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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
07TBILISI2092 2007-08-21 13:24:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi
Cable title:  

HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN GALI--SAME PROBLEMS

Tags:   EAID PGOV PHUM PREF PREL GG 
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VZCZCXRO5856
PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #2092/01 2331324
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 211324Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7380
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 TBILISI 002092 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/CARC AND DRL

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/08/2017
TAGS: EAID PGOV PHUM PREF PREL GG
SUBJECT: HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN GALI--SAME PROBLEMS

REF: A. TBILISI 1604

B. TBILISI 861

C. 2006 TBILISI 3045

D. TBILISI 2000

Classified By: CDA Mark X. Perry for reasons 1.4(b) and (d).



1. (C) Summary: On 31 July-2 August, an Embassy team
traveled to Abkhazia to review the human rights situation
there. The team participated in a patrol with the UN Observer
Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) in the ethnically Georgian Gali region,
visited local NGOs in Gali and Sukhumi, and met with the Abkhaz
de facto authorities. Georgian-Abkhaz tensions have calmed recently,
but concerns over the lack of security with the run up to
hazelnut/mandarin season, forced conscription of Georgians
in the Abkhaz militia, and unclear passportization
implementation procedures remain. UNOMIG representatives
relayed that the Abkhaz militia closed the Ceasefire
Line (CFL) to all vehicular and commercial traffic,
forcing the residents of Gali to buy items in the
more expensive Gali market, rather than in the cheaper
Zugdidi market. By the end of the year, the Abkhaz
intend to close all unofficial checkpoints, and limit
vehicular and foot traffic across the CFL to four
points: Inguri River Bridge, Nabakevi Bridge, Meore
Otobaya, and Lekukhona. De facto foreign minister
Shamba was resistant to allowing Georgian officials
to send Georgian textbooks to Gali schools. He was
not open to changing the new law which currently does
not permit property to be returned to Georgians who
left Abkhazia after the war, or the law which does
not allow for dual Georgian-Abkhaz citizenship, noting
that Abkhazia is at war with Georgia. Shamba reiterated
his position in Bonn that the Abkhaz would not be open
to official contacts (between Abkhaz and Georgian officials)
until Georgian troops leave Upper Kodori Valley (reftel A.)
End Summary.

Human Rights in Gali--Same Problems


--------------------------





2. (C) On July 31- August 2, an Embassy team including
Pol-Econ Chief, Defense AttachQ, USAID Deputy Mission
Director and Poloffs visited Abkhazia to follow up on
the human rights situation there (reftel B,C.) The UNOMIG
Human Rights (HROAG) Officer in Gali, Zarko Petrovic,
briefed the group that Georgian-Abkhaz tensions have
calmed but reported that the situation remains tense
as the Abkhaz are tightening control in the region by
closing the CFL to vehicular and commercial traffic
across the CFL and limiting pedestrian traffic only
to official crossing points. By the end of the year,
the Abkhaz Militia plan on limiting all vehicular and
pedestrian crossings to four official crossing points:
Inguri River Bridge, Nabakevi Bridge, Meore Otobaya,
and Lekukhona. Officially, there should be no fee to
cross the Inguri but pedestrians often would rather pay
a 2-10 GEL bribe to the Abkhaz militia. The closing of
the CFL has made life more difficult for locals who prefer
to cross into Zugdidi to purchase foodstuffs; with the
closure of the crossing, locals in Lower Gali must buy
foodstuffs in Gali which are more expensive as they are
shipped from Sukhumi. These additional controls will make
life difficult for those residents who depend on the yearly
hazelnut/mandarin harvest for their total annual income by
complicating getting their produce to market and making it
more expensive to do so. Once the four checkpoints are open
and operating, locals anticipate that there will be
customs charges leveled on any items which are brought
across, also cutting down on profits. Currently, there
are three U.N. Civilian Police (UNCIVPOL) (Czech,
Russian, Swiss) on the ground, rather than the nine
the U.N. had expected to be in place by this time
(reftel B.) Petrovic noted an expected spike in
criminal activity associated with the upcoming
hazelnut/mandarin harvest season.

Plans for Human Rights Center


--------------------------





3. (C) The team visited the house selected as the future
NGO Human Rights Center in Gali, which is just a short
walk from the U.N. base in Gali. The U.N. is planning
to pay to repair the house for its use as the center,
which will house five local NGOS, a library, a training
area and an office for the UN HROAG in Gali. The Human
Rights Center will work off a Memorandum of Understanding
between UNOMIG and the local NGO Institute of Democracy.
(NOTE: The Human Rights officer previously worked in Gali
from Sukhumi with frequent trips to Gali but established
a permanent presence in Gali in March (reftel B) END NOTE.)

