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Human Rights Commissioner visits Georgia

By Mzia Kupunia
Monday, November 30
The de facto South Ossetian authorities have prevented Thomas Hammarberg, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, entering Tskhinvali, Rustavi 2 reported on Sunday. Hammarberg was waiting for their decision for several hours in the village of Ergneti, according to Rustavi 2.

The Commissioner said that he will not change his mind about visiting Tskhinvali and the detained Georgian teenagers. “The detainees should be released. Negotiations are going on, however nothing has been decided so far. We will carry on working until we get results,” Hammarberg told journalists on Sunday.

Hammarberg arrived in Georgia on November 27 and is planning to stay until December 4. On Friday he expressed hope that the Georgian teenagers detained in South Ossetia will be freed in the near future.

“I have worked a lot in Strasbourg on this issue. I am going to meet Georgian Government members on the matter. I hope the detained teenagers will return to their homes in the next few days,” Hammarberg told journalists on November 27 at Tbilisi International Airport.

Georgian officials have slammed the CoE Human Rights Commissioner for taking “no action” to secure the release of the underage Georgian detainees. Ruling party MPs have said Hammarberg is “almost always partial” in issues related to Russia. “He is doing nothing. Hammarberg always takes an abstentionist position with regard to Russia,” National Movement MP Akaki Minashvili said on November 20.

Parliament Speaker Davit Bakradze has said that the case of the detained Georgians is a “test” for the Council of Europe. “It should not be perceived that Georgia wants confrontation with the CoE, or the Human Rights Commissioner, but we should understand that this is a test and if Mr. Hammarberg or his colleagues want to gain trust then this case is a test in which everyone should make all efforts,” he said.

Hammarberg responded to the criticism of the Georgian authorities after arriving in Tbilisi, saying that the MPs were “misinformed” about his work. “If anyone has any doubts about my objectivity, I would recommend that they look at my report about the situation in the North Caucasus, which is related to Russia,” the CoE Human Rights Commissioner said.

Officials in Tbilisi say Hammarberg should use “all his authority” to ensure the release the underage prisoners, detained on November 4, from the Tskhinvali jail. “There is a wall between Georgia and the separatists at this stage and it makes negotiations impossible. That’s why Georgia asks for a helping hand from international organisations and Strasbourg,” head of the Parliamentary Committee for Human Rights Gia Arsenishvili said.

On Saturday South Ossetian media outlets reported that Thomas Hammarberg was planning to visit the de facto republic on December 1. “In Tskhinvali Hammarberg will meet the families of missing and detained South Ossetian citizens as well as representatives of the Government and the Alania Eparchy,” the de facto human rights representative for South Ossetia told journalists. He said one of the issues which would be discussed at the meetings would be the four Georgian teen detainees.

On Sunday Hammarberg met Shida Kartli region Governor Lado Vardzelashvili in Gori. The meeting was held behind closed doors. “This is the person who can lead negotiations with Russia. I hope he will do his best to obtain the release of the children because he is the Human Rights Commissioner for the Council of Europe and it is his direct duty to react to such cases,” Vardzelashvili said.

Analysts say Hammarberg’s authority in Russia could be “decisive” in releasing the Georgian teenagers. “He is a respected figure in Russia, and I am sure that before coming to Tbilisi and visiting de facto South Ossetia he had some consultations with the Russian side on this issue,” analyst Malkhaz Chemia said. As for the refusal to let Hammarberg enter the occupied territory, Chemia said that by doing this the secessionist authorities are trying to show that they will not let anyone, even the CoE representative, into Tskhinvali without a visa. “The de facto officials were apparently irritated by the fact that Hammarberg wanted to enter Tskhinvali from the Georgian side, through Tbilisi,” Chemia told The Messenger.