Joint Abkhaz-Russian anti-crime center established after months of tough discussions
Photo: Sergei Demianov
After several months of difficult discussions in civil society and arguments between the opposition and the government of Abkhazia, an agreement to create an ‘Information and Coordination Center for Combatting Crime’ in cooperation with Russia has been ratified.
At the parliamentary meeting all MPs were present. Twenty-three voted in favor of it, nine against it and two abstained.
The agreement has been ratified in its original form, with objections and demands by critics from the opposition not taken into account.
So far it is unclear how the course of events will progress. Earlier, the chairman of ‘Amtskhara’, Alkhas Kvitsinia, said that even if the agreement was to be ratified in such a form which does not fulfill the demands of the representatives of the opposition, then street protests were not going to be organized.
This was the position of another critic of the agreement, of the chairman of the public organization ‘Kyrazaa’ and MP Dmitriy Dbar, who assured journalists that “…everything will take place through legal channels. Our organization does not plan to hold any ‘meetings’ (protests).”
JAMnews presents its readers with the background to this story: why is the Abkhaz-Russian Information Coordination Center for Combatting Crime being created and why are its opponents so outraged?
Responsibilities of the Abkhaz-Russian Information Corodination Center
Provisions for the creation of such a center on the territory of Abkhazia were spelled out in the 10th Article of the Treaty on Alliance and Strategic Partnership between Russia and Abkhazia, which was signed in November 2014.
Its main goal is to organize the exchange of operative information between the law enforcement agencies of Russia and Abkhazia, the creation of a database on organized crime groups and assist in the search for and extradition of persons who have fled criminal persecution.
What objections do MPs have against the creation of the center?
The idea of creating a joint Abkhaz-Russian center for this purpose was received with great caution in Abkhazia and its ratification may become problematic.
When, about a month ago, the bill of the agreement was presented in parliament, 15 of 35 MPs appealed to the president of Abkhazia, Raul Khajimba, and to the Minister of Internal Affairs, Aslan Kobakhia, requesting to postpone its signing and for them to examine an entire list of notes and suggestions on separate articles of the project.
It is notable that among the list of those who made this appeal, one can see not only representatives of the opposition but also MPs that are considered entirely loyal to the authorities currently in power.
MP Raul Lolua, the former Minister of Internal Affairs of Abkhazia, told JAMnews at the time that ‘the document is not ready – not in terms of style nor technicalities’.
In the text of the appeal, a concrete list of suggestions on editing the text of the agreement was put forward, some of which were of critical importance. The query to the Minister of Internal Affairs and to the President offered to add several points to the agreement. It was suggested that the Parliament of Abkhazia be given the right to access any piece of information obtained or possessed by the Center. It also demanded that the center provide an annual report on its activities to the parliament.
In addition to the critical arguments of the MPs, a number of public organizations and political centers also voiced their own concerns. Here are their arguments.
What were the objections of political party ‘Amtskhara’?
The opposition party ‘Amtskhara’ stated that ‘the agreement contains several contradictions and, moreover, [in several instances] goes against the national legislation and provisions of common sense’.
The notes of ‘Amtskhara’ on the text of the agreement constituted several pages. The following are the main arguments:
Article 4.1 of the agreement forbids the Center from engaging in commercial activities. However, Article 4.2 allows the Center to draw up and enact civil-law contracts, open and maintain bank accounts, obtain and control property, to address the court system with suits and participate in judicial litigation.
Moreover, the Articles do not clarify the nature of such ‘civil-law’ contracts and agreements, the aims of opening bank accounts and the conducting of banking operations: it furthermore does not specify what kind of property it is allowed to obtain, the subject matter of suits it may bring to court and the necessity of its participation in judicial litigation.
Article 8 bestows officials, employees of the center and members of their families with diplomatic immunity. We do not see any necessity for this, given that the employees of agencies of internal affairs, who perform their duties, are already protected by immunity by the current national legislation.
It is unclear from what the developers of the agreement are trying to defend the Russian employees of the center.