TBILISI 00002092 002 OF 005


Although the current officer is alone in Gali, there are
plans to bring a second officer from France as soon as
the lead Human Rights position in Sukhumi is filled. The
NGO Human Rights Center plans to offer legal aid to
citizens of Gali district, regular monitoring of human
rights, human rights training, a human rights resource
center, an information service, and promote advocacy for
human rights. The four projects currently proposed are a
human rights monitoring project, addressing multiple
discrimination of women in Abkhazia, and a Youth Resource
Center and a Legal Aid Center in Gali. However, funding
remains an issue and the center will rely entirely on
international donors for its operations. The five local
NGOs which will be represented are the Institute of
Democracy, Alert, Avangard, Raduga, and Spektr.

Forced Conscription Still an Issue


--------------------------




4. (C) According to Petrovic, there are still incidents of
Georgians who are being forced to serve in the Abkhaz
militia. The conscription periods occur 1 April-30 June
and 1 October-31 December. All eligible males who reach
the age of 14 years are put on the conscription list and
upon reaching the age of 18 are sent notification twice
by mail before being picked up at their residences if
they fail to show. They are eligible for service until
they are 35 years of age. Often Georgians are picked
up during night raids if they are eligible for service
and have not reported. Some pay bribes to avoid service
and others leave for Zugdidi to avoid being caught. If
eligible men are caught not having served, they are given
the option to serve or do jail time. Per UNOMIG
representatives, fewer than 15 per cent of Georgian
males who are eligible serve. The grounds for release
from service are poor health, prior military service
elsewhere, or status of convicted felon. The grounds for
postponement are poor health, family situation, exceptional
political function or ongoing education, or status as
conscientious objector. There is no requirement to speak
Russian and most Georgians who serve speak Mingrelian.
Ethnic Georgian locals do not look down upon those Georgians
who have served in the Abkhaz militia, but there is clearly
no interest by locals in serving absent the Abkhaz
requirement.



5. (C) Poloffs talked to local residents about two local
ethnic Georgian males who had been taken during a night
raid and pressed into the Abkhaz militia. The locals
understood that the two in question had previously served
in the Georgian military which meant that they were exempt
from the Abkhaz militia. Local residents explained to Poloffs
that the Abkhaz took the Georgians despite their prior
military service, saying that they had only served six months
in Georgia and that they would still be required to serve in
the Abkhaz militia. (NOTE: There were various interpretations
of this law given to Poloff during the stay in the Gali region,
none of them clear as to how much previous service was required
and what constituted proof of this time already served. It
was clear that the rules of service are not widely known and
that some of the techniques for enforcing the law were
instilling a sense of insecurity and fear among the residents.
END NOTE.)

Youth Camp--Not all Fun and Games


--------------------------





6. (C) Petrovic said that the Georgian Youth Camp in Ganmukhuri
is not in the immediate area of a PKF checkpoint but it is
within the PKF patrol area on the Georgian controlled side of
the CFL. Georgian security guards at the camp previously
denied access to PKF when they wanted to see for themselves
the activities of the camp. Abkhaz de facto authorities are
concerned about the camp because they claim not just minors
below the age of 18 are involved. According to Petrovic, the
de facto authorities expressed concern about the camp because
they claimed that there are participants at the youth camp who
are 21 years of age or older and that instructors at the camp
range from 25-28 years old. The implication being, according
to Petrovic, that the Abkhaz believe these individuals are of
military age and therefore a potential threat. Still, Roman
Sishchuk, the U.N. Civil Affairs Officer in Gali, said that he
had been to the camp before it opened and reported that it
appeared to be a youth camp without any military overtones or
activities. UNOMIG representatives said that the Georgians
have a similar youth camp in Zugdidi. (NOTE: Speaker
Burjanadze told DAS Bryza that these camps are just for
children, are not close to Abkhazia, and she herself
had considered sending her own son there. END NOTE)
(reftel D.)

Teachers Get the Dough--Textbooks Still Under the Table

TBILISI 00002092 003 OF 005




--------------------------



--------------------------





7. (C) In Lower Gali, the team met with Beusan Uberiya, one
of two ethnic Georgians serving in the de facto Abkhaz
parliament, Upper and Lower Bargebi school administrators
and their deputies, and the school's doctor who worked
in the dispensary. According to the school officials,
teachers are now regularly getting paid. Teachers receive
a flat rate of 100 USD per month from Tbilisi and the
equivalent of 30 USD a month from Sukhumi. All schools
in Upper and Lower Gali are receiving these funds. As
a result, schools no longer are charging a per student
fee for school attendance (reftel B.) Although teacher's
salaries are taken care of, there is no funding for
the upkeep of the building for repairs. Currently,
Sukhumi is not charging them for electricity.



