CoE Human Rights Chief to Visit Georgia

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Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 14 Dec.'09 / 17:24

Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe (CoE) human rights commissioner, will arrive in Georgia as part of his efforts to secure release of two Georgian minors from the village of Tirdznisi remaining held in Tskhinvali.

Hammarberg will arrive in Tbilisi later this week and probably will also travel to Tskhinvali, according to CoE Information Office in Tbilisi.

Four Georgian teenagers from the village of Tirdznisi were detained by the breakaway region's authorities on November 4.

Hammarberg, who earlier this month mediated release of two teenagers and five Ossetians, said on December 3 that he had received "firm commitment" from the breakaway region's leadership that two remaining teenagers would have been released "on the morning of December 13."

But despite the commitment, Levan Khmiadashvili and Viktor Buchukuri, 17 and 16 years old, respectively, still remain in detention.

"At this stage we are waiting for Mr. Hammarberg's visit and as it seems the other side - those who have minors in illegal detention - are also waiting for this visit; so let's wait for this visit and for Mr. Hammarberg's trip to Tskhinvali," Temur Iakobashvili, the Georgian state minister for reintegration, told Rustavi 2 TV on December 14.

Apart of these two teenagers, a third Georgian minor, Giorgi Archvadze, also remains held in Tskhinvali. Unlike the case of four teenagers from Tirdznisi, the case of Archvadze gained less media and public attention.

Archvadze, whose family was forced to leave its house in the village of Beloti in breakaway South Ossetia as a result of the August war, went missing on July 5, 2009. At the time Archvadze was 15 years old. As it emerged later, Archvadze was detained by the breakaway region's law enforcement agencies and charged for "illegal crossing of the South Ossetian state border."

Merab Chigoev, deputy envoy of the South Ossetian leader for post-conflict resolution issues, told the breakaway region's lawmakers on December 9 that total of 16 Georgian citizens were held in detention in Tskhinvali for either "illegal crossing of border or illegal possession of firearms". Most of them were arrested after the August war, but several of them, according to Chigoev, were detained before the war. He said that Tskhinvali was insisting on "all for all exchange".

In addition it emerged last week that a 61 year-old Georgian citizen, Jemal Midelashvili, was detained by the South Ossetian militia on November 22 in the town of Akhalgori, where he was visiting his parents. The case of Midelashvili became known after the Georgian Public Defender's Office said on December 11 that Midelashvili's wife appealed the ombudsman for assistance.

Hansjörg Haber, head of EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM), said last week that the mission was "closely cooperating" with CoE human rights commissioner "to obtain if possible the release of all detainees taken since the war last August."

He said that other "big problem" was related with case of three "disappeared Ossetians, whose fate is uncertain".

The three Ossetian men are missing since October 13, 2008 after coming across the Georgian-controlled territory. The South Ossetian side released a video footage, apparently shot by a mobile phone, showing these three men being shouted at and harassed by other men, claimed by Tskhinvali to be Georgian law enforcement officers. Tbilisi denies the claims. It was not clear how the South Ossetian side obtain the video footage.

Haber said that lack of information about the case of the three men was cited by Tskhinvali as a reason of not participating in meetings of Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism.

Boris Chochiev, the South Ossetian leader's special envoy for post-conflict resolution, said after meeting with OSCE chairmanship's special envoy Charalampos Christopoulos in Tskhinvali on December 14, that Tskhinvali would take part in a meeting with Georgian officials in the village of Ergneti on December 17 to discuss the issue of missing persons.

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