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November 10, 09

NEWS / Independent UN expert urges greater efforts to help South Ossetias displaced

10 November 2009 – An independent United Nations human rights expert who just completed a visit to South Ossetia has called for “more pragmatism and less politics” to improve the situation of those displaced during last year’s armed conflict that pitted Georgia against separatists and their Russian allies.
Walter Kaelin, the Secretary-General’s Representative on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), cited lack of shelter as the main problem faced by those displaced within South Ossetia during the fighting in August 2008.

It is estimated that 680 houses, in addition to a number of public civilian installations, were destroyed in Tskhinvali during the fighting, as well as many villages, he noted in a news release issued following his 5 to 6 November visit.

“Reconstruction is progressing far too slowly. Many will have to live through a second winter without having their own roof over their head,” said the expert, who reports to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council.

“I also saw several villages, which had an ethnic Georgian population prior to the 2008 conflict, that are now empty and have been systematically destroyed,” he said.

Mr. Kaelin said he also met with ethnic Ossetians, who had been displaced during the first conflict in 1991-1992.

“All displaced, whether they were displaced in 1991-1992 or 2008, have the right to return and restitution of their property,” he stated. “Return for everyone regardless of where they live now must be facilitated by both sides in a pragmatic way respecting the rights of internally displaced persons.

He added that a mechanism “with international expertise” is probably needed to effectively address property issues, given the different waves of displacement in the region.

Mr. Kaelin encouraged both sides to make use of the Geneva discussions and other channels of communication to agree on first steps to alleviate unnecessary hardships for the civilian population, while continuing to work towards a more comprehensive solution.

The ninth round of the Geneva discussions, a forum that brings together representatives of the conflict parties and the international community to discuss, among other issues, questions relating to refugees and IDPs, will resume tomorrow.

The Representative also called on all sides to show more flexibility in agreeing on access routes for the international community to provide humanitarian assistance and help with the recovery and reconstruction effort.

“These are practical arrangements that do not in any way pre-determine political questions. With a minimum will to compromise we could have had an agreement long ago allowing humanitarian organizations to help the most vulnerable to resume normal lives.”

Mr. Kaelin, who carries out his duties in an independent and unpaid capacity, visited Georgia in October 2008 but had been unable to access the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia at that time.

“Flexibility on all sides has allowed me to carry out this visit,” he noted. “I can report that I have enjoyed full access to all places in the South Ossetia that I requested to see. I also had open and frank discussions with key decision-makers on the South Ossetian side and will continue the dialogue with the Georgian Government.”




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