Georgia’s Public Defender: Human Rights Violations in Breakaway Regions

TBILISI - Georgia’s Public Defender’s office on Tuesday released its annual parliamentary report for 2015 highlighting human rights violations in Georgia’s two Russian-backed breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The country’s human rights ombudsman Ucha Nanuashvili said that ethnic discrimination; illegal confinement and other major rights violations were common in both regions.

The report also underlined the lack of educational opportunities in the Georgian language in Abkhazia’s Gali district, the only remaining area in the region with an ethnic Georgian majority.

The overwhelming majority of Georgians were forced from the from their homes following inter-ethnic clashes in 1993–1994, and again in 1998. Anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000 refugees have returned to the Gali district since the last round of pogroms in the late 1990s, including those who commute daily across the ceasefire line, as well as seasonal migrant workers and farmers.

According to the report, since 2015, all primary school students have been taught in Russian in the district’s remaining 11 schools, while higher grade students had the number of classroom hours carried out in Georgian reduced.

“Due to the change, some families had to move their children to territory under Georgian control to allow their kids to study in Georgian. The shift to using the Russian language has also significantly deteriorated the quality of the students’ education,” Nanuashvili said.

The Public Defender’s office recommended to the participants of the Geneva talks and the Georgian Parliament that every effort must be made to protect the education rights of Gali’s ethnic Georgian residents.

The report also shed light on the region’s rampant domestic violence problems. There are no reliable statistics, but according to information provided to the Public Defender, 129 cases of domestic violence were reported in the Gali region in 2015, 5 out of which ended in murder. A sixth case resulted in the disappearance of the victim.

During the reporting period, Tbilisi learned that victims of human rights abuses in the region refrain from appealing to the de facto secessionist government and courts, or apply for international legal aide, as they fear reprisals from local law enforcement officials.

“For people living in the breakaway regions, pursuing international legal mechanisms means that they will have to leave the occupied territories…Gali residents do not have access to any form of justice, which is a fundamental violation of their basic rights,” the report read.

The report later said the international community must intensify its efforts to ensure the preservation of basic legal norms for Abkhazia’s Georgian minority by putting pressure on the rebel authorities’ patrons in Moscow. The authorities in Tbilisi, according to the Public Defender, should demonstrate a maximum form of flexibility when it comes to the issue of creating of human rights monitoring and protection mechanisms in the conflict regions.

Georgia fought a brutal war against Russia and its local Abkhaz proxies in 1992-1993. The war left thousands dead and led to the ethnic cleansing of up to 200,000 ethnic Georgians.

Abkhazia was recognized, along with South Ossetia, as an independent state by Moscow following the 2008 Russian-Georgian War.

By Tamar Svanidze
Edited by Nicholas Waller

Photo: Human Rights Watch

05 May 2016 09:03