Strasbourg, 16.12.2008 – “Despite some positive steps, the situation of the victims affected by the South Ossetia conflict remains worrisome” said today the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, publishing a report on his follow-up visit to the areas affected by the conflict. The report reviews the situation as regards the implementation of the six principles for urgent human rights and humanitarian protection presented by the Commissioner last September.
Right to return
“Important gaps in the humanitarian support provided to the returnees need to be swiftly addressed” said the Commissioner. “Private construction work is under way and commendable efforts are being made by international inter-governmental and non-governmental humanitarian organisations to secure adequate living conditions for the victims. Livelihood and income generating projects are needed to allow them to meet their daily needs and prevent new movements of displacement. The aid must also be extended to the persons who never left the areas during the hostilities, notably elderly and mixed families.”
Rights of displaced persons to care and support
Commissioner Hammarberg reports that some 37 500 individuals continue to be displaced and their living conditions need to be urgently improved. “I am seriously concerned over the fact that the Georgian government, despite the substantial assistance of the international community, still has not managed to secure adequate living conditions and support to a number of those who continue to be displaced. Government efforts are equally needed to guarantee the rights of the more than 223 000 IDPs from previous conflicts.”
Right to be protected against dangers from remnants of war
The Commissioner observed that major efforts were made by the Russian forces and non- governmental organisations such as the Halo Trust to clear large areas of the former ‘buffer zone’ and other affected areas from unexploded ordnance and remnants of war. “A major obstacle to the safety of returnees in the areas adjacent to the administrative border with South Ossetia is the large quantity of sub-munition ‘duds’ from cluster bombs” he said. “An international, independent and impartial investigation should be launched into the use of cluster bombs during the hostilities.”
Right to protection against lawlessness
“One of the most serious problems is the security and safety of the returnees to the former buffer zone” said the Commissioner. “The initiation of patrols by the European Union’s civilian monitors has increased security, but it is essential that its patrols be extended also during the night.”
Protection of detainees, prisoners of war and persons in hiding
The report underlines that significant efforts have been made to help bring about the release and exchange of prisoners of war and other detainees and to enable persons who are in hiding to return and reunite with their families. Progress has also been made in the identification of remains. The Commissioner trusts that remaining commitments will be honoured in order to build confidence, enable family reunification and eliminate the problem of hostage-taking.
International presence and monitoring for the protection of human rights
“All international observer missions present in the affected areas are mobilised to contribute to the genuine protection of human rights” said Commissioner Hammarberg. “It is now important to extend the monitoring, in particular to ensure the protection of minority rights.”
Furthermore, the Commissioner observes that the free and unhindered access of international organisations and humanitarian and early-recovery aid has been complicated by the recent adoption of the Georgian law on occupied territories. “The law restricts foreigners’ freedom of movement, property rights and economic activities in these areas” he stressed. “This compounds the position of the de facto South Ossetia authorities that they ‘do not accept any aid coming from the southern administrative border’. The risk is therefore that humanitarian organisations are prevented from having access to all the relevant areas, from all directions and at all times, which is an imperative need.”
Commissioner Hammarberg concludes by recommending impartial investigations into allegations of human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law, in order to enable victims to seek justice and restitution or compensation.
The report is based on a visit carried out from 12 to 14 November, when the Commissioner travelled to Tbilisi, Gori and Tskhinvali, as well as to several villages, visiting places and institutions of human rights relevance and meeting with local and international authorities.
Press contacts in the Commissioner’s Office: Stefano Montanari, + 33 6 61 14 70 37, firstname.lastname@example.org
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The Commissioner for Human Rights is an independent, non-judicial institution within the Council of Europe, mandated to promote awareness of, and respect for, human rights in the 47 member States of the Organisation. Elected by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the present Commissioner, Mr Thomas Hammarberg, took up his function on 1 April 2006.
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