"All sides should ensure a faster improvement of the human rights situation in the areas affected by the August 2008 conflict" said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, releasing today a report based on his latest visits to Georgia. In particular the Commissioner stresses the need to release all remaining detainees who have been apprehended when crossing the administrative boundary line after end of the hostilities.
The report takes stock of the implementation of the six principles for urgent human rights and humanitarian protection which he formulated in the aftermath of the conflict. They are: right to return; right of displaced persons to care and support; right to be protected against dangers from explosives and other remnants of war; right to protection against lawlessness; protection and releases of detainees and prevention of hostage-taking; international assistance and presence.
Nearly all of the over 100 000 persons who had been temporarily displaced by the conflict from the Shida Kartli region including areas adjacent to South Ossetia returned to their homes by the end of 2008. However, the overwhelming majority of ethnic Georgians who have fled South Ossetia have not been in a position to return. "Hardly any progress has been achieved with regard to returns of these displaced persons. All relevant actors must ensure safe, voluntary and dignified return, as well as unimpeded freedom of movement in the areas affected by the conflict."
The Commissioner urges the Georgian authorities to continue granting the status of internally displaced persons (IDPs) without discrimination to all those who cannot now return to their place of residence. "The very difficult situation of those who remain displaced from the August 2008 conflict, as well as from earlier conflicts, needs an urgent solution. Access to food, water, sanitation and basic services should be adequately secured as well as durable housing solutions for tens of thousands of IDPs."
Almost all explosive and other remnants of war have been removed from the areas affected by the conflict and efforts have been undertaken to inform the local population of the hazards they present. "The removal of all dangerous remnants of war should continue, as it is crucial for any effective exercise of the right to return and for the safety of persons remaining in the zones affected by the conflict". The Commissioner also reiterates his call to Georgia and the Russian Federation to sign and ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
While the security situation in the conflict-affected areas has become more stable overall, incidents continue to occur in several locations along the administrative boundary line. "Viable security arrangements and confidence-building measures must be adopted. Civil society actors have a crucial role to play: all relevant authorities should enable them to work without hindrance".
The Commissioner welcomes the releases of detainees which have taken place thus far. However, he notes with concern that a number of people remain deprived of their liberty in Tskhinvali and stresses to both sides the need to refrain from arresting and detaining people who cross the administrative boundary line. "Efforts should be pursued to release all persons detained as a consequence of the conflict and to clarify the fate of missing persons."
Finally, Commissioner Hammarberg regrets that little progress has been achieved with regard to access by international humanitarian actors to the areas affected by the conflict, which is detrimental to those who are in need. All sides should facilitate and support the work of the international community aimed at protecting the human rights of the population.