individual applications against both Georgia and the Russian Federation, and the 208 applications against the Russian Federation.

26.         On 3 July, the Grand Chamber delivered its judgement on the merits of the first
Inter-State application Georgia v Russia (No. 13255/07)
concerning the alleged existence of an administrative practice involving the arrest, detention and collective expulsion of Georgian nationals from the Russian Federation in the autumn of 2006. The Court held that there had been inter alia a violation of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 (prohibition of collective expulsion of aliens), of Article 5 §§ 1 (right to liberty and security) and 4 (right to judicial review of detention) and of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the Convention. On the other hand, the Court held that it was not necessary to examine the complaints raised by Georgia under Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) in conjunction with the aforementioned Articles. Furthermore it held that the question of the application of Article 41 (just satisfaction) was not ready for decision and invited the parties to submit in writing, within twelve months, their observations on the matter.

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

27.         The ICRC continues to promote International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in Georgia through providing expertise on further ratification of IHL treaties, incorporation of IHL provisions into domestic legislation and military doctrine and operations as well as dissemination sessions on IHL and humanitarian principles for members of armed and security forces. In addition, the ICRC has been supporting the Georgian IHL committee to develop legal frameworks to protect missing persons and their families and is pursuing similar efforts in South Ossetia. 

28.         In South Ossetia, the ICRC also remains engaged in the facilitation of the Tripartite Coordination Mechanism on Persons Unaccounted for in Connection with the August 2008 Conflict and after. It acts as a neutral intermediary in organising ABL crossings for medical purposes, family reunifications and the exchange of messages between separated families. It also provides support to families of missing persons, visits detainees and facilitates their contacts with relatives.

29.         On 1 August, the Georgian Parliament adopted a resolution on the implementation of the Public Defender’s annual recommendations, urging among others things an intensification of investigations into human rights offences committed during and after the August 2008 conflict, including cases of missing persons.


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

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

30.         Foreign and international organisations such as UNDP, UNHCR, UNICEF, the Swiss Agency for Co-operation and Development as well as international NGOs continue to engage in a co-ordinated manner in response to humanitarian needs in Abkhazia, supported by the EU and several states. It has been reported however that all shelter programmes except the one run by the Danish Refugee Council in Gali have now been wrapped up.

31.         Interlocutors in Tbilisi generally hoped for no change in the climate for conducting international humanitarian assistance activities in Abkhazia. Certain caution in this respect was nonetheless expressed owing to the elections of the new de facto president and the possible composition of the new de facto government. It was noted at the same time that the de facto authorities in Abkhazia appear to recognise the specific role of international humanitarian action which renders specialised community-based services covering a wide range of specific needs.

32.         The Liaison Mechanism under the auspices of UNDP continues to play a two-fold role through facilitating humanitarian assistance as well as supporting confidence-building and dialogue across the ABL with Abkhazia. Its added value continues to be generally acknowledged.

33.         The Confidence Building Early Response Mechanism (COBERM) financed by the EU and the Netherlands and operated by UNDP is now approaching the end of its second phase. On
1 April COBERM II launched the fourth round of the call for proposals to support the local NGOs and other institutions’ work to facilitate direct people-to-people contacts across the ABL and seek to build within and between the divided communities an enabling environment for peace and stability. Priority areas of intervention include youth education, health, humanitarian assistance, women’s contribution to peace and stability, media development in conflict-affected situations and connecting professional groups for livelihood development purposes.

34.         Difficult or impossible access continues to limit the international humanitarian response in South Ossetia. During the period under review the ICRC provided small-scale humanitarian and economic support, as well as vocational trainings and equipment to improve livelihood opportunities. On 30 May, the de facto authorities of South Ossetia prolonged the ICRC’s term of stay until the end of the year. Other international humanitarian organisations remain ready to engage in South Ossetia once the appropriate conditions for access are met.