8. (C) With regard to textbooks, officials told Poloffs
that last year they managed to quietly bring in more
than 42,000 books, and the de facto authority turned
a blind eye to the practice. School administrators
said that they would welcome assistance from the
Georgian Education Ministry, but it would have to
be done quietly without any press fanfare from the
Georgian side. (COMMENT: Previously Poloff had
pressed Kishmaria to allow the Georgian government
to give Georgian textbooks on non-controversial
subjects to the Gali schools, but after consultation
with other de facto authorities, he said it could
not be done. END COMMENT.)



9. (C) The school's doctor voiced concern that
the dispensary was inadequate for the number of
students which attended, and the neighboring
school's dispensary was even in more dire straits.
She said that the Abkhaz government-in-exile used
to fund dispensaries in Gali but that the money had
stopped last year. She asked for U.S. intervention
with the GoG to continue to provide such funding.



10. (C) Next to the school is a PKF checkpoint.
Locals told our group that the PKF does nothing
to prevent/stop local crimes or mediate between
local citizens, which according to the PKF mandate,
they should. Residents told the team that recently
there was a robbery in the house behind the school,
which resulted in the death of the elderly homeowner,
and the PKF did nothing to stop the crime. Local
residents see the PKF sole function as checking car
trunks for contraband and question the relevance
of their presence.

Georgian in de facto parliament: All by Myself


--------------------------





11. (C) De facto parliamentarian Uberiya told the
team that although the Georgian minority has two
representatives in the de facto parliament,
nothing comes of their efforts as two people can't
change outcomes. All of their proposals are
considered, but none are acted on. Uberiya stated
that if the number of Georgians who had returned
to the Gali region were 50,000, as the Abkhaz
claim, then consideration should be given to
raising the number of Georgians in the de facto
parliament to reflect their proportion in
Abkhazia. (NOTE: The current de facto parliament
has 36 representatives, three from the Gali
region. Of those three, two are ethnic Georgian.
END NOTE.) When asked if he had been threatened
for his participation in the de facto parliament,
Uberiya shrugged. The Administrator for Upper
Bargebi School told us that Uberiya had received
threatening calls on his mobile from a number
within Georgia, but they were not able to determine
the source.

Abkhaz Passports, a Necessary Evil


--------------------------





12. (C) Poloffs talked to UNOMIG representatives,
local residents and NGOs about the passportization
of Abkhazia following last year's new citizenship
law, which required anyone who participates in
political life to obtain an Abkhaz passport. The
law allows dual Abkhaz-Russian citizenship but not
dual Abkhaz-Georgian citizenship (reftel B.) As a
result, the concern remains that Georgians would
need to give up their Georgian citizenship in order
to obtain an Abkhaz passport, which is required not
only to vote in Abkhaz elections but also to obtain

TBILISI 00002092 004 OF 005


a driver's license, register a car, open a bank
account and conduct any other official transaction
in Abkhazia. The Abkhaz law appears to be widely
and loosely interpreted. No Georgians that we met
told us that they had been forced to give up their
Georgian passports: they did tell us, however,
that the first question on the application for the
Abkhaz passport was, "Do you have another citizenship
other than that of Abkhazia?" Several Georgians
told us that they checked "No" to this question, as
the Abkhaz have no way of verifying if they possess
a Georgian passport. Still, there remains much
confusion among residents (and even de facto officials)
about how passportization of the Gali region will
take place, with the de facto foreign minister Shamba
noting that the idea under consideration was to issue
"green cards" to those who carry said Georgian
passports. Poloff heard that passportization was
complete in Ochamchire and Tkvarcheli, but had yet
to start in Gali.

Gali NGOs: Training OK, Jobs Better


--------------------------





13. (C) NGOs in the Gali region told us that their
main concerns were human rights concerns, lack
of good access to health care, and wide-scale
corruption. Most NGOs serve as a mediator
between the administrative heads or law enforcement
bodies and residents. NGOs expressed that
local residents were afraid to open businesses
for fear of being robbed, if they should make
more than a small sum. None of them felt that
they could get justice through the de facto
court system and did feel trying to do so was
not even worthwhile. Most of them said that
they are interested in increased economic
development in Abkhazia and that training and
consultations are beneficial but didn't
necessarily lead to the creation of new jobs.
Gali NGOs don't have regular ties with Tbilisi
NGOs, but on occasion do communicate with
those in Kutaisi. They said Gali NGO affiliation
with Georgian NGOs or the Ombudsman's Office
would require prior coordination with de facto
officials and for them it boils down to
uncomfortable politics. NGO representatives
explained to the team that since the impasse
over the Georgian presence in the Upper Kodori
Valley, matters have become more complicated
in contacts between the Abkhaz and Georgians.

