H.E. .R. IRAKLI MEN AGARISHVILI
MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
NEW YORK, 19 SEPTEMBER 2002
Honored guests and distinguished delegates,
Allow me to begin by extending my warmest congratulations to my colleague, Mr. lan Kavan on his élection as the President of the 57th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
I cannot but remember the tragedy of September 1I , 200I , the anniversary of which we have commemorated just few days ago. This barbarie terrorist act has imprinted indelible mark on the international community, vividly unveiling the threat confronted by the mankind. This bloody action committed here in New York, the host-city of the UN Headquarters, was directed not only against the United States, but also against al] of us, the entire civilized world that the United Nations symbolize.
Georgia has joined the anti-terrorist coalition from the very first day. And I would like to assure you that it has been doing everything in its power to be a dedicated partner in this struggle and will maintain the spirit of coopération to the very successful end. We are extremely grateful to all our friends for their significant assistance and strongly believe that the evil of terrorism will be defeated.
The struggle against international terrorism is complex and manifold and I intended to share with you our views and thoughts on that. However, the récent complications in the Georgian-Russian relations compelled me to shift the focus of my address.
I am referring to the mounting aggressive attacks on my country's sovereignty emanating from the Russian authorities and media. On a daily basis Georgia is being accused of harboring terrorists, aiding fighters and thus fueling the conflict in Chechnya. This is a clear attempt to create an enemy image of Georgia in Russia's public opinion.
Here I have to state - this is utter nonsense.
We do believe that the pressure exerted on my country under the pretext of these absurd accusations is being used by Russia as a smoke-screen to hide its own failure to cope with the conflict in Chechnya. As President Shevardnadze has stated in his letter to the Secretary-General and the Security Council (S/2002/1033 A/57/408, S/2002/1035 A/57/409) `it is hard to imagine a clearer example of confusing the cause and the effect.
The truth is that this tragic chain of events started with the conflict
in Abkhazia, Georgia, which the Chechen fighters, citizens of Russia,
had been initially recruited, trained and sent to fight for. Then all this boomeranged
in the Chechen conflict against Russia, when those fighters turned arms
against their own patrons.
As a result of the two Chechen wars, Georgia has had to face an influx of thousands of Chechen refugees, some armed gangs of criminals forced into Georgia followed by an insistence from the Russian side to permit a military operation against them on the Georgian soil. All these meant a spillover of the endless and bloody war into Georgia, which we certainly could not allow. We are able and are already taking all necessary measures to uproot any possibility of use of our territory by terrorists.
Although it is evident that the problem of the Pankisi Gorge of Georgia is a side effect of the war in Chechnya, and not vice versa, the violations of airspace and attacks against the sovereign territory of Georgia by the Russian military jets and helicopters have acquired a permanent character. The last air strike took place on 23 August 2002, causing civilian casualties. Georgia has irrefutable documentary and factual evidence of the attack, which has also been confirmed by the OSCE Border Monitoring Operation.
Despite the clear evidence, the Russian leadership cynically denies these facts, trying to avoid an objective investigation in spite of their official statements to do so. Moreover, unfolding hysteria in Russia on the issue of the Pankisi Gorge has culminated in the Statements of Russia's President and military openly threatening Georgia with aggression. These actions not only gravely endanger peace and security in the region, but also undermine the efforts of the global antiterrorist coalition to fight against this menace.
What is at stake here is not only sovereignty and independence of Georgia but also the very fundamentals of the current international system. That is why we have brought this issue to this high forum.
As we have mentioned above, the Georgian Special Forces aided by our friends are conducting an operation to restore law and order in the Pankisi Gorge and surrounding area. We already have positive results and are ready to cooperate with all concerned parties, including Russia. Moreover, we are open to all international transparency measures.
We call on the Russian side to reconsider their approach and, as President Shevardnadze has stressed in his address, "appeal to the leadership of Russia and the President himself to find a common tongue and to rise above the existing problems".
We strongly believe that there is no other way out.
Secretary-General, in his statement at the Millennium Summit, strongly appealed for the transformation of the UN approaches to the peacekeeping operations. Recent UN led peacekeeping operations ongoing in different regions of the world, which we unequivocally advocate for, have proved to be quite successful, raising hopes that they would be extended to our conflict-torn region as well.
This is especially important for the Caucasus since in this multi-religious, multi-ethnic region where even a seemingly simple local dispute can trigger a large-scale, long-lasting, horrible conflict. Such a possible aftermath in the Caucasus may transform into a war of "everyone against everyone ", which can victimize a large number of people and diminish this region with tremendous potential in future. Bearing this in mind, nobody can rely on false expectations to remain only a spectator in these conflicts and get any political or economic dividends.
Speaking about the conflicts in the Caucasus, I would like draw your attention
to the most painful issue - the conflict in Abkhazia, Georgia, where our joint
efforts have not been successful yet. I believe that the major mistake made
by international organizations is that the so-called Abkhaz authorities have
been given an opportunity to engage them in endless and absurd disputes. Unfortunately
the international community has conformed to the will of the separatists and
the process of political negotiations has, in fact, become "hostage"
to their disposition. The mediators acting within the Geneva process are continuously
involved in the perpetual dispute over patrolling and other technical issues
for which reason the basics of peace process have been left out of attention:
First, there is Georgia, a full-fledged member of international community, the universally recognized territory of which is violated by the non- legitimate, pseudo-Abkhaz regime, based on hostility and ethnic cleansing. No positive results can be achieved if these two sides are treated in the same manner, if they are found equally responsible and if the policy to please both of them is pursued.
