Knut Vollebaek, the OSCE high commissioner on national minorities, called on the authorities in breakaway Abkhazia “to put an end to the pressure being exercised on the Georgian population in the Gali district.”
“I am deeply concerned about recent developments in the Gali District of Abkhazia, which have led to a deteriorating security situation in the region,” he said in a statement released on April 14.
The OSCE commissioner said that the pressure on local ethnic Georgian population was exerted through “the limitation of their education rights, compulsory ‘passportization’, forced conscription into the Abkhaz military forces and restrictions on their freedom of movement.”
He also expressed “regret” about the decision of the Abkhaz leadership to close the administrative border, “which makes it increasingly difficult for the population to maintain family contacts, access necessary health care or sell their products on the other side of the de facto border.”
“I am concerned that such coercive practices, which violate international law, may further destabilize the already fragile inter-ethnic situation in the region and force many Georgians to leave,” Knut Vollebaek said. “I reiterate that international norms and standards require that any authority exercising jurisdiction over population and territory, even if not recognized by the international community, must respect the human rights of everyone, including those of persons belonging to ethnic communities. I urge the de facto authorities to desist from all intimidation and the imposition of Abkhazian ‘citizenship’ on and forced conscription of Georgians living in the Gali District. I also urge the de facto authorities to respect the education rights of Georgians residing there and to allow Georgian students in the region to study in the Georgian language.”
“While I understand and welcome the desire of the de facto Abkhaz authorities to strengthen the Abkhaz identity and language, I would like to stress that this should be done in a way that does not negatively affect the rights of persons belonging to other ethnic communities in the region to maintain and develop their own language and culture.”