Secretariat of the Committee of Ministers
Secrétariat du Comite des Ministres
Contact : Mireille Paulus
Date: 12 May 2009
Meeting: 119th Session of the Committee of Ministers
Item reference: National position paper
Document distributed at the request of Georgia
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Réunion : 119e Session du Comité des Ministres
Référence du point : Prise de position nationale
Document distribué à la demande de la Géorgie
Position paper of the Georgian Delegation for the 119th Session of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe
Madrid, 12 May 2009
Since 1949 the core objective of the Council of Europe has been to preserve and promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law throughout the European continent. One of the goals of the Ministerial in Madrid is to celebrate and commemorate the creation of our Organisation 60 years ago, hence to celebrate the service of the Council of Europe to the protection of fundamental values and principles of our nations and peoples. For Georgia this is a double anniversary. Not only are we celebrating the 60 years of this Organisation, but also the decade of our membership in the Council of Europe. It was exactly ten years ago when Georgia returned back to the European family, from which it was forcefully separated in 1921. Membership of the Council of Europe means to us that we are once again united with our European partners through common vision of the future, common values, principles and beliefs, but also with shared threats and opportunities.
Unfortunately, current state of affairs does not allow us to wholeheartedly engage in rejoicing two important anniversaries. Today, as never before during our Membership of this Organisation we are facing more challenges. These challenges and threats undermine not only the basic principles of statehood, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia, but the core values of the Council of Europe.
The Russian aggression against Georgia, occupation of its territories and ethnic cleansing of Georgians and some of the minority groups residing on the occupied territories in August 2008 marked the first time when a member state of the Council of Europe occupied 20% of the territory of its, fellow CoE Member State. Despite the continuous calls of the international community, including a number of CoE Resolutions, Russia continues to violate basic principles of international law, including those of state sovereignty, territorial integrity and the inviolability of internationally recognised borders, as well as the statutory obligations and commitments undertaken as the Council of Europe member state.
Russia continues to be in breach of every obligation deriving from the 12 August 2008 Cease-Fire agreement brokered by the French Presidency of the European Union. Most importantly, Russia refuses to withdraw its forces to the positions held prior to the outbreak of hostilities. Russian presence on the territories that have never been part of the conflict zone - Kodori Valley (Abkhazia, Georgia), Akhalgori (Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, Georgia) and Perevi (outside Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia) is constantly increasing. Approximately 10,000 Russian military troops are stationed in both occupied territories. Five military bases, including a naval and air-base are being constructed. After having signed the so-called “friendship” treaties with the proxy regimes, now Russia concluded the so-called joint “border control agreements” with these entities in gross violation of international law and Georgia’s sovereignty.
Another principle enshrined in the 12 August Cease-fire Agreement was the opening of international talks on the security and stability arrangement in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In contradiction to the spirit and word of the above principle, Russia recognised these parts of Georgia as independent entities on 26 August, 2008 and pursued the policy of undermining the Geneva Talks. Since the first meeting, Russia has been continuously impeding the process of negotiations through procedural means: non-participation in the plenary sessions, non-agreement on the date of the next session, undermining the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism.
Another principle which continues to be violated is the free and unimpeded access of humanitarian aid to the occupied Tskhinvali Region. Russian backed proxy authorities do not allow the humanitarian aid and international Organisations to monitor the humanitarian situation in the Tskhinvali region. This results in the worsening of the humanitarian situation on the ground, as a result of which more and more people flee the occupied region to other parts of Georgia. It is of particular concern that the international Organisations are completely deprived of the right to access the occupied territories. Despite the numerous calls of the international community to allow international Organisations into the occupied regions to monitor the human rights and security related situation there, Russian occupation forces and proxy authorities of Tskhinvali are still countering these calls. The PACE Resolution 1633 (2008) “calls on the Russian authorities to allow EU, as well as OSCE monitors, to have access to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are under the de facto control of the Russian Federation” and points out that the Russian forces should provide “without delay, UNHCR and all humanitarian Organisations with unhindered access to the areas affected by the conflict”. Nonetheless, no recommendation has been implemented so far.
Currently the situation on the ground remains precarious. Military provocations from the occupied territories occur on a daily basis. Since the signature of the cease-fire agreement, we witnessed over 150 military incidents, resulting in the deaths of 11 Georgian policemen and 8 civilians, as well as dozens of injured. Intimidation, compulsory passportisation, limitation of education rights, forced conscription, restriction of freedom of movement and repressions of Georgians have become a routine practice in the occupied territories. 30,000 IDPs from the August 2008 armed conflict and approximately half a million IDPs from the ethnic cleansing that took place in the nineties, are deprived of their places of residence. These facts constitute the clear violation of all basic norms and principles serving as a foundation of the Council of Europe.
According to previous Presidency of the Committee of Ministers “respect for international law, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its member states is the basis for co-operation within the Council of Europe”. Even though security policy and conflict resolution remain largely outside the competence of the Council of Europe, the rule of law, of which international law is a fundamental part, is one of the core principles of the Council of Europe.
The question is not only how should the Council of Europe address these challenges, but also, whether the Council of Europe has adequate instruments and will at hand to counter these massive violations of human rights and principles of the Council of Europe on European soil.
