UN General Assembly passes Georgia IDP resolution
16 June 2021
The United Nations General Assembly adopted on June 16 a resolution reiterating the right of return of all displaced persons and refugees to Georgia’s Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia by a vote of 80 in favor, 14 against, and 70 abstentions. Alongside Georgia, which has initiated the resolution since 2008, it was co-sponsored by 57 other states.
The UN General Assembly discussed the draft resolution “Status of internally displaced persons and refugees from Abkhazia, Georgia, and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, Georgia” (document A/75/L.99). By its terms, the Assembly would recognize the right of return of all internally displaced persons and refugees and their descendants, regardless of ethnicity, to their homes throughout Georgia, including in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia. It would stress the need to respect the property rights of all internally displaced persons and refugees affected by the conflicts in Georgia, reaffirm the unacceptability of forced demographic changes and underline the urgent need for unimpeded access for humanitarian activities. It would also call upon all participants in the Geneva discussions which began on 15 October 2008 to intensify their efforts to establish a durable peace, to take immediate steps to ensure respect for human rights and to create favourable conditions for the safe and voluntary return of all internally displaced persons and refugees.
[The GUAM area refers to Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and the Republic of Moldova.]
The Assembly also had before it the report of the Secretary-General titled “Status of internally displaced persons and refugees from Abkhazia, Georgia, and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, Georgia” (document A/75/891).
The representative of Georgia, introducing “L.99”, emphasized that the current situation is hampering the development and livelihoods of the affected people. Drawing attention to the situation in Georgia, he recalled the history of the conflict and recent developments, including the Russian Federation’s use of its veto power in the Security Council to block the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG). The Russian Federation has yet to fulfil its commitments to the August ceasefire agreement and withdraw its military from the area. Instead, its occupying authorities have been carrying out the policy of creeping annexation through installing razor-wire fences, “border” signs and other artificial barriers.
Citing findings in the most recent report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), he said ethnic Georgians face various forms of discrimination and a climate of impunity has prevailed and only worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The practice of illegal detentions and kidnappings of Georgian citizens intensifies every year, with the latest example being a recent decision of the authorities exercising effective control in the Tskhinvali region to illegally detain and imprison the Georgian citizen, Zaza Gakheladze. The European Court of Human Rights ruling on 21 January in the case of Georgia v. Russia (II), legally established the responsibility of the Russian Federation — the authority exercising effective control over the region — for the violation of the right of internally displaced persons and refugees to return to their homes, and concluded that it has an obligation to enable inhabitants of Georgian origin to return to their respective homes.
Turning to the draft resolution, he said “L.99” relates only to the humanitarian and human rights aspects of the issue. Almost 400,000 forcibly displaced persons still anticipate and hope for their safe, dignified and sustainable return to their places of origin, and they expect the international community to act in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law. While “L.99” refers to the situation in a single country, Georgia, the issue at stake is an integral part of a global challenge — forced displacement. “We should all recognize the utterly humanitarian nature of the principle of return,” he said, appealing to Member States to apply the same principle to internally displaced persons from Georgia. They too are the part of a global endeavour to “leave no one behind”, he said, urging Member States to vote in favour of “L.99”.
The representative of Syria, in an explanation of position, said that the draft resolution is a politicized text based on narrow points of view which lack objectivity. It also ignores the true concerns of the inhabitants of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. He urged Member States not to become involved in the politicization of this issue.
The representative of the Russian Federation said that his delegation will vote against “L.99”. It is another attempt to undermine the normalization process in the region by applying pressure on the sovereign States of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It will also harm ongoing humanitarian efforts and the Geneva process, he said, encouraging the sponsors of “L.99” to stop their baseless attacks in international forums and work instead towards peaceful existence. He then requested a vote on the text.
The representative of Ecuador said his delegation supports compliance with the United Nations Charter and international law and condemns all human rights violations. He noted that the regions of concern have been recognized by some countries. Expressing support for all displaced persons and refugees, he urged all States to respect their human rights. Reiterating the need to replace accusatory language for more constructive words, he also urged all parties involved with the conflict to abstain from unilateral actions.
The Assembly then adopted “L.99” by a recorded vote of 80 in favour to 14 against, with 70 abstentions.
The representative of Ukraine, speaking also on behalf of Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova, said that hundreds of thousands of ethnically cleansed internally displaced persons and refugees from Georgia’s regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali/South Ossetia are still being deprived of their fundamental right to return to their homes in safety and dignity. Warning of the imminent threat of more forced displacements, he added that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the human rights and humanitarian situation. He also expressed regret that the Geneva International Discussions on humanitarian issues are being constantly undermined by some of the participants. Speaking in his national capacity, he urged the Russian Federation to end its illegal practices, respect its obligations as an occupying Power under international humanitarian law and to stop its temporary occupation of the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali/South Ossetia regions of Georgia.
The representative of Lithuania, speaking on behalf of Baltic and Nordic States, reiterated strong support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Unfortunately, the Russian Federation continues to violate Georgia’s territorial integrity by occupying the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali/South Ossetia, and to breach the 2008 ceasefire agreement with its illegal military presence and activities. The January ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, which found that the Russian Federation is responsible for grave human rights violations, is a reminder that, so far, more than a decade after the first adoption of the resolution on internally displaced persons and refugees from Abkhazia and Tskhinvali/South Ossetia regions in Georgia, no progress has been achieved related to their voluntary, safe, dignified and unhindered return. The resolution tabled today commits all Member States to continue working for the protection of and assistance to affected populations, and to ensure that they are able to exercise their fundamental right to safe and dignified return. However, the continuously deteriorating human rights situation in these occupied regions of Georgia, further affected by the pandemic, remains a cause of serious concern. Voicing support for recent efforts to address this matter, he called for the United Nations’ continuous engagement, given the lack of progress on the ground. As in previous years, his delegation will vote in favour of the draft resolution, he said, calling on all Member States to do the same.
The Deputy Head of Delegation of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, reaffirmed the bloc’s firm support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders. Committed to supporting peacebuilding and conflict resolution in Georgia, he expressed the European Union’s deep concern about the state of play in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and the continuous deterioration of human rights in these regions. Underlining the importance of the right of refugees and internally displaced persons to choose a durable solution, he expressed regret that, so far, no progress has been achieved on these issues. Welcoming the progress made by the Government of Georgia on housing solutions and socioeconomic integration of internally displaced persons, he encouraged further action to address difficulties around access to drinking and irrigation water, heating and livelihoods, as well as social and medical infrastructure.