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Corien Jonker: ‘Humanitarian scars of South Ossetian conflict run deep’

Strasbourg, 16.03.2009 – “Following my visit to South Ossetia, I am greatly concerned by the humanitarian consequences of the war between Georgia and Russia, and the humanitarian scars left by the conflict,” said Corien Jonker, Chair of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), at the end of her two-day visit to the region on 13 and 14 March 2009. “These scars run deep and are visible on the population remaining in South Ossetia, on those who sought refuge in North Ossetia, and on ethnic Georgians who have been expelled and whose properties have been razed to the ground.”

“There are no winners from this conflict,” said Mrs Jonker, “only losers. One of the main preoccupations of the people living in South Ossetia is security, and they fear a resumption of armed conflict. Their immediate humanitarian needs have been catered for, but much needs to be done to repair damaged property and to guarantee access to gas, electricity and water supplies and to provide them with a basic livelihood.”
Mrs Jonker visited many villages in the region that had been under the control of the Georgian authorities before the recent conflict. “These villages no longer exist,” she said, “there is only rubble. This is not damage caused mainly by the war, it is damage after the war, and the de facto South Ossetian authorities and Russian authorities must take responsibility for this.”
On the issue of violations during the war, Mrs Jonker said: “There were undoubtedly human rights and humanitarian law violations committed on all sides during the conflict and these have to be investigated. In South Ossetia I was particularly concerned by allegations of attacks on civilians by the Georgian army, and in particular attacks on civilian convoys seeking to flee the region. Persons involved must be brought to account for any violations of human rights or humanitarian law.”
On the issue of return of Georgians to South Ossetia, Mrs Jonker commented that the authorities had told her that these would be allowed on three conditions: security, voluntary return, and a guarantee of adequate living conditions. She also said that the authorities informed her that certain persons who had allegedly committed crimes would never be allowed to return.
“Akhalgori district remains a great concern to me,” Mrs Jonker said. “The authorities have invited me to visit this region and I hope that they will allow me to return to undertake this visit. From the information I have, persons of Georgian ethnic origin are not facing threats to their physical security, but they feel insecure about their future, in particular in relation to travel south, access to pensions, schooling and the passport issue.”
Mrs Jonker will prepare a report on the humanitarian consequences of the war between Georgia and Russia (Follow-up given to Resolution 1648 (2009)), focussing in particular on the situation in South Ossetia. This report will be approved by the Migration and Refugee Committee, meeting in the Hague on 27 March 2009. The Parliamentary Assembly will then debate the matter in Strasbourg on Wednesday 29 April 2009 at the same time as it debates the follow-up given to Resolution 1647 (2009) on the consequences of the war between Georgia and Russia.
Resolution 1648 (2009)
Resolution 1647 (2009)