Georgia changes approach to the occupied territories
photo : Giorgi Tsagareli
What’s going on?
Georgia’s newly elected Parliament is expected to introduce amendments to the Law on Occupied Territories. Parliament’s Defence and Security Committee has already made a decision in this regard. Now this issue is to be considered at the Parliament’s plenary session.
The amendments have been initiated by the ruling Georgian Dream team. This political party enjoys the constitutional majority in Parliament, which means that it can easily change any law.
Let’s get familiar with how the Law on Occupied Territories is going to be changed and why the opposition opposes these amendments.
What is the Law on Occupied Territories ?
Georgian Government passed the Law on Occupied Territories after the August war 2008.
The law determines the legal status of the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, i.e. places on record the fact that these territories are occupied by the Russian Federation.
And also, the aforesaid law defines, what relationship the civilized world should have with the regions that are beyond Georgia’s jurisdiction.
How should people travel to those regions and how should the economic activities be carried out etc.
Under the law, travelling to the aforesaid region, equally as any kind of economic activity there, should be carried out with Georgian government’s consent.
It is legal to enter these regions only from the territory under Tbilisi’s jurisdiction: to enter Abkhazia from Zugdidi and South Ossetia – from Gori. Consequently, those, who cross into these territories from the Russian Federation (Sochi, Roki Tunnel) violate the Georgian legislation, which implies institution of criminal proceedings against such persons immediately upon their arrival in the territory under official Tbilisi’ jurisdiction (the law envisages punishment, that is, 2-4 years in prison or imposition of a fine; repeated border trespass is punishable by 3-5 years in prison).
In case of illegal business activity in the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a legal or natural person should be imposed a fine and be banned from being engaged in business activity in Georgia. At the same time, any property deals concluded in these territories, real estate sales and purchases, as well as investments and business activity carried out without the central government’s consent, should be considered void. The law also regulates the cases of illegal granting of citizenship and illegal resettlement.
The law doesn’t apply to the international missions engaged in humanitarian activity, though it provides for advance or post factum notification of the Georgian side.
What exactly will be changed?
Under the proposed amendments, crossing into occupied regions without the Georgian government’s prior consent will no longer be a subject to criminal prosecution. Instead of 2-4 year term of imprisonment, a perpetrator will be imposed an administrative fine amounting to GEL400. Whereas in case of repeated violation – GEL800 fine.
Why is the law amended? What are the key arguments?
Argument one. International commitments.
The government says, pressure and reproof on part of the international organizations is the main reason for introduction of the aforesaid legal amendments. According to the Georgian authorities, it’s the international community that insists on amending the law. “Georgia has been much reprimanded and even imposed certain sanctions by the international organizations for its failure to pass the amendments to this law. Georgia has been imposed 2-year sanctions and has been deprived of the right to host forums and events under the Council of Europe aegis (Eka Beselia, Chair of the Georgian Parliament’s Legal Committee).
Argument two. The need for confidence-building between the people.
“These territories should be united. We should not forget that there are people living in those regions and we should first regain those people’s trust and restore the relationship with them (Tea Tsulukiani, Justice Minister)
Argument three. Reprisals and criminal prosecution should not become a goal in and of itself.
What are the arguments of those, who oppose the amendments?
Argument one. International leverage.
The opposition believes that the Law on Occupied Territories is a good leverage for attracting the international community’s attention and rejecting it could substantially affect Georgia’s national interests.
Influence on occupied territories. The aforesaid law is not the only means for official Tbilisi to extend, in some form or another, its jurisdiction on Russia’s occupied regions.
Argument two. International organizations do not insist on amending this law.
The opposition claims that none of the EU’s formal requirements put forward any demand for liberalization of the aforesaid law. Consequently, the authorities are lying when claiming that international organizations demanded those legal amendments. Indeed, none of the EU’s recommendations contain such a demand and when the Georgian government officials were requested to specify, in which particular recommendations the aforesaid demand was set forth by the EU, they failed to do it.
Argument three. Playing into Russia’s pocket.
In the opposition’s opinion, through liberalizing this law the government seeks to appease Russia, since it’s the one who is, first of all, opposing and fighting this law and the term ‘occupation’.
Does this law have real effect?
Apparently, not always. In October 2013, Gérard Depardieu, a French actor, passed in transit through Tbilisi and before he left for Baku in the evening, he took selfies with Tbilisi airport staff and dined at ‘Puris Sakhli’ (Bread House) restaurant in the city center. Afterwards he departed to the neighboring country.
If Georgian authorities have had acted in accordance with the law, the law-enforcers should have arrested the French actor at the airport. The matter is that same Gérard Depardieu, who shortly before that had been granted Russian citizenship and settled down in Moscow, was visiting Abkhazia-he crossed into Abkhazia from Russia and the Georgian authorities had not been notified on it, which is a violation of Georgian legislation.
Was anyone arrested for violation of this law?
Georgian Interior Ministry is responsible for the people’s movement into the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Tskhinvali region), since this very agency exercises border control. Consequently, this particular agency should detect those, who illegally visited Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region and impose relevant sanctions on them upon their arrival in the territory under Tbilisi jurisdiction.
As JAMnews was told in the Interior Ministry:
- 88 cases of border trespass were revealed in 2009;
- 83 – in 2010;
- 55 – in 2011;
- 26 – in 2012;
- 45 – in 2013;
- 36 – in 2014;
- 17 – in 2015;
- and 14 – in January-August 2016.
The Interior Ministry didn’t specified the identity of perpetrators, as well as refused to provide information on their whereabouts.
The opinions expressed in this article convey the author’s views and his/her use of terminology does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the editorial staff