RECOMMENDATIONS - Page 3

Georgia/Abkhazia: Violations of the Laws of War and Russia's Role in the Conflict - RECOMMENDATIONS

Georgia/Abkhazia: Violations of the Laws of War and Russia's Role in the Conflict - RECOMMENDATIONS

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eorgia, and agreed to an open-ended Russian military presence in the form of peacekeepers in the break-away territory of Abkhazia. It is this scenario more than any other that may explain why Russia has neither acknowledged its own responsibility, nor condemned the acts of others when Russian weapons found their way into the hands of Georgia's enemy and Russian planes and ships were used to attack Georgian-controlled territory.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To the Government of the Republic of Georgia

-Condemn human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war committed by all perpetrators during the conflict in Abkhazia.

-Bring to justice such perpetrators of abuses in full conformity with international standards of due process.

To the Commanders of the Abkhaz Forces

-Condemn human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war committed by all perpetrators during the conflict in Abkhazia.

-Bring to justice such perpetrators of abuses in full conformity with international standards of due process under Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

-To the extent that Abkhaz commanders have invited, encouraged or accepted the services of "volunteers," both local and foreign, they must take full responsibility for holding actions by these irregular fighters to international humanitarian standards. This means bringing to justice those volunteers who are found to have violated the laws of war.

-Allow any individual residing in Abkhazia prior to the outbreak of hostilities to return to their homes unconditionally.

To the Government of the Russian Federation

-Condemn human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war committed by all perpetrators during the conflict in Abkhazia.

-Increase control of weapons armories belonging to the Russian armed forces, both on the territory of the Russian Federation and on the territory of Georgia and the conflict zone.

-Increase control of the border between the Russian Federation and Georgia to minimize the flow of arms and paramilitary combatants to the region.

-Clarify the status of members of the Russian armed or security forces in the conflict in Abkhazia, and bring to justice those who are found to have engaged in abuses of international humanitarian law. Moreover, the Russian Federation should assume full responsibility for the adherence to international humanitarian standards by fighters acting under its aegis or from its territories, and should take steps to ensure that fighters who do not agree to abide by such standards are prevented from taking up arms. Russia should not contribute to the capacity of a party to a conflict to wage a war where that party has shown an abject disregard for basic human rights norms.

-Give assurances that its peacekeeping forces will observe human rights and permit monitoring by international organizations.

To the Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus

-Halt the flow of arms between the Caucasus states and Georgia until a firm commitment to international human rights and humanitarian law standards is made by the parties to the conflict.

-Assume full responsibility for the adherence to international humanitarian standards by fighters acting from its territories, and take steps to ensure that fighters who do not agree to abide by such standards are prevented from taking up arms.

To the United Nations

-Condemn and remove immediately any measures which restrict any categories of displaced persons from repatriation.

-Ensure that any individual residing in Abkhazia prior to the outbreak of hostilities be allowed to return to Abkhazia unconditionally.

-Impose conditions of compliance with human rights upon any deployment of military observers and/or peacekeeping forces by any parties.

-Extend the mandate of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (U.N.O.M.I.G.), established by Security Council Resolution 858 (1993), when it expires in May 1995.

To the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe

-Deploy human rights monitors in Abkhazia, whose mandate should include the monitoring of abuses, intervention on behalf of victims, receipt of complaints, and periodic reporting to the Secretariat of the O.S.C.E.

II. INTRODUCTION: THE HUMAN RIGHTS CONSEQUENCES OF "MANAGED" CONFLICTS IN THE FORMER SOVIET REPUBLICS

On August 14, 1992, war broke out in Abkhazia, a small territory in the northwest corner of the Republic of Georgia that borders on the Black Sea. Attacked by Georgian forces nominally under the command of Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze, Abkhaz forces led by Vladislav Ardzinba have pressed for expanded autonomy within Georgia, and now full independence or at least confederation within Georgia. Though relatively small in scale, the conflict is reminiscent of the war in Bosnia as well as conflicts in other parts of the former Soviet Union, such as in Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and Moldova and most recently in Russia's own southern territory of Chechnya. The fighting has been brutal, and marked by indiscriminate attacks on civilians, hostage-taking, and forced relocation of population groups on the basis of their ethnicity, all serious violations of human rights and the laws of war.

The Abkhazia conflict has also been marked by intervention, at various levels, of the Russian Federation. In that sense, this war appears to exemplify certain brutal patterns of conflict in what, in the post-Soviet world, is often referred to by Russians as the "near abroad." Some of these patterns are political, others economic, still others military, and some – the focus of this report – are patterns and antecedents of human rights abuse.

In the Russian government's worldview Russia has a duty to "manage" conflicts occurring in the former Soviet republics, much as the United States saw it as its responsibility to "manage" conflicts in its own "backyard" – Latin America and the Caribbean – from the Monroe Doctrine in the early 19th century onward.[6] In the case of Abkhazia, the Russian role has consisted of affording military and political support now to one side, now to another – thereby, in effect, "managing" the conflict.[7]

The role the Russian Federation played in 1992-93 compounded the severe human rights crisis generated by the fighting. Later, Russian peacekeeping forces mitigated abuses during 1994 by demining the larger part of the conflict zone and ensuring compliance with the cease-fire agreement for most of the year.

Human Rights Watch takes no position on the merits or demerits of a state's projection of its power in regional conflicts, as long as that state's actions, from a human rights perspective, satisfy two conditions. In the case of Russia's role in the Abkhaz conflict, these conditions are that Russia should not materially assist a party to the conflict that is, prima facie, responsible for abuses of human rights and the laws of war, and that Russian forces should not themselves violate internationally recognized human rights and the laws of war. Russia's government must take responsibility in particular for the actions of members of its armed forces and security apparatus who are deployed, overtly or covertly, to take part in hostilities.

Clearly, responsibility for human rights abuses in Abkhazia belongs first and foremost to the principal parties to the conflict: combatants from greater Georgia, Abkhazia and the North Caucasus. Yet, by supporting, at various times during the conflict, both Georgian and Abkhaz forces, Russia takes a prominent share in the responsibility for the abuses that have been committed, and the consequences of which continue to stare any visitor in the face in the form of refugees, shattered lives, and destroyed property.

The patterns of conflict visible in Abkhazia are important, apart from the simple fact of abuse. They shed light on similar patterns of abuse elsewhere in conflicts in the former Soviet republics, some of which have not yet broken out into open war.