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Seventy-first Session,
85th Meeting (PM)

General Assembly Adopts Resolution Recognizing Right of Return for Refugees, Internally Displaced Persons in Georgia, No Matter Their Ethnicity

Text Passes by Recorded Vote of 80 in Favour to 14 Against, with 61 Abstentions

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 80 in favour to 14 against, with 61 abstentions, the Assembly adopted a resolution on the status of internally displaced persons and refugees from those areas (document A/71/L.71), 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 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.

Kaha Imnadze (Georgia) introduced the resolution, underlining that it aimed to galvanize international support for the rights of displaced people in Georgia, the overwhelming majority of whom had indicated their wish to voluntarily return.  The resolution stood for three principles:  securing the rights of the displaced, the unacceptability of forced demographic changes, and the need for unimpeded humanitarian access.

He said the security and human rights situation in the occupied territories had been exacerbated by the installation of razor-wire fences, kidnappings, arbitrary detentions, property seizures, and restrictions on movement, residence and native language education — all on the grounds of ethnic origin.  The closure of entry and exit points across the occupation line by the regime in Abkhazia had severely restricted the freedom of movement and impeded the return of internally displaced persons and refugees to their homes.

Recalling that the Human Rights Council had expressed serious concerns over the continuous violations and the humanitarian situation within the occupied regions of Georgia through resolution 34/37 in March 2017, he said Georgia had made every effort to ensure decent conditions for the displaced population.  Despite the artificial barriers, the Government would continue to respond to the concerns of its compatriots living in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions.

Volodymyr Yelchenko (Ukraine), speaking on behalf of the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development (also including Georgia, Azerbaijan and the Republic of Moldova), stressed that the protracted nature of conflicts in the area was among the most serious challenges facing those nations, as was the ongoing displacement crisis, which had become a generational issue.  Ensuring the safe and dignified return of internally displaced persons and refugees, as the principle way of achieving durable solutions for those forcibly moved, was an overarching goal of the affected countries.

He said the resolution addressed the plight of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons and refugees forcibly displaced from the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions of Georgia, as a result of conflict and several waves of displacement in the early 1990s and in 2008.  The organization’s members were seriously concerned by the 9 April 2017 holding of a so-called referendum to rename the Tskhinvali region the “Republic of South Ossetia — State of Alania”.  In the absence of basic safeguards to monitor the situation in the occupied regions, unimpeded access for humanitarian actors and human rights monitoring bodies were of paramount importance.

Raimonda Murmokaitė (Lithuania), speaking on behalf of the Nordic and Baltic States (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden), with Bulgaria, Ireland, Czech Republic and Poland aligning themselves with the statement, expressed concern about new restrictions in the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali on the freedom of movement and access to both health care and native language education.  She called on the de facto authorities to ensure unhindered access for international human rights monitoring organizations. 

Reaffirming Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within internationally recognized borders, she expressed serious concern over the decision by de facto authorities in Tskhinvali and Abkhazia to conduct so-called elections earlier this year.  “We do not recognize the constitutional and legal framework within which these illegitimate elections have taken place,” she said, nor recognize the so-called 7 April 2017 referendum on amending the name of Tskhinvali.  Welcoming the Human Rights Council’s resolution on cooperation with Georgia, adopted at its thirty-fourth session, she said her delegation would vote for today’s text.

Speaking in explanation of position before the vote, Canada’s delegate stressed that hundreds of thousands of people from Georgia’s Abkhazia and Tskhinvali/South Ossetia regions had been displaced due to circumstances beyond their control.  The international community must ensure that those forcibly displaced could exercise their fundamental rights, she said, underlining the importance of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement as a way forward.  Without reservation, Canada would continue to support Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty within its internationally recognized borders. 

The representative of the Russian Federation said this year marked the tenth time Georgia had presented the resolution, yet the text had had never garnered support from the majority of Member States.  Its aims were strictly political, underpinned not by a legitimate desire to help the affected people, but rather to support the aggressive policies of Georgia’s Government.  Promoting the draft under humanitarian auspices ignored the real needs of those who had been forcibly displaced, making it impossible for parties to have substantive discussions and seriously damaging the Geneva discussions by undermining the concept behind them.  Using the situation for political aims contravened the Geneva International Discussions, delayed resolution of the humanitarian situation and damaged trust among people in the affected regions.

The representative of the United Kingdom said the resolution reaffirmed the inalienable rights of internally displaced persons and refugees to return home in a safe and dignified manner.  The issue concerned humanitarian and human rights, and should not be clouded by political interests.  The Assembly must send a message that it had not forgotten the affected people and would continue to call for their return home.  Welcoming Georgia’s efforts to improve their lives, he called for the implementation of national and international legislation to aid and protect those people.  He expressed deep concern over the larger political and human rights situation, noting that the Russian Federation controlled 20 per cent of Georgia’s sovereign territory. 

Speaking in explanation of position after the vote, Chile’s representative said his delegation had abstained, as the resolution could prejudice the Geneva negotiations.  He expressed support for a consensus-based resolution through the Geneva International Discussions or other forums that would ensure an impartial process, and called for redoubled efforts to resolve the conflict.

Brazil’s delegate said he had abstained because the vote could prejudge sensitive issues that should be resolved through the Geneva discussions.  Brazil recognized Georgia’s territorial integrity and expected that a dispute with the Russian Federation could be resolved peacefully through dialogue.  He called for cooperation and the adoption of confidence-building measures, including within the Geneva framework.

The General Assembly will reconvene at a time and date to be announced.

For information media. Not an official record.