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UN Expert on Internally Displaced Persons supports efforts to find durable solutions for the internally displaced in Georgia

TBILISI (16 September 2010) – “The search for durable solutions for all internally displaced persons in Georgia, whether they were displaced in the early 1990s or 2008, must remain a top priority “ said Walter Kaelin, Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, at the end of a four-day visit to the country.

“I was pleased to be invited to come once again to Georgia in order to assess the progress made over the last few years to improve the lives of 350,000 internally displaced persons and identify the remaining and new challenges faced by the authorities.”

Mr. Kaelin noted with appreciation that the Government has made good progress in the implementation of the Action Plan for internally displaced persons. “I commend the authorities for their commitment and encourage them to pursue their efforts. However, renewed emphasis on employment and livelihood opportunities for internally displaced persons is essential. Neglecting this dimension may ultimately jeopardize attempts to improve the situation of the displaced.” He also called for providing better information to displaced persons on envisaged measures and for stronger involvement of civil society.

While he welcomed the closing of collective centers, where some internally displaced persons had been living since the early 1990s, he also expressed concerns about how evictions were carried out in the last few months in Tbilisi. In this regard, he encouraged the authorities to proceed carefully and to put in place clear procedures in order to ensure that such evictions are carried out in accordance with international standards.

“Internally displaced persons must be treated with dignity, which means they should be given adequate notice of plans to close a collective centre and offered reasonable options for alternative accommodation. Evictions must not mean that people lose their livelihoods and access to quality education or health services. While they may in some cases be unavoidable, they must not destroy the modest standards of living that people have achieved.”

Mr. Kaelin also travelled to displacement-affected areas in Abkhazia. “I was impressed by the positive impact of projects implemented by the international community on returnees living in difficult circumstances in the Gali district, but remain concerned that people are still exposed to risks related to acts of violence and other crimes , as well as difficulties in maintaing their cultural traditions.”

The Representative was concerned to see that the prospects of return for those displaced from the Gali district in Abkhazia almost twenty years ago remain low. This situation of protracted displacement should not be allowed to continue and the search for durable solutions cannot be hampered by the current political deadlock. He reminded all parties that all internally displaced persons have the right to voluntarily return to their homes and to have their property returned to them or to receive compensation where restitution is not possible. Those who do not wish to return should be given the opportunity to integrate where they have been displaced or in another part of the country.

The Representative regretted that humanitarian access to several regions of the country continues to be restricted, due mainly to legal and administrative obstacles. “I sincerely hope that the changes currently envisaged in the implementation of the Law on the Occupied Territories will not adversely impact humanitarian access to the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia and Abkhazia and even hinder the return of displaced persons.”

During the course of his visit, Mr. Kaelin met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the State Minister of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees, the State Minister and the Deputy State Minister for Reintegration. He also met with the Public Defender’s Office, representatives of the international community and non-governmental organizations. He visited locations where internally displaced persons live in Tbilisi, Potskho-Etseri and Gori.

Walter Kaelin, Professor of Law in Bern (Switzerland), has been the Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of the Internally Displaced Persons since 2004. This is his fifth visit to Georgia (13 to 16 September 2010) since 2005.

Learn more about the Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/idp/index.htm

OHCHR Country Page – Georgia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/GEIndex.aspx

For further information or interview requests, please contact Catherine Phuong (Tel: +41 22 917 9271 / email: cphuong@ohchr.org