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 79 in favour to 15 against, with 57 abstentions, the Assembly adopted a resolution on the status of internally displaced persons and refugees from those areas (document A/73/L.89), 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 the text, the Assembly called on all participants in the Geneva 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 resolution, Kaha Imnadze (Georgia) said he stands before the Assembly to bring the voices of 400,000 forcibly displaced persons from his country, as well as those displaced from Syria, Venezuela, Myanmar and elsewhere. “The Georgian voices are no different from the 70 million displaced around the globe today,” he asserted. “The human suffering is the same.”
Today’s text constitutes a collective call for adherence to three fundamental principles, he said: securing the rights of the displaced, unacceptability of forced demographic changes and the need for unimpeded humanitarian access. It supports the work of the Geneva international discussions — the negotiation format between Georgia and the Russian Federation mandated by the 12 August 2008 ceasefire agreement and co-chaired by the United Nations, European Union and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Georgia’s unwavering commitment to the discussions remains a one-way street, amid a decade-old stalemate and policy of “concerted disrespect” towards the issue of return.
Stressing that the security and human rights situation inside the occupied Georgian territories remains extremely alarming, he said that, year after year, razor wire fences are installed and so-called border signs cut through villages and even residents’ backyards — equipment that reached an “appalling” 49 kilometres in the Abkhazia region and 52 kilometres in the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia. People endure kidnappings, arbitrary detention, seizure of property and ethnic discrimination.
“Georgia remains committed to peaceful reconciliation,” he assured, from a firm belief that reconciliation, reintegration and a commitment to a rules-based order and diplomacy are the only means to achieve peace. “We all recognize the utterly humanitarian nature of the principle of return,” he said, urging delegates to apply that principle to internally displaced persons from Georgia and vote yes on the text.
Audra Plepytė (Lithuania), speaking for the Nordic and Baltic States, reaffirmed strong support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders. More than a decade after the Assembly’s first resolution on the matter, no progress has been made. She called for immediate access for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), reiterating support for the Geneva international discussions and joining the Secretary-General’s call on all relevant stakeholders to step up progress on key security and humanitarian issues, and to meet pressing humanitarian concerns.
She voiced concern over the continued refusal by the Russian Federation and participants from Tskhinvali and Sukhumi to engage on the topic of refugees and displaced persons in the Geneva negotiations. The decision of de‑facto authorities in the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali/South Ossetia to hold so-called elections this summer is of concern, she said, underscoring that her delegation does not recognize the constitutional and legal framework within which these illegitimate polls are to take place. They would violate Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and greatly undermine ongoing efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict.
Volodymyr Yelchenko (Ukraine), speaking for the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development-GUAM (also including Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova), said millions of people in those countries were forced to leave home as result of armed conflict and the humanitarian concerns of the affected populations should be a priority. Ensuring the safe and dignified return of internally displaced persons in the area — as a principal way for achieving durable solutions — is an overarching goal. He voiced support for the resolution, which focuses on the hundreds of thousands of those displaced by the conflict and several waves of ethnic cleansing. It calls for respecting their right to return, property rights and humanitarian access. Given its purely humanitarian goals, it has received increasing support over the years.
Noting that the Secretary-General’s report (document A/73/880) observed no major changes during the reporting period, he voiced regret that those internally displaced from the regions continue be deprived of their right to a safe and dignified return. He reiterated support for the Geneva discussions and voiced regret that talks on a humanitarian matter are continually undermined by the disrespect demonstrated for the issue by relevant participants. Redoubled efforts to address such issues are needed, including the creation of conditions conducive to safe and dignified return. Expressing serious concern over illegal detentions and kidnappings along the administrative boundary line, deprivation of the right to life, prohibition of education in the native Georgian language and the illegal building of razor wires, he said international monitoring mechanisms must be allowed unimpeded access to those areas. He reiterated unwavering support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity along its internationally recognized borders, as well as support for today’s resolution.
