Georgian parliament passes “Otkhozoria-Tatunashvili list” sanction bill
The Georgian parliament has passed a resolution today in response to the recent death of Georgian citizen Archie Tatunashvili.
The bill obliges the Georgian government to prepare a list of individuals who are known to have been involved in the death, kidnapping, torture or mistreatment of Georgian citizens on the occupied territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by 15 June 2018.
110 MPs registered to vote, of which 106 voted in favor of the bill. No MPs voted “against”.
The list has already received the name of the “Otkhozoria-Tatunashvili list”.
The parliament also called upon the government to undertake measures with partner countries to limit the activities of these individuals included on the list, including their ability to receive visas, and perform property and financial transactions.
The opposition party “European Georgia” put forward the proposition to create the “Otkhozoria-Tatunashvili list” which would work similarly to the “Magnitsky list” after Georgian citizen Archie Tatunashvili died in unclear circumstances on 23 February while in the custody of the Tskhinvali state security service.
Why ‘Otkhozoria-Tatunashvili’ and what happened in South Ossetia?
The initiative came about as a response to a tragic incident which took place two weeks ago.
On 22 February 2018, South Ossetian security forces detained three Georgian citizens in the Akhalgori region – an area which is inhabited by ethnic Georgians.
One of them was 34-year-old Archil Tatunashvili, a resident of Akhalgori who died later in the night of unclear circumstances.
The South Ossetian authorities claim that Tatunashvili tried to seize a weapon from one of the security guards which then resulted in a fight. During the fight Tatunashvili fell down some stairs and later died in hospital from heart failure.
The de-facto authorities say that Tatunashvili was arrested because he had participated ‘in the genocide of the Ossetian people‘ in 2008.
However, local residents assert that Tatunashvili lived in a village in the Akhalgori region, sold fruits and vegetables there and often crossed the border and never had any problems with local security forces.
He served in the Georgian army in 2008, but was serving in a peace mission in Iraq at the time and did not fight in the 2008 war.
Neither Tatunashvili’s family nor Tbilisi believes in the account of events as provided by the South Ossetian authorities. The fact that the Ossetian side has been trying to delay the handing over of his body to his family further strengthens Tbilisi’s conviction that Tatunashvili died as a result of violence committed against him in the Tskhinvali prison.
Georgia and its international partners demand an investigation into the event. The OSCE observation mission is ready to participate as well if both sides agree to it.
The incident with Tatunashvili is very similar to an event that happened to 31-year-old Georgian citizen Giga Otkhozoria in 2016, who died on the Georgian-Abkhaz administrative boundary.
He was trying to bring goods into Abkhazia but ended up in a fight with the Abkhaz border guards. One of them shot him six times with a pistol. This happened on the Georgian side of the border, to where Abkhaz security forces chased Otkhozoria when he tried to get away from them.
The incident is known in extensive detail because Otkhozoria’s murder was recorded on cameras installed on the Georgian side. These images later made their way into the hands of the media.
The murderer, Rashid Kanjhi Ogly, who was convicted in absentia by a Zugdidi court, was put under house arrest by an Abkhaz court. However, later, due to a lack of evidence, the case was closed and he was freed.
Neither Otkhozoria’s murderer nor those tangentially involved in the act were punished.
What is the main aim of the list?
The list’s proponents say that, given the record of violations of human rights on Georgia’s occupied territories, political assessments and statements are not enough to enact change. They believe that a mechanism for protection and prevention is also necessary, and that the idea of international sanctions could act as effective leverage.
“This list is not a panacea; however, it would create several obstacles, especially given the fact that right now we have no leverage. The list will have a deterring effect – no one likes to have sanctions placed on them,” says Sergi Kapanadze, an MP from European Georgia, one of the initiators of the project.
He believes that this list will create an uncomfortable situation for Russia as well as for high-placed officials, especially if the Georgian authorities will make sure their message is heard loudly and clearly on the international stage.
What sanctions will be introduced and against whom?
1. Those on the Otkhozoria-Tatunashvili list will have their properties and assets, accessible to the Georgian government, frozen and seized.
2. They will be limited in their ability to acquire property and conduct financial transactions in Georgia’s partner countries.
3. They will not be able to receive visas from Georgia’s partner countries.
4. They will be ineligible to enjoy the privileges that Georgia has given residents of the occupied territories, including medical treatment via Georgia’s healthcare system, which has been in effect since 2010 and has already been used by many residents of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
According to the bill, all those who are directly connected to the death or torture of a Georgian citizen on an occupied territory will be included on the list, in addition to those who participated or contributed to such incidents and covering it up.
So far, the only named person for the list is Rashid Kanji Ogly – the man accused of Otkhozoria’s murder.
The proponents of the idea say that the list should not be large and should have a preventative, deterring effect.
“If we include 500 people on the list, no one will be afraid of it. But if we simply include five, then the other 495 might think first ‘is it worth getting onto that list?’ The main thing is for others to see that those on the list have serious problems,” says Sergi Kapanadze.
However, the list’s creators have also made it clear that the purpose of the list is not to interfere with the peace process, nor will it purposefully target high-level officials such as the head of Abkhazia, Khajimba or the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin.
The project will be worked on by the State Security Service, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The bill must be presented to the parliament by the end of the spring sessions.
The bill obliges the government to investigate the cases of all mentioned individuals and to report on the results to Georgia’s international partners.