On May 3, during its 1285th meeting, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe meeting at the level of Deputy Ministers, returned to the discussion of the agenda item “the Council of Europe and the Conflict in Georgia” and reiterated “the unequivocal support of the Council of Europe member States for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders.”
The Committee stated that referendums and elections recently held in the territory of Georgia’s occupied regions, as well as Russia’s effort to sign the “so called treaties” with Georgia’s regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia “impede peaceful conflict resolution, undermine the ongoing efforts to strengthen security and stability in the region, clearly violate Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and have no legal validity.”
The decision highlights that Russia’s continuing illegal military presence in the two regions prevents Georgia - “the only sovereign state under international law over its regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia” - from exercising legitimate jurisdiction over these regions.
Therefore, the Committee “deeply regretted” that “despite the constant calls,” Russia continues to build “artificial obstacles” along the administrative boundary lines (ABLs), which “divide families and communities, violate human rights and fundamental freedoms and complicate the settlement of the conflict involving two member states.”
The body expressed “profound concern” over further deterioration of the human rights conditions in Georgia’s occupied regions, “including with regard to the right to education in native language, the right to freedom of movement, the right to property, the right to liberty and security.”
They also expressed their concern over the closure of the two “crossing points” across the ABL of the Georgian region of Abkhazia. “[The closure] is detrimental for freedom of movement and livelihood of the local residents and will further deteriorate humanitarian situation,” the decision reads.
The Committee encouraged the Secretary General to continue the submission of his biannual consolidated reports on the conflict in Georgia to the Committee of Ministers.
Crucial Points for Georgia
Mikheil Janelidze, Georgian Minister of Foreign Affairs welcomed the recent decision of the Committee of Ministers’ Deputies on his twitter post and emphasized that it was “clear message of member states to Russia.”
Welcoming CoE CMD dcsn on t/Conflict in Georgia. Clear msg of m.states 2 Russia.Geo is high on t/CoE political agenda.Thanks 2 member states— Mikheil Janelidze (@JanelidzeMkh) May 3, 2017
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia released a statement emphasizing that the Deputies’ latest decision, which is “focused on Russia’s policy with respect to the occupied territories of Georgia” will be “an important step towards defining the international status of the occupied regions.”
These laudatory statements of the Georgian officials refer to several particular elements in the document:
- In Article 3, the reference is made to Georgia as “the only sovereign state under international law” on territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia. In the same article, Russia is said to be preventing Georgia from exercising its jurisdiction “including through military presence”.
- Article 4 frames the conflict as “involving two [CoE] member states,” i.e. Georgia and Russia, which goes against the Russian official narrative of it being a conflict between Georgia on one side, and the states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – on the other.
- Article 7 makes reference to “authorities exercising effective control” in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia. Although Russia is not mentioned directly in this context and one may infer the article to refer to the authorities in Tskhinvali and Sokhumi, this legal formula constitutes a core element for the legal definition of “occupation.” This should be seen especially in conjunction with
- Article 8, which calls on Russia to “secure immediate and unrestricted access to the territories beyond the control of the Government of Georgia to the Council of Europe bodies” thus implying that the Russian authorities do have “effective control” on such access.