35.         The Georgian government continues to support the engagement of international actors in Abkhazia and is open to engagement in South Ossetia in line with its established institutional policies and national legislation. The delegation was informed by the Georgian authorities that they were in favour of the intensification of people-to-people and humanitarian contacts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, including through medical emergency assistance and support to education. Moreover, the Georgian government and the Public Defender have issued repeated calls for access of international human rights organisations to both territories.

36.         In May 2014, the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay was denied access to Abkhazia and South Ossetia by the respective de facto authorities.   

III          Human rights situation in the areas affected by the conflict

III.1       Reports on Abkhazia

37.         As mentioned in the Introduction to this report, the Secretariat was not able to obtain the agreement of the de facto authorities to visit Abkhazia. The information presented in Chapters III.1.i – III.1.iii is based on discussions with the Georgian authorities, international organisations, civil society representatives as well as open sources.

III.1.i     Security

38.         The overall security situation remained relatively stable with no outbreaks of tension as reported by security actors operating on the ground.

39.         To the regret of many interlocutors, no progress has been made towards the resumption of work of the Gali Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) under the UN auspices, which in turn severely impairs joint efforts to address security issues on the ground. The co-chairs of Geneva international discussions continue to deploy multiple efforts to overcome the deadlock. It remains to be seen if the formation of a new de facto government in Sukhumi will effectively lead to a compromise solution to unblock the mechanism. On the other hand, the IPRM hotline remains operational and was activated on a regular basis during the period under review for various incidents as well as to facilitate medical transfers across the ABL.

40.         As reported to the delegation by the Georgian authorities, personal security and safety concerns persist among the population in the Gali district, especially in lower Gali, owing among other things to the criminality state of affairs. The delegation was informed of reports of several new kidnapping incidents for the purpose of ransom collection during the period under review. Interlocutors also observed that both the frequency of kidnappings and the ransom amounts have increased.

41.         According to some sources, relations between the Georgian population in Gali and the de facto law enforcement authorities are still characterised by a high degree of distrust.

III.1.ii     Freedom of movement

III.1.ii.a   “Borderisation” and ABL-crossings

42.         The period under review was regrettably marked by the continuation of “borderisation” resulting in the creation of embankments and an additional 3 km of ditches along the southern stretch of ABL with Abkhazia. The Georgian authorities have consistently protested against “borderisation” activities. During the visit, interlocutors from both the government and the international community pointed out again to the adverse effects of the “borderisation” process on the daily lives of the local population, notably restrictions to freedom of movement and livelihood conditions, property rights, obstacles for people’s contacts, as well as access to medical care, education and other basic services.

43.         Despite the “borderisation” process, significant numbers of local residents are reported to cross the ABL in order to collect pensions, salaries and other subsidies provided by the Georgian authorities, as well as for medical care. Crossings for medical emergency and schooling purposes seem to take place without incidents. Crossings take place in the five “authorised” entry points – the main bridge over Enguri opened for vehicles and the four pedestrian crossing points.

44.         According to Georgian authorities approximately 1,500 individuals were detained for alleged “illegal” crossings during January-September 2014. As a rule, those detained were released after paying fines. International interlocutors reported that a significant decrease in detentions has been observed during 2014 in comparison to previous years, although the delegation was also informed that higher fines are now applied. 

45.         On 2 October, the newly elected de facto president Raoul Khajimba specifically suggested that only one out of five actual crossing points should be allowed to operate as part of a planned reinforcement of security measures on the ABL. This statement was met with concern by the Georgian authorities and the international community. Closure of the crossing points will further restrict freedom of movement and might result in increased numbers of unofficial crossings and consequently more detentions with a clear potential for further tensions. The delegation was informed that the
co-chairs of the Geneva International Discussions have raised the matter in their contacts with interlocutors in Abkhazia.

III.1.ii.b        Identity documents issues

46.         The highly controversial process of invalidation of “Abkhaz passports” for the ethnic Georgian population remained one of the central developments during the reference period.

