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International Day of the Disappeared marked in Georgia

By Levan Abramishvili
Monday, September 2
The International Day of the Disappeared is marked annually on August 30, it’s a day created to draw attention to the fate of individuals imprisoned at places and under poor conditions unknown to their relatives. This day aims to pay tribute and respect to the disappeared people, support their families and raise awareness of the public on the impact brought by the disappearance of a person to their family. It includes all those whose families have lost contact as a result of conflicts, natural disasters or other tragedies.

In Georgia, the issue of missing persons is underrepresented on the national agenda, although as a consequence of armed conflicts in the 1990s and August 2008, over 2 300 persons are still considered missing in Georgia. With the assistance of the ICRC, 170 people have been identified and reburied from the conflict zone so far.

To mark the day, The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) organized events in five cities across Georgia – Tbilisi, Zugdidi, Kutaisi, Batumi, and Gori. The events hosted families of missing persons, representatives of “Molodini” Foundation and Family Committees. In Tbilisi, the event was attended by the head of the delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Georgia Severine Chappaz, State Minister of Reconciliation and Civic Equality Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, representatives of Georgia Red Cross Society and other international actors and officials from other state agencies.

In Kutaisi, the families came from all over the Imereti region to the memorial of the disappeared on August 30.

According to ICRC, in Imereti, about 1000 families of missing persons have been identified, and so far only 14 persons have been identified.

One of the family members was Ketevan Kobeshavidze from Sokhumi. According to Radio Liberty, she has been living in the Khoni IDP settlement with her family for 26 years. For almost that time, her parents, Nunu and Archil Kobeshavidze have been missing. According to her, she was told that her parents were killed in their home on Christmas Eve 1994 and their neighbors buried them in their backyard. However, some years later strangers took over the house and removed Ketevan’s parents’ remains. To this day, she doesn’t know where to look for her their graves. She goes to the Kutaisi monument of the missing every year, where people from Imereti gather, whose family members have disappeared during the armed conflicts of the 1990s and August 2008. “I feel like I'm going to their grave. It is very emotional for me to come here,” says Kobeshavidze.

As an ICRC Field Officer for the Western Georgia Laneta Rodonaia says, as time passes, it becomes harder and harder to look for the missing persons and identify their graves.

“In 2010, we established a two-sided coordination mechanism, involving both Georgian and Abkhaz representatives. The specialists discussed which of the hypothesis on certain graves were higher to open them. In parallel, we work with the families, collect as much information about the missing person as possible, obtain DNA analysis of four family members, send information to the lab. The process is very time consuming and labor-intensive. Every detail is very important to us, so the process is delayed and it is difficult to provide answers quickly to the families,” Rodonaia told Radio Liberty.

The United Nations General Assembly has adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) on 20 December 2006, it is an international human rights instrument of the UN and is intended to prevent forced disappearance defined in international law, crimes against humanity. As of August 2019, 98 states have signed the convention and 61 have ratified it. Unfortunately, Georgia has not signed the convention.

According to the official definition of the UN, “Enforced disappearance” is considered to be the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.

The states, which become part of the Convention must enact specific laws establishing the crime of enforced disappearance. Amongst other obligations, they must investigate complaints and reports of enforced disappearance and bring those responsible to justice.

The Public Defender’s Office of Georgia has been urging the state to ratify the convention from 2013. The issue made it on the Parliament’s agenda in 2014 and 2015. However, the convention has still not been ratified. Whether it’s the issue of prioritizing of or political unwillingness is unknown. Generally, Georgia is quick to ratify such resolutions and conventions and the country becoming a part of the ICPPED would be a step forward in searching for the disappeared.