Georgian Government Must Secure Human Rights for its Displaced

Two years after the Georgian-Russian war, about 6 per cent of the population of Georgia (some 246,000 people) are displaced within the post-Soviet country. Most of the displaced, however, are not from the 2008 war. Instead, 220,000 left their homes during conflicts that took place in the early 90s. Amnesty International’s newest report, Georgia: In the Waiting Room, documents shortcomings in internally displaced persons’ (IDPs’) access to economic and social rights, as well as the deprivation and marginalization they still experience.

Back in 2008, Amnesty International USA’s Science for Human Rights Program documented destruction of property in the war through satellite imagery comparison reaching the following conclusion:

Not only do the images reveal significant damage in the region after the end of the major hostilities from the first two days of the conflict, but they support eyewitness accounts of arson attacks by South Ossetian forces, paramilitary groups and privately armed individuals against property owned by ethnic Georgians. The images support AI assessments that the majority of the damage in Tskhinvali was sustained prior to August 10, and that more than 100 civilian houses in Tskhinvali were hit by shelling during the initial Georgian bombardment.

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Satellite image of the Georgian village of Tamarasheni, South Ossetia, taken on 19 August. The red dots represent all buildings sustaining damage (152 structures in total). © 2009 ImageSat. All Rights Reserved. Produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Interestingly, most of the 128,000 people who fled South Ossetia and the Kodori Gorge of Abkhazia during and after the Georgian-Russian war in August 2008 have since returned to their homes, but close to 26,000 people are still unable to return, and will not be able to do so in the foreseeable future.

In 2007, the Georgian government began to devise and implement programmes to provide durable housing to those displaced with international assistance.

However, many of those who fled their homes nearly two decades ago are still living in hospitals or military barracks that lack basic hygienic conditions and privacy. Some of the new settlements are located in rural areas lacking essential infrastructure.

Government assistance has yet to reach those who live with family members or in rented flats. Many complain that they have not been consulted about measures directly affecting their lives.

Amnesty International is not the only one taking note of the issue. Radio Free Europe reports on angry IDPs threatening to give up their Georgian citizenship:

[...]

A group of some 20 Georgian internally displaced persons (IDPs) who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war are continuing their protests against the Georgian authorities’ plans to move them from the Tbilisi premises of a former publishing house to alternative accommodation in two villages in the west Georgian district of Zugdidi.

The IDPs were evicted from the publishing house on July 26. They threaten to renounce their Georgian citizenship if they are not provided with alternative accommodation elsewhere in Tbilisi.

They are reluctant to settle in rural areas, where they say it would be far harder to earn a livelihood.

[...]

A second group from Abkhazia housed in a former college in the eastern town of Telavi are demanding repairs to the mains water supply to the building where they live, Caucasus Press reported on July 28. They say they have running water only for three hours on alternate days.

The economic and social rights of returnees and IDPs are not fully being taken into account by either the government of Georgia or the de facto authorities of the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in government policies and programmes, especially security measures. Amnesty International is urging the Georgian authorities to protect returnee and IDP rights, and for the international community to provide assistance to the Georgian government in this endeavor, and to monitor the implementation of conditions which support the enjoyment of human rights.

Amnesty International’s recommendations to end the abuse of IDP human rights include:

· Effective measures to address barriers on access to work, healthcare and social security of the displaced population.

· Ensuring that durable housing solutions meet with the criteria for adequate housing.

· Ensuring the right of the entire internally displaced population to genuinely participate in decisions affecting the exercise of their human rights.

“I have spent 20 years of my life in this tiny room in terrible conditions,” says 69-year-old Izolda who lives in a collective center in Tbilisi, “I and my husband are still waiting and no one has told us anything. I may not have many years to live, but I want to spend at least the rest of my life in decent conditions.”

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