1. The present report is submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution 70/265, in which the Assembly requested the Secretary-General to submit a comprehensive report at its seventy-first session on the implementation of the resolution. The report covers the period from 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017 and draws on information received from a number of United Nations entities.
2. In accordance with the provisions of the resolution, the report focuses on: (a) the right of return of all refugees and internally displaced persons and their descendants, regardless of ethnicity; (b) the prohibition of forced demographic changes; (c) humanitarian access; (d) the importance of preserving the property rights of refugees and internally displaced persons; and (e) the development of a timetable to ensure the prompt voluntary return of all refugees and internally displaced persons to their homes.
3. Following an escalation of conflict in 1992-1993, which caused significant displacement of civilians, armed hostilities between the Georgian and Abkhaz sides ended with the signing in Moscow on 14 May 1994 of the Agreement on a Ceasefire and Separation of Forces (see S/1994/583 and Corr.1). That agreement was preceded by the signing in Moscow on 4 April 1994 of the quadripartite agreement on the voluntary return of refugees and displaced persons (see S/1994/397), in which the parties agreed to cooperate and interact in planning and conducting activities to safeguard and guarantee the safe, secure and dignified return of people who had fled from areas in the conflict zone to the areas of their previous permanent residence. Armed hostilities between the Georgian and South Ossetian sides ended with the 24 June 1992 Sochi Agreement, which established a ceasefire between the Georgian and South Ossetian forces and the creation of the Joint Control Commission and Joint Peacekeeping Forces.
4. Following the hostilities which started in the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia on 7 and 8 August 2008, the six-point ceasefire agreement of 12 August 2008 and the implementing measures of 8 September 2008 (see S/2008/631, paras. 7-15), international discussions were launched in Geneva on 15 October 2008, co-chaired by representatives of the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations (see S/2009/69 and Corr.1, paras. 5-7). In accordance with the agreement, the international discussions were to address the issues of security and stability and the return of internally displaced persons and refugees. By the end of the reporting period, 39 rounds of the Geneva international discussions had been held, with participants meeting in two parallel working groups.
5. In June 2011, the General Assembly, in its resolution 65/288, approved the budget for the United Nations Representative to the Geneva International Discussions. The establishment of this special political mission has facilitated the continued engagement of the United Nations in the Geneva process. The United Nations Representative and his team are responsible for preparing, in consultation with the other two Co-Chairs and their teams, the sessions of the Geneva international discussions. In December 2015, the General Assembly, in its resolution 70/249 A, appropriated the programme budget for the biennium 2016-2017 for special political missions, including for the United Nations Representative to the Geneva International Discussions. Moreover, in my report on estimates in respect of special political missions, good offices and other political initiatives authorized by the General Assembly and/or the Security Council, I included among the proposed resource requirements for the period from 1 January to 31 December 2017 the United Nations Representative to the Geneva International Discussions, which has an open-ended mandate (see A/71/365 and Add.1).
6. The United Nations Representative to the Geneva International Discussions and his team are also responsible for preparing, convening and facilitating the periodic meetings of the Joint Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism under United Nations auspices in Gali (see S/2009/254, paras. 5 and 6). Since their inception and after a four-year suspension, a total of 45 meetings of the Mechanism had been held with Georgian, Abkhaz, Russian and European Union Monitoring Mission participation by the end of the reporting period. I urge all participants to continue to use the Mechanism effectively in order to prevent incidents and respond immediately to any security-related occurrences. I am hopeful that meetings of the Mechanism will continue to contribute to the maintenance of a stable and calm situation on the ground and to help address and resolve cases and issues of concern to participants in the Mechanism.
7. During the reporting period, participants in Working Group I of the Geneva international discussions continued to discuss the security situation on the ground. In all rounds of the Geneva international discussions that took place during the reporting period, all participants assessed the overall security situation as relatively calm and stable. They also continued discussions on the key issues of the non-use of force and international security arrangements. In that regard, it should be noted that international obligations constraining the use or threat of force, without prejudice to the right of individual or collective self-defence, are embodied in the Charter of the United Nations and other international instruments. There were also discussions on steps in the direction of pledges on the non-use of force, including on the unilateral statements by all relevant stakeholders. I encourage all relevant participants to engage constructively in Working Group I, including on the issues of the non-use of force and freedom of movement, in order to make tangible progress without delay.
8. Working Group II continued to focus on the humanitarian needs of all affected populations. Although the issue of internally displaced persons and refugees and their voluntary return was kept on the agenda, there was, regrettably, no discussion and no progress in addressing this important issue in the rounds of the Geneva international discussions. All participants repeatedly expressed the importance of the matter and their willingness to address it as part of and outside the Geneva international discussions. Regrettably, however, “walkouts” by some participants in the Geneva international discussions under this particular agenda item have become the norm. I strongly urge all participants to reconsider and refrain from these actions and to address all their respective concerns within the context of the Geneva international discussions. There was no sustainable return to areas of origin or habitual residence during the reporting period.
9. In the context of Working Group II, I am pleased to note that despite repeated disruptions of the discussion in the Working Group, caused by walkouts by some participants during the discussion of the agenda item dealing with “returns”, there have been constructive discussions followed by concrete activities on humanitarian issues, including in relation to cultural heritage, environmental protection, in particular the fight against the box tree moth, and the issue of archives. The co-moderators discussed with participants the possibility of allowing humanitarian visits to religious sites, including graveyards, by relatives of the deceased, including those who were killed during the conflicts, across administrative boundary lines throughout the year, especially during the Easter period. I strongly urge the sides to favourably consider such “good faith” gestures in the future.