Council of Europe officer calls for improvement of human rights in areas affected by the 2008 Georgia-Russia conflict

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg on Thursday called for the improvement of human rights in areas affected by the 2008 Georgia-Russia conflict.

Hammarberg released a report based on his latest visit to Georgia. He remarked the urgent need to release all remaining detainees who were apprehended when crossing the administrative boundary line after the end of hostilities.

The report mentions six urgent principles for human rights and humanitarian protection: the right to return; the right of displaced persons to care and support; the right to be protected against dangers from explosives and other remnants of war; the right to protection against lawlessness; the protection and releases of detainees and prevention of hostage-taking; and the international assistance and presence.

In August 2008, Russia and Georgia engaged in a five-day war after the Georgian government attempted to bring South Ossetia under its control, a breakaway republic. Russia has since recognized them as well as Abkhazia as an independent state. This has caused tensions between Georgia and Russia.

After the conflict, approximately 100,000 people were displaced from the Shida Kartli region near South Ossetia. Most of them have returned but the overwhelming majority of ethnic Georgians who fled South Ossetia have not.

“Hardly any progress has been achieved with regard to [the return] of these displaced persons. All relevant actors must ensure safe, voluntary and dignified return, as well as unimpeded freedom of movement in the areas affected by the conflict,” Hammarberg said.

The Commissioner urged Georgia to grant the status of internally displaced persons (IDPs) without discrimination as this matter is in need of an urgent solution. Many of them do not have access to water, sanitation and basic services and are in danger of explosives and remnants of war left.

“The removal of all dangerous remnants of war should continue, as it is crucial for any effective exercise of the right to return and for the safety of persons remaining in the zones affected by the conflict.”

Hammarberg reiterated his call to Russia and Georgia to sign and ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Finally, he also pointed out that little progress have been made in regards to the access of international humanitarian actors to the affected areas which are aimed to aid and protect the population.

Hundreds of Russian, Georgian, South Ossetian and Abkhazian soldiers were killed during the conflict, as well as more than 160 civilians. One foreign civilian, Dutch RTL News cameraman Stan Storimans, was also killed when RUssian forces carried out an airstrike on the Georgian city of Gori.

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