47.         On 4 April, after hearing the findings of the investigation conducted by the de facto Prosecutor General, the de facto Parliament decided that local commissions had violated procedures established by the “Law on the citizenship of the Republic of Abkhazia” when issuing “passports” in the Gali, Ochamchira and Tkvarcheli districts, consequently the documents could not confirm the Abkhaz “citizenship” of their holders. The de facto Parliament also established that the commissions themselves were set up in an “unlawful” manner.

48.         Pursuant to this “decision”, in June, the de facto Ministry of Interior identified 22,787 persons whose Abkhaz “passports” had been issued in an “unlawful” way. The invalidation of “passports” automatically led to disenfranchisement of this group during the de facto presidential elections of 24 August 2014.

49.         Another immediate outcome of the investigation led by the de facto Prosecutor General was the confiscation of over 1,180 “passports” without replacement with another document, creating a legal status vacuum for their former holders. According to reports some documents were confiscated on the ABL, reportedly forcing many to refrain from crossing. Overall, these recent measures appear to have put these individuals in a state of limbo contributing to the feeling of insecurity, exclusion and discrimination.

50.         Consequences of these developments remain unclear for those persons whose “passports” have been invalidated but not confiscated, although reports indicate that in principle they will be allowed to use their passports to cross the ABL until the end of the year.  Apart from being used as an ID within Abkhazia and a travel document across the ABL, an Abkhaz ”passport” is required for the effective enjoyment of social and economic rights including access to higher education, employment opportunities, healthcare and other social benefits as well as business and property transactions.

51.         In an attempt to settle these controversies, a new “passportisation” process is reportedly due to start in Abkhazia as of 1 January 2015. The delegation was informed in this regard that a de facto draft “law on the legal status of foreign citizens in the territory of Abkhazia” was under consideration by the de facto parliament. The draft is believed to inter alia create a right of residence for the category of foreigners, which would serve as an alternative to full-fledged Abkhaz “citizenship” for the Georgian population who would like to retain their Georgian citizenship. At the time of the delegation’s visit, little information was available on the scope of rights associated with the future residency status. The delegation was also informed that those wishing to obtain a new Abkhaz “passport” in the future would, most likely, be obliged to present official proof of renouncing Georgian citizenship.

III.1.iii    Access to education, including teaching of/in the Georgian language

52.         It was reported to the delegation that the situation with respect to access of education in Gali remains unchanged with the main issue of concern being that of the unsettled status of the Georgian language used for teaching in the region.  According to various sources access to Georgian language education remains limited to some schools, which continue using Georgian for practical reasons. However, such practice seems to be the result of a tacit consensus rather than formal authorisation by the de facto legislation and authorities. While the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia continues to support these schools with textbooks, the authorities stressed during the visit that the number of places where these textbooks are now accessible has dramatically decreased.

53.         The delegation did not receive reports of new major interference with the freedom of movement of schoolchildren during the period under review. Some interlocutors, however, observed that the number of those who now commute between Gali and Zugdidi has reduced with some families opting to permanently move to Zugdidi or to take children to school in Abkhazia in order to avoid risks associated with crossings. An unofficial survey conducted by an international organisation on the spot revealed that 46 children from Gali were able to cross the ABL to attend school in territory controlled by the Georgian government.

III.2   Reports on South Ossetia

54.         As previously mentioned, the Secretariat was not provided with an opportunity to visit South Ossetia and to discuss the human rights situation on the ground with de facto authorities and local observers.

55.         The delegation was informed that the “borderisation” was suspended and no new fences had been installed in the weeks preceding the visit. The Georgian authorities were cautious of the suspension and reflected concerns that the process would resume. The installation of border signs, cameras and motion sensors on the ABL continued.

56.         Fencing and barbwire now stretch along a total length of 51 kilometres on the southern part of the ABL with South Ossetia. The delegation itself was able to see fencing installations in the vicinity of the villages of Akhmaji and Odzisi.