Article 11 of the agreement does not stand up to any legal criticism or inspection. Article 11 states that ‘changes may be made to the current agreement, which are drawn up in separate protocols and are an integral part of it [the agreement]’. Who draws up these protocols? Does this Article mean that the Ministries of Internal Affairs of the two countries have the right to make changes to the inter-governmental agreement that has been ratified by both parliaments? If so, this means that the added changes would not be under the control of the highest legislative bodies [of the two countries], and they would not oblige the Ministries of Internal Affairs to have them pass additional screening and ratification, which is a judicial absurdity.
It is not indicated in a single document which legislative body will be responsible for running the center’s activities, and whether the center will be subject to the supervision of the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Abkhazia.
Amtskhara emphasized that its criticisms of the flaws of the agreement are presented namely to the Abkhaz leadership and that ‘the Russian side has nothing to do with this’.
“We are not against the creation of the Information-Coordination Center; we are asking instead for changes to be made to several points and Articles. Some people tried to present us as an ‘anti-Russian organization’. We don’t have such a concept. We have, on the contrary, far more serious and tightly-linked relations with Russia,” said the Chairman of Amtskhara, Alkhas Kvitsinia.
What are the objections of the Aynar opposition party?
Another opposition party, Aynar, stated that it had come up with a number of amendments which, in its opinion, ‘would help to create defense mechanisms and prevent the violation of the sovereignty of the Republic of Abkhazia and the constitutional rights and freedoms of its citizens’.
However, the party stated that the ‘Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Abkhazia, in the person of its Minister, Aslan Kobakhia, ignored the proffered suggestions and completely refused to discuss them’.
Aynar took the next step and accused the authorities that they had earlier intended to ‘sign the agreement on 18 May in the city of Sochi – out of sight of the public of Abkhazia and it was only an unsanctioned leak concerning this information that made it public, which forced the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Abkhazia to give relevant explanations to the mass media’.
What are the objections of public organization Kyarazaa?
The public organization Kyarazaa also protested the agreement.
“We are against the substitution of the functions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Abkhazia by the newly created Information-Coordination Center. All responsibility for any incurred consequences, which infringe upon the state sovereignty of the Republic of Abkhazia, will be placed on the Minister of Internal Affairs A. Kobakhia and personally on President P. Khajimba,” stated Kyarazaa.
Position of the Abkhaz authorities
The Minister of Internal Affairs of Abkhazia, Aslan Kobakhia, said on multiple occasions that the agreement on the creation of the Abkhaz-Russian Information-Coordination Center ‘is in accordance with the national interests of Abkhazia’.
According to him, one of the tasks of the center will be to fight against drug trafficking.
“You [all] see just how much drug trafficking we have here in Abkhazia. Try as we may to fight this issue and solve this problem, without the help of our strategic partner, this will be incredibly difficult,” stated Kobakhia.
The opinions of civil society in Abkhazia
The arguments by the supporters for the signing of the agreement on the creation of the center can be well-summarized by former MP Temur Guliya, who in one of his interviews said:
“The equipment that we have in the Ministry of Internal Affairs dates back to Soviet times, and it is not only morally obsolete, but is physically worn out… I believe that [the new structure] must become an agency, equipped with modern, special equipment, where anti-criminal activity will be conducted on a professional level, in addition to the retraining of employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Abkhazia in order to raise their professional level and qualifications. I am for the creation of effective international mechanisms in order to fight crime.”
The creation of the center brought about a stormy reaction and much criticism in the Abkhaz society. Several comments from discussions on social media sites include the following:
“It is not right to create, on the territory of Abkhazia, structures that will not be subject to local authority. I am categorically against it: this infringes upon our sovereignty.”
“With the right approach, we can solve our own problems ourselves. This is not an excuse in order to attract power from outside [the country].”
“I am truly touched by the statements of several individuals that the Information Coordination Center will solve our problem with crime. In Russia, evidently, they have already solved [this issue]; now it’s our turn.”
“I’ll say it like this: a law-abiding citizen has nothing to fear. But those that squeezed business away from the Russians in Abkhazia, well, their time will come!”
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