Georgia’s ombudsman wants violations of law on occupied territories decriminalized
Georgian Ombudsman Ucha Nanuashvili proposed a set of amendments to the law ‘On occupied territories’ on February 9, saying violations of its ban on foreigners entering Georgia’s breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from the Russian territory should be punished as an administrative offence, rather than a criminal one.
There were 395 illegal crossings by foreigners into the two territories in 2009-2016, he reported, and criminal cases were launched into 51 of the incidents.
The law prescribes that special permissions for entering the occupied territories from areas other than Tbilisi-controlled can be issued in some cases by Georgia’s state security service, however no information on how the permission can be obtained is available on either the website of the security service or that of the foreign ministry. Only two such permissions have been issued since August 2015, Ombudsman Nanuashvili said, citing a report by the state security service.
He said the info should be made public and easily accessible.
What is the law on occupied territories?
- The law was adopted in the wake of the 2008 August war. It states that one cannot enter the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia or engage in economic activities there unless they have obtained the permission from Tbilisi.
- Crossing into the areas is only considered legal when it happens from the territory controlled by Tbilisi – from Zugdidi (in case of entering Abkhazia) and Gori (in case of entering South Ossetia). Accordingly, those who cross over into the republics from the Russian territory (via Sochi and Roki Pass, respectively) violate Georgian law. The offenders, once they set foot on the territory controlled by the Georgian government, face a prison term of 2 to 4 years or a fine. Repeated instances of illegal crossing carry an even more serious punishment.
What are the changes sought by the government?
- In May of 2013, the Georgian parliament passed the first reading of the government’s bill proposing to amend the law on occupied territories to reduce illegal entry into the territories to a civil offence instead of a criminal one in first instances. Representatives of the government said criticism by international organizations was what had prompted them to propose the amendments.
- However, the opposition found the changes unacceptable. Its members said that differentiating penalties for the violation of the state border was wrong, compromising the country’s sovereignty. The bill was shelved then and there.