57.         As reported to the delegation, “borderisation” continues to exacerbate the problems of the local populations. The Georgian authorities estimate that fencing installations directly interfere with the free movement as well as access to homes, land and livelihood of some 200 families facing the adverse socio-economic consequences of the conflict in more than 20 villages adjacent to the ABL in the Shida Kartli region. On 11 April, the Tbilisi-based Georgian Young Lawyers Association announced that it had filed a lawsuit against Russia with the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of 19 residents of the Dvani village on the grounds that installations of barbed wired had forced them to demolish their houses resulting in a violation of their right to use property without interference..

58.         The major reported development in respect of freedom of movement has been the revision of crossing rules by the de facto authorities and the introduction of a new crossing permit replacing the previous “Form No.9”. While the application procedure for the new document is reported to have remained essentially the same, the competence for issuing the document has been transferred from the de facto Ministry of Interior to the de facto Committee of State Security. 

59.         The new rules are reported to directly affect the residents of Akhalgori who hold Georgian citizenship and the majority of whom live as internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Tserovani cottage-type settlement in territory under the control of the Georgian government but who commute regularly mostly for employment, education, medical care, access to markets or to visit relatives. The replacement of crossing documents was not automatic and a rejection rate over 50% was reported in June – 2,356 out of 4,500 applications. More recently, the de facto authorities have indicated in consecutive statements that the Georgian population of Akhalgori will need to eventually make a choice on their place of permanent residence, and in order to remain in Akhalgori they should renounce their IDP status in Georgia.

60.         In parallel, the de facto authorities have started to issue new South Ossetian “passports”. As previously reported, the former Soviet Union passports will be in use until 31 December 2014.

61.         Entry to South Ossetia from Georgian controlled territory takes place through three controlled crossing points. According to unofficial reports, approximately 300-400 persons cross daily at the Odzisi/Mosabruni entry point to Akhalgori. Violations of the crossings rules (the “border” regime) and incidental crossings by the local population generally result in short-term detentions and the payment of fines. The delegation was informed that the amount of fines applied has increased up to the equivalent of 600 GEL which may be difficult to afford for those living in economically vulnerable conditions. Detentions were reported to reach a peak in spring during the harvesting of seasonal fruits by the local population. In total, between 106 and 120 persons were reportedly detained for “illegal border crossing” during January-September 2014.

62.         According to the Georgian Public Defender, as of June 2014, three ethnic Georgians remained in detention in the Tskhinvali prison, with two convicted for alleged illegal crossings in 2012. 11 residents of South Ossetia serve their sentences in prisons on territory controlled by the Georgian government on various charges. On 18 July, South Ossetia’s de facto security services informed that a 57-year old Georgian citizen had been sentenced to 10 years and 2 months’ imprisonment on charges of espionage in favour of Georgia.

63.         Two new cases of disappearances which were reported to the delegation as having occurred during the period under review are of grave concern. The first case was registered in April 2014 and involves a resident in Georgian-controlled territory, who was allegedly detained by the de facto authorities and then declared unaccounted for. The second case was reported in June 2014 and involves an ethnic Georgian from Akhalgori. According to the Georgian authorities, notwithstanding the fact that both persons have been reported detained by the de facto authorities and seen there, there is no news about their current whereabouts.


64.         The IPRM with South Ossetia continues to regularly function and is positively assessed by the sides for facilitating joint meaningful engagement on issues related to security, freedom of movement and detentions, the fate of missing persons and livelihood of local communities. Five IPRM meetings with South Ossetia took place during the reporting period in Ergneti. In conjunction with the IPRM, the hotline was regularly and effectively activated for a number of incidents in particular UAV over-flights and detention cases.