In some dimensions of the work of the Council of Europe the consequences of the Russian Aggression have been addressed to a certain extent, whereas in other pillars much remains to be done.
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg has been involved intensively in addressing the challenges to the fundamental human rights and freedoms after the Russian-Georgian war. He identified six principles for the urgent protection of human rights and humanitarian security that were aimed to ensure safe and dignified return of IDPs. These principles cover the right to return of the displaced persons; the provision of adequate aid and living conditions for the displaced until their return home; demining efforts; the law and order in the war affected areas; humanitarian exchanges of prisoners of war, other detainees and stranded persons as well as ensuring international presence and assistance in the affected areas to address human rights and humanitarian issues. It is of utmost importance to fully implement these principles. Unfortunately, while the response of the Commissioner’s office has been relatively adequate, enforcement of the implementation of these principles has been completely ineffective. Almost all the principles set forth by Mr Hammarberg continue to be violated and the ability of the Council of Europe seems to be limited to ensure the adequate follow up.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has also reacted to the tragedy of the last August. PACE Resolutions and Recommendations 1633 (2008), 1647 (2009), 1648(2009) and 1664() on the consequences of the war between Russia and Georgia and the last information report of the co-rapporteurs provide an adequate picture of humanitarian situation on the ground as well as on the legal status of the occupied territories. The Parliamentary Assembly has been regularly following up on the situation in Georgia since the August war with its resolutions, giving adequate assessment to the situation on the ground. For instance, the latest assessment of the co-rapporteurs concludes that “Russia has failed to fulfill most of the demands made in Resolution 1633 (2008), whereas Georgia has fulfilled most of them.” Unfortunately, despite such grave non-compliance no measures have been taken against Russia to force its compliance.
Against this background, intergovernmental part of the CoE has been extremely ineffective in dealing with the August 2008 war between Georgia and Russia. Action Plan proposed by the Swedish chairmanship was not adopted, whereas the redefined Action Plan proposed by the Spanish Chairmanship failed to reflect the existing challenges and was dropped. Despite the agreement reached at the informal Ministerial meeting in New York on 24 September 2008 that the conflict between the Russian Federation and Georgia “requires a distinctive response from the Committee of Ministers in line with the Council of Europe’s core objectives of preserving and promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law”, the Committee of Ministers failed to respond adequately to probably the biggest challenge that this 0rganisation is being facing as from its foundation.
We believe that the Committee of Ministers should develop necessary and adequate measures and apply enhanced monitoring on the implementation of the commitments and obligations undertaken by Russia and Georgia. The scope of such enhanced monitoring would focus on the actions that Russia and Georgia have taken in the conflict area during the war in Georgia, as well as the obligations taken by the countries in question upon their accession to the Council of Europe. An enhanced monitoring of the latter obligations will create a framework for the Council of Europe to demand explanations from member-states for violations of main statutory principles and accession commitments in order to prevent future violations. By requesting this, Georgia does not intend to deepen Russia’s self-isolationist policy and corner Russia. We believe that for the European security and human rights architecture to remain solid, European nations need to find ways how to follow up on the grave violations of the mutually accepted principles. Only reciprocal respect of the principles and commitment to live up to the undertaken obligations can advance the core values upon which the CoE rests.
No doubts that in addition to their general obligations under the Statute, the two member states in question also took on particular obligations upon their accession to the Council of Europe. These obligations are laid down in opinions adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly, which the Committee of Ministers is obliged to consult before a country can become a member. They thus form the basis for the invitation to accede and constitute the conditions for membership.
Regarding the Protocol 14
At the last Ministerial meeting in May 2008, the Georgian Delegation underlined the importance of the entry into force of Protocol 14. We have clearly stated that only the firm and unambiguous message of the international community would be productive in persuading the one remaining member state to ratify the international legal instrument in question. Unfortunately, our last year’s statement remains valid and we are still waiting the needed ratification.
Although, the entry into force of Protocol 14 remains the top priority for the Georgian delegation and we are not fully persuaded that the proposed interim solutions would be applied without legal and practical difficulties, we do acknowledge the need of the European Court to move forward as soon as possible and for this very reason we have consented to the interim measures proposed by the majority of member states and endorsed by the Strasbourg Court.
However, we are obliged to refer to one of the Statements we will adopt today, according to which “in spite of the efforts undertaken by all member states as collective guarantors of the Convention, the conditions for the entry into force of Protocol 14 have still not been met”. Perhaps, too straightforward approach may not be productive, but I fear that excessive moderation chosen for the Statement will not solve the issue either.
Regarding the co-operation between the Council of Europe and the European Union
The Georgian delegation supports even more enhanced co-ordination and co-operation between the Council of Europe and the Europe Union in all spheres within their common mandate and competences. This is also true when it comes to the joint actions within the framework of recently launched Eastern Partnership Initiative.
The Georgian delegation thus supports the draft decisions proposed for the adoption at the 119th Ministerial meeting and takes note of the documents prepared for the Ministerial meeting by the Committee of Ministers’ Deputies. However, this delegation wishes to emphasise that it deems unacceptable the position taken by one delegation at the preparatory stage, according to which concrete documents adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe with reference to the joint action between the two Organisations, were unacceptable for that delegation and hence, were taken out from the documents.