During the 1284th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjorn Jagland presented his 15th consolidated report on the conflict in Georgia, which covers the period from October 2016 to March 2017 and is based on previous consolidated reports, as well as Secretariat reports on the human rights situation in the areas affected by the conflict in Georgia.
The Deputies held a debate on this topic on April 19, with the participation of David Zalkaliani, First Deputy Foreign Minister of Georgia.
The CoE Secretary General said in the report that the organization “continued to face lack of access to Abkhazia and South Ossetia” that gave them “no opportunity to assess the human rights situation on the ground.” Consequently, the information presented in the document is based on discussions with the Georgian authorities, representatives of the international community, as well as on open sources of information.
The overall security situation in occupied territories “was assessed as relatively stable and calm,” but new restrictions on freedom of movement and recurrent detentions across Administrative Boundary Lines (ABL), introduced by the authorities in Abkhazia “continued to trigger serious concerns during the reporting period, also in terms of their negative impact on human rights and safety.” According to the Georgian Security Service, 190 detention cases were reported in the course of 2016 across the ABL with Abkhazia.
The report says that “freedom of movement continues also to be “very negatively affected” by the ongoing so called “borderisation” process, which according to the information provided by the Georgian central government, has resulted in a 48 km stretch of fencing along the ABL with Abkhazia and over 52 km along the ABL with Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia. “As a result, local residents continued to be unable to access their agricultural and grazing lands in particular during the harvesting period.”
The report also touched upon the possible changes in the Georgian “Law on Occupied Territories.” It recalled the adoption of draft amendments by the Georgian Parliament in the first reading in 2013 “decriminalizing first time violations of entry procedures to the territories that are not under the control of the central government by treating them as administrative offences.” But adoption in second reading is pending.
The Secretary General stated that the “lack of progress regarding the investigation conducted by de facto authorities into the murder of an ethnic Georgian in the vicinity of the ABL, in May 2016, represents a challenge for joint efforts to sustain security and build trust between the sides.” Meanwhile, the identified suspect was tried in absentia on murder charges by a Georgian court, which sentenced him to 12 years’ imprisonment in December last year. On March 10, the Court of Appeals increased the sentence to 14 years.
The Georgian language education in the Gali district schools was another issue emphasized in the report. It was recalled that “Russian has replaced Georgian as the language of instruction in all 11 schools in Lower Gali in the grades from one to five, following the practice enforced in the Upper Gali where all schools shifted to Russian language curricula since 2008. In these grades, access to the native Georgian language has been reduced to two classes per week of Georgian as a foreign language, which are taught in addition to one class of Georgian literature per week.”
The report underlines the expressed will of Georgian authorities to continue “to reiterate their support to actions and steps beneficial for building trust and direct contacts between divided communities, including the Liaison Mechanism established under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which continues to function, facilitating inter alia the delivery of various types of humanitarian assistance.”
Georgian-Russian “continued process of normalization of bilateral relations” through the informal dialogue between Georgian PM Special Representative for Relations with Russia Zurab Abashidze and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin was also noted in the report. “On February 7, another round of Abashidze-Karasin consultations was held in Prague … The positive impact of policy of normalization is particularly noted in the areas of economy, trade, business exchanges and tourism.”
Only the delegation of the Russian Federation among the other Council of Europe’s member states did not appraise the Secretary General Jagland’s 15th Consolidated Report and questioned the effectiveness of such reports.
According to the statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, it “welcomes the publication of the Council of Europe Secretary General’s 15th consolidated report as well as the statements made by the EU, GUAM and other partners concerning the report."