III.3   The situation of Internally Displaced Persons

65.         As regards the conditions conducive to a safe, dignified and voluntary return of refugees and IDPs in line with internationally recognised principles no progress is to be reported. In May, the UN Secretary General observed that even though in the absence of such conditions the design of a comprehensive timetable/roadmap for returns must remain an open matter, parties must continue to work towards the identification of durable housing solutions for all displaced persons giving particular attention to the implementation of the right to return.[17]

66.         During April-June 2014, the Georgian authorities provided an additional possibility to re-register for IDPs who for various reasons could not do so by 27 December 2013 when the main registration procedures were completed. A total of 17,177 persons lost their IDP status because of failure to re-register. The authorities also revoked the IDP status to 3,450 individuals who had acquired it on false grounds. According to the Ministry of IDPs from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees (MRA), these persons can however still take advantage of the Amnesty Law on False Documents (effective until 31 December 2014) and be exempted not only from criminal responsibility but also from the obligation to return sums received as state financial assistance. Such an exemption does not however extend to housing benefits or the equivalent financial compensation.

67.         As noted in the previous report, one of the positive novelties of the IDP law which entered into force in March 2014 was the extension of IDP status for individuals who could not return to their original places of residence in the villages adjacent to the ABL following the conflict. The MRA informed the delegation that 22 persons belonging to this group have been granted IDP status so far.  

68.         The government is envisaging an extension of the Action Plan on IDPs for the period 2014-2016, including with a view to harmonising it with the provisions of the new law on IDPs and other recent regulations. Consultations with the IDPs, the civil society, experts and a range of national and international stakeholders continued during the period under review and the whole revision process according to the MRA is scheduled to be completed by December 2014.

69.         In another effort to follow a human rights-based approach when addressing the needs of IDPs and returnees, the later were included as a separate priority area in the National Human Rights Action Plan adopted by the Georgian Parliament on 30 April, with an emphasis also on the rights of persons with disabilities.

70.         As far as integration of IDPs is concerned, housing remains a key priority for the Georgian authorities. The delegation was informed that provision of durable housing solutions has progressed at different speeds in terms of rehabilitation of collective centres and privatisation of their living spaces, construction of new apartment blocks, purchasing and converting vacant buildings into apartments, purchasing rural houses in villages and transferring them to IDPs’ ownership.

71.         Importantly, the government has continued to make efforts to ensure an equitable treatment of IDPs. National and international observers concur that the Ministry employs an increasingly needs-driven approach, whereby applications are assessed according to a scoring system, thus giving priority to IDPs living in collapsing collective centres, cottage-type settlements and those who rent accommodation. The new law on IDPs from March 2014, and the Ministerial Order of August 2013 establishing the rules and criteria for provision of durable housing solutions, both aim to put an end to the practice of distinction between IDPs living in public and private accommodation.

72.         The authorities informed the delegation that from April until September 2014, 1624 IDPs (or 406 IDP families) were provided with durable housing. During the reporting period, large-scale construction of new living spaces for IDPs started in Tbilisi, Zugdidi and Kutaisi through joint funding of the government and international donors.

73.         Notwithstanding considerable progress made, the delegation was informed that approximately 34,000 IDP families are still believed to be in need of housing assistance. Against the scale and urgency of the remaining needs – many IDPs continue to live in a perilous situation in dilapidated collective centres – durable housing solutions are limited and highly donor dependent. Some interlocutors in Tbilisi underscored that the donors’ attention was increasingly shifting to major humanitarian crises in other countries notably Iraq and Syria with potential negative consequences for funding of the Georgian government’s IDP housing plans. The MRA acknowledged during discussions that limited funding might have an impact on future durable housing solutions plans.

74.         Concerns persist among IDPs with respect to the understanding of the process of privatisation/ownership transfer. The Georgian Public Defender IDPs has reported of cases when IDPs dispute the allocation of living space due to an alleged inadequate scoring process.[18] The delegation was informed that the MRA intends to put in place a tracking mechanism for the analysis of the IDPs’ complaints and their nature, the outcomes, processing times as well as complainants’ satisfaction ratio.

75.         Issues related to the sustainable socioeconomic integration of IDPs in their places of displacement remain a long-standing challenge where progress has been less noticeable. The general socioeconomic situation of IDPs was described as “grave” in a recent report by the Public Defender. The later has also questioned the implementation of the new IDP law’s ambitious provisions aimed at addressing a number of issues related to the social protection of IDPs absent a clear definition of tasks of state institutions in the law, as well as information on the available resources to attain such goals.[19]

76.         Similar to housing programmes, the government continues to rely extensively on donor support for implementation of the IDP livelihood policy. Construction and rehabilitation of new IDP buildings have served to a very limited extent as employment opportunities for IDPs. 