Speaking in his national capacity, he reiterated his country’s unwavering support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity along its internationally recognized borders. The situation has dramatically deteriorated. He condemned violations by the occupying Power, including those based on ethnic grounds, such as limits on ethnic language use and the mass demolition of Georgian homes in the Tskhinvali region. He strongly condemned that people internally displaced are deprived their right to return safely home, urging Russian occupying authorities to respect international humanitarian law as an occupying Power, and demanding unimpeded access for independent human rights monitors, including OHCHR.
Stephen Hickey (United Kingdom) voiced regret that, for more than a decade, it has been necessary to annually reaffirm the inalienable right for internally displaced persons to return home, regardless of their ethnic origin. “This is a humanitarian and human rights issue, and it should not be linked to wider political processes,” he asserted. There are a quarter of a million registered internally displaced persons in Georgia, many of whom live in vulnerable conditions. Welcoming Georgia’s work to help improve their situation, he called for national and international legislation to be implemented to protect such persons, and on the Russian Federation in particular to stop such acts as intimidation, home destruction and the construction of barriers designed to hinder movement. He urged all States to vote in favour of the resolution, which would be a statement on humanitarian principles and the rights of those internally displaced to return, and all sides to use the Geneva discussions as the forum to make progress on all issues, including internally displaced persons.
Rodney M. Hunter (United States) urged parties to work towards durable peace, calling for immediate steps to increase humanitarian access and create conditions favourable for people’s return home. Noting that operative paragraph 1 is consistent with the with International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, he said Abkhazia and South Ossetia are integral parts of Georgia’s territory. The United States fully supports Georgia’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within internationally recognized borders. Recalling events 30 years ago in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, he expressed condolences to the families of the victims.
Richard Arbeiter (Canada), expressing full support for Georgia’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within internationally recognized borders, called on the Russian Federation to adhere to its OSCE commitments and condemned Syria’s 2018 recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent States. “We consider the Russian Federation’s partnership agreements with the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be illegal and illegitimate,” he said, voicing deep concern over ongoing displacement in Georgia. Canada fully supports the resolution and continues to call on all involved in the Geneva talks to intensify efforts towards a durable peace. Canada is encouraged by Georgia’s unilateral efforts to promote humanitarian access to internally displaced persons in the region, he said, urging States to express solidarity with all internally displaced persons by supporting today’s resolution.
Gennady V. Kuzmin (Russian Federation) called the text highly politicized, stressing that it is naïve to think it deals solely with the concerns of refugees and internally displaced persons. Rather, it aims to prevent the normalization of the situation in the region and the development of normal relationships among peoples, seeking to compel compliance through alien will. “Such approaches do not work,” he said, voicing regret that Georgia, year after year, tables this text to the detriment of practical steps that would settle the situation. It negatively impacts the status of the Geneva discussions, he said, stressing: “We should be talking about peaceful coexistence in the region, based on geopolitical realities”. It is time for Georgia to stop pursuing baseless attacks. Requesting a vote, he said he will vote against the text.
Speaking after the vote, Israel’s representative said his delegation views positively Georgia’s programme of engagement through cooperation that aims to create trust. He reiterated support for recognition of Georgia’s territorial integrity, stressing that the way to resolve conflicts is through negotiations based on a mutually agreed approach, rather than unilateral actions.
Brazil’s representative explained that he had abstained from the vote as it could influence consideration of the issue by parties in Geneva. He recognized Georgia’s territorial integrity and expressed hope the dispute will be settled through peaceful negotiations. He urged all parties to make efforts to find lasting solutions to the issue of internally displaced persons and refugees and ensure they can safely return home.
Exercising the right of reply, China’s representative said he will never accept groundless accusations against his country. China has long had clear conclusions on the political turmoil that occurred during the late 1980s. The 70 years since the founding of “the new China” demonstrates that the path his country has taken is completely correct and firmly supported by the people, he said, stressing that it will continue to progress along the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics. The groundless attack by the United States representative on China’s political system and false accusations about its human rights policy constitute a serious interference in Beijing’s internal affairs, as well as a violation of basic international standards. It damages mutual trust between the two countries and his delegation will not accept such a situation. The United States should not repeat such mistakes. Otherwise, it will become an international laughing stock.