Better Security Needed to Protect Displaced in Georgia -- UN Rights Expert
Effective security is the key to ensuring the return home of tens of thousands of people displaced by the recent conflict in Georgia, a United Nations human rights expert said today, warning about the ongoing climate of fear faced by civilians in the region.
Walter Kälin, the Secretary-General's Representative on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), issued a statement at the end of a four-day trip to Georgia in which he expressed particular concern about the lack of protection of civilians living in the "buffer zone" between the breakaway region of South Ossetia and the rest of the country.
"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 [the town of] Gori is unacceptable and should cease immediately," he said.
Mr. Kälin said he was alarmed by the descriptions he heard during meetings with IDPs and others about the climate of fear in many areas since the conflict erupted in early August.
An estimated 192,000 people were uprooted from their homes in the Caucasus country by the fighting between forces from Georgia, Russia and South Ossetia.
In today's statement Mr. Kälin urged that law and order in the buffer zone be restored immediately and he also called for the deadlines for the withdrawal of Russian troops to be respected.
"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 (EU) Monitoring Mission is a welcome first step."
The Representative deplored the lack of unimpeded humanitarian access to Tskhinvali and other conflict-affected areas, and he called on all sides to grant full access to aid workers as soon as possible.
But he welcomed what he called the Georgian Government's prompt response to the massive displacement as a result of the fighting, including its construction of new homes for people unlikely to be able to return in the near future.
He also noted Tbilisi's plans to find durable solutions for all IDPs, including those - estimated at around 200,000 - who have been away from their homes since conflict in the early 1990s.
"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, adding that immediate humanitarian needs are also of concern given the coming winter in the region.
During this visit Mr. Kälin visited Tbilisi, Gori and the buffer zone to the immediate north, and held high-level talks with Georgian Government officials. He said he hopes to visit Tskhinvali and surrounding areas on a separate trip in the near future.
Mr. Kälin has served in an independent and unpaid capacity as the Secretary-General's Representative on this issue since 2004, and he reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
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