77.         The MRA informed the delegation that it is currently in the process of adjusting the Action Plan on livelihoods to accommodate a more comprehensive vision which combines durable housing solutions with the livelihood options available in a particular location or area. According to the MRA this should among other things encourage and promote rural housing and shall also serve as a stimulus to the revival of the villages across Georgia. The revision process is expected to be completed by the end of November 2014.

78.         In terms of measures in view of this coming winter, the authorities will assist IDP households who score under 70,001 points in the social vulnerability scale, with one-time 200 GEL vouchers to cover electricity and gas costs for 4 months, from November to early March. The measure will benefit some 22,000 IDP families. In addition, the government has approved an allowance of 150 GEL on firewood purchase for IDPs/returnees in areas exposed to harsh winter conditions. The international community also provides assistance in view of the winter season.

79.         The work of the interim commission on the needs of villages adjacent to the ABL was suspended during the last two months due to the change of the Minister of Infrastructure and Regional Development who is also the chair of the commission. It is planned to renew the commission’s work in the nearest future.

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

IV.1    Commissioner for Human Rights

80.         The Commissioner continued to follow up human rights issues related to the August 2008 armed conflict in Georgia, including the situation of IDPs and other persons affected by the conflict. He pursued his dialogue with the Georgian authorities with a view to addressing the consequences of the conflict, including the cases of missing persons. On 12 May, the Commissioner published a report following his visit to Georgia on 20-25 January 2014, which focused on issues related to the administration of justice and human rights in the justice system as well as the situation of minority groups, tolerance and non-discrimination. Following the visit, the Georgian authorities provided updated information to the Commissioner about the still-ongoing investigations into cases of missing persons linked to the 2008 conflict.

IV.2    Congress of Local and Regional authorities

81.         On 6 June, the rapporteurs of the Congress on local and regional democracy in Georgia, Nigel Mermagen (United Kingdom, ILDG) and Helena Pihlajasaari (Finland, SOC) reacted to the information that they received on the “holding of “parliamentary” elections in the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia (Georgia) on 8 June 2014”. They recalled that the Congress recognises Georgia as a unitary state with local and regional structures. They underline the lack of legitimacy of the 8 June election in the Tskhinvali region and expressed their full support to the Georgian authorities regarding the territorial integrity of Georgia. They also recalled that the Congress has given unwavering support to national authorities as regards the territorial integrity of the Council of Europe member States on several occasions.

IV.3    Operational activities

82.         In 2013, the Council of Europe and the UNHCR launched a project funded by the Swiss government to help the Public Defender’s Office to monitor the situation of IDPs and other conflict-affected individuals with a view to strengthening the protection of their human rights. In 2013 – 2014, the project focused on advocacy for the IDPs’ rights (including recommendations on legal amendments related to IDPs, roundtable discussions with major national stakeholders on the IDPs’ situation, regional information-sharing meetings). Another focus of the project was to advise IDPs on their legal rights and entitlements. The project will continue until March 2015.

IV.4        Operational activities on Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs) and their follow-up

(a) Activities organised during the reporting period

83.         The Council of Europe continued the implementation of CBMs and sought in parallel to enhance their sustainability with some of the activities taking place on the spot. The activities below were organised during the reference period in agreement with the Georgian authorities (SMRCE) and the stakeholders in Sukhumi (notably via the Liaison Mechanism).

84.         A second meeting on “Management of Architectural Heritage” took place in Istanbul on 28-30 May. As a concrete outcome of the meeting participants reached an agreement on the development of a form for architectural objects and sites in Abkhazia. On 21-23 October, the third meeting on “Management of Architectural Heritage” was held in Skopje. The objective of the meeting was for the participants to finalise the form for the collection of data on architectural objects and sites and agree on the training modalities.