It's Not What You Know, but Who You Know


--------------------------





14. (C) Nona Tarbaia, director of the Nabakevi
village hospital, relayed to the team the
difficulty in getting treatment for local
patients and in particular, medicines. She often
drives to Tbilisi and back, often taking patients
with her. When we asked her about any difficulties
getting through the checkpoints, she told us that
instead of crossing at the Inguri Bridge crossing,
which is now closed, she crosses at an unofficial
crossing point near the hospital which is near a
PKF checkpoint. She told us that she does not have
problems crossing at PKF checkpoints, not because
she is a doctor, but because she now knows the PKF
personnel at the checkpoints and this personal
relationship makes it easier to cross with needed
supplies and patients. (COMMENT: This echoes
comments by Petrovic that personal relationships
trump professional ones in getting business done
in Abkhazia. END COMMENT.)

Play it Again Shamba, The Chakaberia-Sigua Tune


--------------------------

--



15. (C) The team met with Abkhaz de facto foreign
minister Sergey Shamba and his deputy Maxim Gvinja.
Poloff encouraged Shamba to consider allowing the GoG
to distribute textbooks on non-controversial subjects
to Gali schools. She also encouraged him to revisit
the new property law, which does not permit property
to be returned to ethnic Georgians who left Abkhazia
after the civil war, and to revisit the citizenship law
which does not allow dual Georgian-Abkhaz citizenship.
She noted that both of these issues would again be noted
in the Human Rights Report. Poloff said that the U.S.
would likely be willing to fund a joint Georgian-Abkhaz
NATO tour if the Abkhaz decided to participate. Shamba

TBILISI 00002092 005 OF 005


initially was not receptive, focused on the Chakerbaia
and Sigua cases, and tied any proposal to resolution of
the Sigua case first. After much back and forth, Shamba
said that he would have to consult with his de facto
minister of education on the textbook issue, but did not
seem open to changing his position about this or on the
property or citizenship laws. He claimed that the Abkhaz
remain ready to follow-up on the Bonn agreement (reftel A)
to restart the Quadripartite Meetings and participate in a
joint investigation of the Sigua case, but that the Georgians
were holding it up.



16. (C) With regard to passportization, Shamba said that the
Abkhaz are not able to verify if ethic Georgians already have
Georgian passports when they apply for Abkhaz passports. As
for passport issuance, he stated that only 20 per cent of
Abkhazia currently has passports. He denied that the lack of a
Abkhaz passport would prevent ethnic Georgians from voting,
implying that how to handle this sensitive political issue
was yet to be decided by the de facto authorities. He stated
that during the last elections all were allowed to vote,
noting that Form 9s were accepted for this purpose, although
he admitted that Abkhaz passports were not widely available
at the time. Shamba said however, that all would have Abkhaz
passports prior to the next Presidential election. He
expressed frustration at what he referred to was constant
criticism from the international community regarding Abkhaz
passports and other issues of import to only the Georgians.
Shamba stated that perhaps a green card system would work and
he was open to new solutions to the problem. Poloff encouraged
Shamba to implement the legislation in a way that does not
force ethnic Georgians to give up their citizenship in order
to participate in political life in Abkhazia.

Sukhumi Council for the Civic Minded


--------------------------





17. (C) Poloffs had lunch with representatives from the NGO
community in Sukhumi on 2 August. NGOs noted problems similar
to those reported by Gali NGOs including the lack of a fair
judicial system, widespread corruption and de facto control
over media sources. Representatives there told us of a new
civil council formulated to liaise between government structures
and local citizens in resolving issues. NGO representatives
told us that there is not much opportunity for local press
to report other than the government's official word. Most
NGOs focused on legal assistance to local residents and
improving conditions for prisoners in Abkhazia's prison
(reftel B.)

Comment


--------------------------





18. (C) In our meetings with Shamba we sensed a slight
hardening in the Abkhaz position. When Shamba continued to
focus on Chakerbaia and Sigua, we reminded him that
Chakerbaia was released due to DAS Bryza and Ambassador
Tefft's intervention and that we fully supported an
investigation into Sigua. Strikingly, there were a lot
of Russian tourists in Sukhumi (and even more we heard
from farther North) making the newly renovated hotel where
we stayed a lively place. There were numerous Russian
tourists at the train station, in the hotel bar, on the
street, and in the restaurants. Still, traveling back
from Sukhumi, the stark difference between the potholed
streets and decayed infrastructure in Abkhazia (and especially
in Gali) and across the Inguri Bridge to Zugdidi (where the
GoG has just paved a new road) remains a palpable reminder
of the difference in outlook, mindset and opportunity
between the two sides of the river. End Comment.
PERRY