Second, this is the fate of more than 300 000 refugees and IDPs ousted from their homeland and deprived of their basic human rights, and whose prospect of return has failed for the last 8 years to go beyond fruitless discussions.
The years of practically inefficient negotiations merit only these conclusions.
I must excuse myself before the authors of the last Security Council Resolution but I cannot agree with the softness of their statements. Even though the de-facto Abkhaz leadership fully ignored and categorically refused to receive the document - "Basic Principles for Distribution of Competencies between Tbilisi and Sokhumi", elaborated by the Group of Friends of the Secretary General, the arrogance of the separatist regime was responded in the Resolution only by a slight reproach.
To our surprise, the last report of the Secretary General based on the information of the UN Human Rights Office in Abkhazia, Georgia, points out "a modest improvement in the human rights situation." It is difficult to understand what kind of improvement is meant when the separatists insist that Georgian children should study Georgian as a foreign language at Georgian schools in Abkhazia, Georgia? Two years ago, the UN-OSCE Joint Assessment Mission recommended establishing of a branch of the Sokhumi Human Rights Office in Gali. It has not been established until now. What kind of improvement can we speak about then?
The tragedy in Abkhazia, Georgia, when hundreds of thousands of mostly ethnic Georgians have been forcibly expelled from their homes has been numerous times rightfully assessed by the OSCE as "ethnic cleansing". Thus, it merits only our astonishment why the United Nations is so reluctant to make the same statement. The more so as the Abkhaz side has never complied with any of the 28 UN Security Council Resolutions adopted since 1993.
I hope you would agree that such inconsistency only strengthens the separatists' self-confidence and increases their belief in impunity.
In 1994 we made an unprecedented decision by asking the UN to permit commencement of a peacekeeping operation engaging the CIS "collective" peacekeeping forces composed of only the Russian military contingent. This was reasoned by complete absence of other alternatives at that time. Regrettably, 8 years of this operation have made clear that the Russian peacekeepers acting under the CIS aegis fail to ensure security so necessary for the return of IDPs and refugees to their homes in Abkhazia, Georgia. In fact the peacekeepers have established an artificial border between the territory controlled by the separatists and the rest of Georgia.
Having this premise, we think it is high time to transform substantively the ongoing peacekeeping operation. In particular, we are for introducing civil police component, and creation of joint Georgian- Abkhaz administration in the Gali district under the international aegis. Considering the solid UN experience in the establishment and management of international police force, we have high expectations for your support.
We strongly believe that a more active involvement of the international community
and primarily of the UN is indispensable. We understand that currently the UN
is involved in several peacekeeping operations. Irrespective of this fact, we
hope that some resources can be found to ensure more active engagement of the
United Nations in the resolution of the conflict in Abkhazia, Georgia. For the
purpose of increasing effectiveness of the UN peacekeeping policy in our region
we deem it reasonable to enhance cooperation with the OSCE and other regional
actors including the CIS.
Speaking about the inefficiency of the international efforts in the Abkhaz conflict resolution, we should admit that the lack of unanimity within the Group of Friends of the Secretary General remains a serious impeding factor. That was why it took almost 2 years just to win consensus over the document - "Basic Principles for Distribution of Competencies between Tbilisi and Sokhumi". Moreover, we are repeatedly faced with practical actions undertaken by one of the members of the Group utterly inconsistent with the general approach.
At the end of the year 2000 Russian Federation introduced a visa regime with Georgia. But contrary to the elementary norms of international law - the right to visa-free movement has been maintained to the secessionist regions of Georgia: Abkhazia and Tskhinvali/South Ossetia. Numerous protests by the Georgian side against this discriminatory decision have been simply ignored. Moreover, it was followed by a mass practice of issuing Russian passports to and mass conversion of the local population of these two separatist regions into Russian citizenship through simplified procedures. Here a question arises how do these actions, named as "legal expansion" even by the Russian media, contribute to a peaceful resolution of these conflicts?
I have to reaffirm that a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Abkhazia, Georgia, remains the only acceptable option for my Government. In this connection we would like to reiterate our sincere gratitude to the United Nations and the Group of Friends of the Secretary General for their contributions to the peace process. But as I have already mentioned, regrettably, the Abkhaz side has been categorically refusing to consider the document determining political status of Abkhazia within the state of Georgia. Once again I have to state that such an attitude makes meaningless three years of burdensome work by the UN and the Group of Friends of the Secretary-General. Therefore we have to admit that all the peace process in Abkhazia, Georgia is as much at stake as in need of drastic changes. And we call the UN for addressing this problem.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The UN reform has long been a subject for discussion. By now nobody doubts that this organization founded 57 years ago needs to be reformed to reflect adequately modern realities. It is unfortunate that the work to this end has not progressed beyond an exchange of ideas. Too much time has been devoted to discussions on the Security Council enlargement, increase of the number of its permanent as well as non-permanent members, the change of procedures related to the Veto right and adoption of joint decisions. Regrettably, there have been no practical results so far.
Even such simple questions as the increase of transparency in the work of the Security Council, participation of the representatives of the concerned States in its informal meetings, their involvement in the discussion of the reports of the relevant UN field offices and in subsequent drafting of resolutions still remain unresolved. Regrettably, in the current state of affairs objectively required decisions are often blocked and inferior interests of different actors are lobbied.
Here I would like to stress that Georgia reiterates its full support to the speedy realization of the abovesaid changes. We strongly support granting of permanent membership to Germany and Japan as well as the overall enlargement of the Security Council. We also insist on increased transparency in the work of the Council.
The world community is currently facing numerous challenges, which require more decisive and radical steps. And I cherish a hope that this High Forum will be courageous enough to make them without delay.