“The state of human rights protection in the communities located adjacent to Abkhazia’s Administrative Boundary line, specifically in Gali district, is gradually deteriorating,” Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili said in its special report.
The report, released on November 16, assesses the humanitarian and economic impact of the closure of two crossing points - Nabakevi-Khurcha and Meore Otobaia-Orsantia - between Abkhazia’s predominantly ethnic Georgian Gali district and its adjoining Zugdidi district of Samegrelo region.
According to the document, the closure of the crossing points in early 2017 “restricts local residents’ freedom of movement and creates unjustified impediments in terms of receiving healthcare services and education, maintaining trade, family ties, etc.”
Around 3 400 families residing in 11 villages of the so-called lower zone of Gali were “particularly affected,” the Public Defender noted, adding that it had increased the distance, time and costs of travel to Zugdidi for local residents, including schoolchildren, who regularly crossed the boundary line.
In the words of the Public Defender, “the closure of the crossing points, problems related to [identity] documents, restriction of the right to education in one’s native language, and other issues, amount to discriminatory treatment of the population of Gali, compared to other non-Georgian population of Abkhazia.”
“Considering the present socio-economic conditions and the situation in terms of the human rights protection, there is a risk that the population will leave Abkhazia, their permanent place of residence,” the Ombudsman added, calling on the Government of Georgia to expand education, healthcare and social assistance programs targeting the residents of Abkhazia.
The Public Defender recommended that “the Government should elaborate, both at legislative and practical levels, coordinated and flexible mechanisms tailored to the needs of the conflict victims,” adding that the Public Defender “issued numerous significant recommendations to public agencies regarding these issues in 2014 – 2016,” and noting that “these recommendations are, unfortunately, unfulfilled in most cases.”
Russian-backed authorities in Sokhumi closed two out of four crossing points connecting the region to rest of Georgia on March 5.
A number of countries and international organizations, including the United Nations, the European Union, NATO, the United States, the United Kingdom, Lithuania and Japan, spoke against the decision stressing that it would restrict the freedom of movement for locals, including schoolchildren and patients requiring medical treatment.
The decision to close the crossing points made on December 28 by authorities in Sokhumi, has raised concerns locally as well. Residents of Nabakevi and surrounding villages in Gali district, who used the two crossing points to travel to the neighboring Zugdidi district for schooling, medical services and commercial activities, organized a protest rally against the decision on January 25.