7 June 2016
Seventieth Session, 96th Meeting (AM)

General Assembly Adopts Resolution Recognizing Right of Return for Refugees, Internally Displaced Persons in Georgia, Regardless of Ethnicity

Text Passes by Recorded Vote of 76 in Favour to 15 Against, as 64 Abstain

The General Assembly recognized today the right of return of all internally displaced persons and refugees in Georgia and their descendants, regardless of ethnicity, to their homes throughout that country, including Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia.

By a recorded vote of 76 in favour to 15 against, with 64 abstentions, the Assembly adopted a resolution on the status of internally displaced persons and refugees from those areas, (document A/70/L.51), stressing the need to respect their property rights and underlining the urgent need for unimpeded humanitarian access to all those residing in conflict-affected areas of Georgia.

Also by that text, the Assembly called on all participants in the Geneva International Discussions mandated by the 2008 ceasefire agreement to intensify efforts to establish peace, commit to enhanced confidence-building measures, take immediate steps to ensure respect for human rights, and create favourable security conditions for the voluntary, safe, dignified and unhindered return of all internally displaced persons and refugees to their places of origin.

Introducing the draft resolution, Kaha Imnadze (Georgia) said the murder of Giga Otkhozoria — from Abkhazia and shot by so-called border guards while delivering food to his family — was a sad reminder of the human cost endured by internally displaced Georgians.  “This is why Georgia is submitting this resolution,” he said, noting that the dead man had been one of the 400,000 displaced persons and refugees of all ethnicities and religions uprooted from Abkhazia and Tskhinvali, and South Ossetia.

He noted that for eight years, the Assembly had adopted the resolution for its humanitarian values, such as the right to return in safety and dignity, a key principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The text demonstrated a commitment to the Geneva International Discussions, the only forum for stakeholders to address the issues identified within it.  For that reason, the resolution and the Secretary-General’s subsequent report had been reference points in the Geneva International Discussions, he said.

Emphasizing Georgia’s commitment to the peace talks, he said that so-called integration treaties signed by the Russian Federation with its occupation regimes in Tskhinvali and Sokhumi, and so-called laws on the status of foreigners, had created grounds for ethnic discrimination against native Georgians, violating their right to work and their freedom of movement.

Several delegations spoke in explanation of position before the vote, with the Russian Federation’s representative describing the initiative as counterproductive and politically motivated.  It would not help to solve problems because its goal was not to improve the situation of those displaced, he said, adding that the text had not led to practical results.  Behind the initiative was a desire to divert attention from the real work of the region, using the Assembly to advance unilateral approaches and anti-Russian rhetoric.  The resolution would have made sense if representatives of Abkhazia and South Ossetia had been involved, he said, emphasizing that, although they had requested to lay out their positions at the United Nations, “we shouldn’t expect that to happen”.

He went on to say that in their absence, it was easy for Georgia to lay out its own version of events.  The Abkhazia and South Ossetia parties had no option but to bring information about the situation, via the Russian delegation, which had articulated it in Assembly documents in the form of appeals to Member States, he said, expressing hope that those documents would be considered.  Tbilisi was not prepared to take part in a constructive dialogue to settle the situation, an unwillingness seen in its refusal to sign a legally binding peace agreement or a short joint statement under the Geneva discussions process.  Moreover, the strengthening of the Georgian army and the growing number of its military exercises was not supportive of stabilizing the situation.  The draft did not reflect current realities nor resolve humanitarian issues, he reiterated, saying Georgia should focus instead on a consistent reduction of tensions and on restoring trust and security.  Requesting a recorded vote on the draft resolution, he stressed that he would vote against it and encouraged other delegations to do the same.

Azerbaijan’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Organization for Democracy and Economic Cooperation (also including Georgia, Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, GUAM), said the humanitarian situation in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali had deteriorated due to additional impediments imposed by authorities in control of those regions.  New discriminatory regulations on the “legal status of foreigners” targeted the ethnic Georgian population living in the occupied territories, imposing new restrictions on the freedom of movement, the right to property, labour rights and the right to education in one’s native language.  They endangered the livelihoods of the Georgian population remaining in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali and could potentially trigger a fresh wave of forced displacement, he warned.

He went on to say that he found it alarming that the occupation authorities had voiced an intention to conduct a so-called referendum in the Tskhinvali region on “accession to the Russian Federation”.  Reiterating the GUAM’s firm support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, he said the humanitarian concerns of the affected population, including displaced persons, should be a priority, emphasizing that the issue must be addressed, regardless of the lack of progress in the conflict-resolution process.

Lithuania’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Nordic and Baltic States, said problems in the occupied regions had been compounded by the implementation of so-called “borderization” measures and the introduction of new restrictions.  Calling for all United Nations agencies and international non-governmental organizations to have unimpeded access to the occupied regions, she said the humanitarian nature of the resolution committed the international community to ensure that those who had been forcibly displaced were able to exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms.  Encouraging all participants in the Geneva discussions to strengthen the security situation and meet the humanitarian needs of the conflict-affected population, especially internally displaced persons, she reiterated her firm support to Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.

Canada’s representative said he also supported the draft resolution, calling on all participants in the Geneva discussions to commit to the creation of favourable security conditions for the return of internally displaced persons.  Canada supported Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, he emphasized, calling upon the Russian Federation to end its interference in the region and to respect its previous ceasefire commitments.  Sustainable solutions to conflicts must encompass respect for the human rights of all individuals, and Member States should unite to intensify efforts to establish sustainable peace.  Supporting the draft resolution would be a valuable first step towards that goal, he said.

The United Kingdom’s representative said his delegation would vote in favour of the draft resolution, noting that it sought to reaffirm the right of all internally displaced persons to return to their homes in dignity, regardless of their ethnic origin.  “We will, and we must, continue to call for their return home,” he said, emphasizing that it was vital for the Assembly to show its support.  Until their return was secured, more must be done to improve the lives of those displaced, he said, calling on the Russian Federation to end its continuing “borderization”, which impeded the return of Georgians to their homes.

Ukraine’s representative, associating himself with the foregoing statements, said Russian aggression against his country had caused the displacement of 1.7 million people, many of whom had been displaced twice, from Crimea and again from regions in eastern Ukraine.  Hundreds of thousands of displaced Georgians had been living in limbo since the early 1990s and required international assistance.  He urged all Member States to support the draft resolution, saying its goals were purely humanitarian, despite attempts to politicize its content.

Some delegations spoke in explanation of position after the vote, with Israel’s representative saying he was encouraged by the substantial progress made by the Government of Georgia in such areas as the provision of basic services.  Voicing support for the spirit of reconciliation, he said the way to resolve long-standing conflicts was through negotiations, rather than unilateral actions.

Chile’s representative said he had abstained from the vote because the resolution might prejudice the examination of yet unresolved issues under negotiation in Geneva.  However, Chile supported the search for a peaceful and consensual resolution, he said, emphasizing the need to avoid politicizing purely humanitarian issues.

Uruguay’s representative noted with concern the deterioration of the situation in the occupied regions and stressed the importance of facilitating conditions that would allow safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian personnel.  The parties must continue the Geneva negotiations in order to arrive at a settlement and ensure favourable conditions for the voluntary return of internally displaced persons, she said.

Brazil’s representative said his delegation had abstained because the resolution could prejudge discussions on sensitive issues taking place in Geneva.  Urging all actors to seek a lasting solution to the issues facing internally displaced persons, he deplored the recent death of a Georgian citizen on the contact line, and expressed hope that such incidents could be prevented in the future.

For information media. Not an official record.