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OSCE High Commissioner visits Tbilisi to discuss problems of national minorities

By Ana Robakidze
Monday, June 24
The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Knut Vollebaek, paid an official visit to Georgia and held meeting with high ranking officials to discuss problems of the national minorities in the country.

On June 19, Vollebaek had a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia. According to the ministry, the OSCE Commissioner met Minister Maia Panjikidze and “the two discussed the gravity of the security situation and human rights violations in Georgia's occupied territories.” The Georgian Foreign Minister gave the High Commissioner detailed information about the illegal actions carried out by Russian occupation forces in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region, notably the installation of wire fences and artificial trenches across the occupation line.”

The two also discussed the measures of the Georgian government taken on the protection of the rights of national minorities and new initiatives, as well as the role of the Office of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities this direction.

At the meeting with the foreign minister, Vollebaek expressed his intention to visit the border villages in order to study the existing situation. He visited the villages of Ditsi and Khurvaleti and expressed concern about the new fences in the conflict zone and called on the responsible persons to promptly respond to the situation.

“This morning I visited Ditsi and Khurvaleti. I am concerned about the establishment of the barbed wire. This has had a negative impact on the population living there. I call upon all who are responsible for such incidents, to respond immediately to what is happening in order to ensure that this will not happen again," Vollebaek said.

During his visit in Tbilisi Vollebaek participated in the round table on "Ljubljana principles for the integration of a distinct community" together with the Georgia's State Minister for Reintegration Paata Zakareishvili. The round table was attended by representatives of non-governmental organizations, government agencies, as well as by the Office of the Public Defender and the diplomatic corps.

Zakareishvili spoke about the national concept of civic integration and tolerance, and stated its main areas: rule of law, education, the Georgian language, media and access to information, political integration and civic participation, social and regional integration, culture and identity. He stressed the importance of knowledge of the official language by national minorities, as it is a key for their full integration into the society. “A positive trend has been observed in terms of teaching the official language, and we hope that in a few years, representatives of national minorities will be as fluent in Georgian as in their native language or Russian," the Minister of State said.

In his interview with the Georgian service of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, OSCE high Commissioner said that he can see the readiness of the Georgian government to solve the problems of national minorities. Vollebaek said solving minority issues is a long-term, continuous process, but he can also understand that the country is in a transition period with limited resources and minority issues may not be first on the agenda.