Abkhazia’s Stagnant Human Rights Crisis
December 11, 2017 | For nearly a quarter of a century, internally displaced persons (IDPs) have sought a return to their homes in Abkhazia, a territory that is technically part of Georgia, but has traditionally been occupied by Russian separatists. Two waves of displacement in 1992 and 2008 respectively may have forced ethnic Georgians out, yet they were not deterred by this. As of 2011, 47,000 IDPs have returned to their homes in Abkhazia’s Gali District. Unfortunately, they have found their arrival home to be less than welcome.
The return of IDPs was met head-on by Abkhaz authorities through a process of forced naturalization. Enacted in 2005, the “Law of the Republic of Abkhazia About Citizenship of Republic of Abkhazia” was created as a barrier to entry for any hopeful returnees. Residence and certain rights such as work and education require an Abkhaz passport. For non-ethnic Abkhaz*, acquisition of citizenship requires, at a minimum, renouncement of any foreign citizenship, knowledge of the Abkhaz language, an oath of loyalty, and residence within the territory for a period of ten years. As an occupied territory, Abkhazia has no international recognition outside of Russia and a few other states. Georgian IDPs are in effect forced into a position of statelessness as the “Abkhaz citizenship” they attempt to obtain is unrecognized. However, many returnees apply nonetheless.
It is painfully clear that this process alone acts in a discriminatory manner against ethnic Georgian IDPs, an action expressly forbidden under the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Within this document, competent authorities are called upon to assist IDP resettlement which has become a near impossible task. On the one hand, Abkhazia has exacerbated the process through its citizenship requirements. On the other, longstanding conflict resolution missions run by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that have been in place since the initial wave of displacement have been concluded due to a Russian veto of their extension. Georgia’s hands are tied as well, as they have no access to IDPs in the occupied territories, let alone the means to provide them any aid outside territory actively controlled by Georgia. Returnees will have to trek across the administrative boundary separating Abkhazia from Georgia to receive any meaningful assistance.
While Georgia may find itself in an impossible situation regarding its occupied territories or ameliorating the crises that develop within them, there might be a silver lining. Opened in January 2016, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has launched an investigation into war crimes committed in South Ossetia during the war with Russia in 2008. Albeit a years-long process, this investigation is a first step which can allow Georgia to steadily push forward an internationally recognized resolution. Additionally, there are grounds for opening a second investigation for human rights violations in Abkhazia. Crimes that fall under ICC jurisdiction include “persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender,” as stated under Article 7 of the Rome Statute. The forced passportization of ethnic Georgians is nothing short of persecution under ethnic grounds. By bringing this case to the attention of the ICC, at a minimum, external support can continue in place of previous aid cut off by Russia.
*While the law is not specific in regards to ethnic Russians and Abkhaz citizenship, considering the nature of their relationship and Abkhazian dependency on Russia, it can be assumed that ethnic Russians would be able to acquire citizenship through “other bases….or an international agreement of RA” as stated in Article 11, section 4 of the citizenship law.
Alessandro Miotti is a graduate of Lewis & Clark College's international affairs and Russian programs.
The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of other Arbitror contributors or of Arbitror itself.
Photo by Frank Miller from Washington, DC, United States (DSC_0017) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons