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Georgia: UN Expert on Internally Displaced Persons says security is key to return

4 October 2008

TBILISI – The Representative of the Secretary General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons Walter Kälin, at the end of a visit to Georgia on Saturday, expressed grave concern at the lack of effective protection of the population in the ‘buffer zone.’ He welcomed the Government’s prompt response to the crisis of displacement in the aftermath of hostilities, and its plans to find durable solutions for all internally displaced persons – including those in protracted displacement since the early 1990s – who cannot return to their homes in the near future, but deplored the lack of unimpeded humanitarian access to Tskhinvali and conflict-affected areas.

The Representative stressed that “the continuing lack of effective protection of the population against violence committed by armed elements and widespread looting of property in the buffer zone north of Gori is unacceptable and should cease immediately.”

Kälin was alarmed by witnesses’ descriptions of the on-going climate of fear in many areas. He urged that the need to restore law and order in the “buffer zone” be addressed without any further delay, and that deadlines for the withdrawal of Russian troops be respected. Thousands of displaced people are hoping to return to their homes but security is a fundamental prerequisite to allow them to restore their lives there. The need for a stronger humanitarian presence and for ensuring continuous protection monitoring in those areas is urgent and the deployment of the European Union Monitoring Mission is a welcome first step.

Referring to the crisis of displacement following the hostilities in August, the Representative welcomed the rapid response of the Government of Georgia and the international community to address the immediate humanitarian needs of thousands of displaced. He also welcomed steps taken by the Government to provide durable solutions for up to 30,000 persons among the displaced who are unlikely to be able to return in the foreseeable future, including by initiating the construction of new houses.

“I welcome the recognition by the authorities that local integration in the areas they have fled to and safeguarding their right to return are not mutually exclusive,” he said. In the meantime, the immediate humanitarian needs of these populations require continuous support, particularly in view of the coming winter.

Kälin also stressed that “the time has come to integrate the more than 200,000 persons displaced in the early 1990s, many of whom still live in collective shelters in unacceptable conditions.” He urged the Government to start implementation of the Action Plan for Internally Displaced Persons adopted in July of this year without any further delay and encouraged the donor community, international organizations and NGOs to provide support for this endeavour that would restore hope and dignity for a part of the Georgian population that has been marginalized for too long. The Representative emphasized that particular attention should be paid to vulnerable groups among the displaced to ensure that they are able to fully enjoy their rights.

The Representative urged all relevant actors to grant unimpeded access to all areas to humanitarian actors so that they may reach internally displaced persons and other civilians at risk without further delay, and to refrain from any steps that may further impede such access.

He again reminded all parties of their obligation to respect the rights of internally displaced persons and provide protection and assistance to them in accordance with the guarantees enshrined in the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

The Representative visited Georgia upon invitation by the Government of Georgia from 1 to 4 October 2008. He had high-level talks and met internally displaced persons in collective shelters in Tbilisi, visited Gori and travelled to the so called “buffer zone” north of it. The Representative hopes to be able to visit Tskhinvali and surrounding conflict affected areas in the near future.

Walter Kälin assumed office as Representative of the Secretary General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons in 2004. He is mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to enter into dialogue with governments and international actors in order to enhance the protection of the human rights of internally displaced persons. In support of his mandate, he undertakes working visits and missions to countries affected by internal displacement. Most recently he has travelled to Azerbaijan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, and Bosnia.

For media requests, please contact Ms. Karin Lucke: Tel. (41) 22 917 9134 Fax. (41) 22 917 9006; Email: idp@ohchr.org