85.         It should be noted that during the Secretariat’s visit to Tbilisi in September 2014, the Georgian Ministry of Culture reconfirmed the willingness of the Georgian authorities to further engage into architectural and cultural heritage activities in the context of confidence-building measures.

86.         On 23-24 June, the Council of Europe organised for the first time a training of English language teachers in Sukhumi.  As a result, 20 teachers from Abkhazia, including from Gali took part in the exercise. 12 of them participated in a follow-up advanced training seminar for language teachers, which took place on 8-10 October in the European Centre for Modern Languages, Graz (Austria).

87.         In conjunction with these two activities, during 1-2 October, further to contacts with civil society on both sides of the ABL, the Secretariat organised a planning meeting with civil society representatives and Council of Europe experts from the European Centre on Modern Languages on possible support to the centres for teachers of English language in Gali and Sukhumi, in co-operation with the Teachers’ House in Tbilisi. The overall aim of the Council of Europe’s engagement in this field is to multiply existing efforts in terms of multicultural education, in complementarity with the assistance provided by the UK Embassy.

(b) Plans for further action

88.         The Secretariat is currently working on the organisation of a meeting of ombudspersons with civil society representatives from Sukhumi and Tbilisi on 12-14 November, in Istanbul. In addition, work is ongoing on the organisation of two activities on which the stakeholders’ and beneficiaries’ final agreement is pending.

89.         Confidence-building measures with South Ossetia continue to be more limited in nature due to limitation of access. An initial training seminar for language teachers is planned to take place during the third week of November, in Graz. In parallel, the Secretariat is engaged in regular discussion with representatives of the civil society in the region to identify other types of activities.  In particular, an initiative on European principles for cultural heritage management is being examined.


List of acronyms and abbreviations

AA               Association Agreement

ABL              Administrative Boundary Line

COBERM       Confidence-Building Early Response Mechanism

DCFTA          Deep & Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement

EU               European Union

EUMM           European Monitoring Mission in Georgia

GID              Geneva International Discussions

IDs              Identity Documents

IDPs             Internally Displaced Persons

ICRC            International Committee of Red Cross

IPRM            Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism

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

NATO           North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

PACE            Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

SMRCE                    State Ministry for Reconciliation and Civic Equality of Georgia

UN               United Nations

UNDP           United Nations Development Programme

UNHCR         United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

UNICEF         United Nations Children’s Fund

[5] 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.

[6] Resolution A/Res/68/274 “Status of internally displaced persons and refugees from Abkhazia, Georgia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, Georgia”, passed by a vote of 69 in favour and 13 against, with 79 abstentions.

[7] As a result of this dialogue process, a substantial rise in mutual trade was reported by the Russian authorities over the last eight months. It was also reported that the Chambers of Commerce and Industry of the two countries have established close working contacts. The number of cultural, sportive, scientific, religious and other events with the participation of representatives of both countries is also said to have substantially increased. In addition, direct air traffic between Moscow and Tbilisi was restored on 27 October.

[8] Briefing by the official representative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Alexander Lukashevich, 22 May 2014.

[9] Statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia on 24/08/2014.

[10] Statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia on 08/06/2014.

[11] Statement by H.E. Irakli Garibashvili, Prime Minister of Georgia, at the General Debate of the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, New York, 26 September 2014.

[12] Special Statement by the President of Georgia on 15/10/2014.

[13] Comment of the Georgian Foreign Ministry on 15/10/2014.

[14] Special Representative of the Prime Minister of Georgia’s briefing of 18/10/2014.

[16] Statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia on 16/10/2014.

[17] Status of internally displaced persons and refugees from Abkhazia, Georgia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, Georgia. Report of the UN Secretary General to the General Assembly, 7 May 2014.

[18] Human Rights Situation of Internally Displaced Persons and Conflict-Affected Individuals in Georgia, Public Defender of Georgia, May 2014.

[19] Ibid.