Last month (June 13), the UN General Assembly adopted a Georgia-initiated resolution about the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Similar to the previous five resolutions, this one acknowledges the territorial integrity of Georgia and the right of internally displaced persons to return to their homes.
Every year more members of the UN vote in support of the resolution, which is a positive dynamic for the Georgian position. The number of voters has increased steadily five times from 2008 through 2013 (see the table).
Voting for the UN resolution for Georgia’s territorial integrity:
The trend of increasing UN support shows that Georgian diplomats have succeeded in harnessing the attention of the international community over Russian, Abkhazian, and South Ossetian efforts.
The leading role of Georgian diplomacy can be explained by its focus on the humanitarian side of the problem rather than on the political. Maia Panjikidze, the Georgian foreign minister, stated that the UN resolution is necessary to keep attention on the issue of internally displaced persons in the region.
Annually, Georgia offers a program to resolve the problem while Russia does not (while criticizing the Georgian text). Vitalii Churkin, the Russian representative at the UN, stated in general that the Georgian resolution was politicized and the UN should invite delegates from Abkhazia and South Ossetia when discussing questions related to their status. Indeed, while Georgia and Russia have the opportunity to express their positions at the UN, the “unrecognized” republics have no representatives on the international level.
For a less reported view, I asked two leading specialists, both well known for their pro-Abkhazian advocacy, to comment on how the pro-Georgian dynamic at the UN helps the resolution of the problem of Georgian territorial integrity. What does the dynamic mean for Abkhazia and South Ossetia?
George Hewitt (Professor, University of London):
The world's major states erred in following the United Kingdom in precipitately recognizing Georgia in the spring of 1992. At the time, a civil war was raging in the west Georgian region of Mingrelia between supporters of the ousted president (Mingrelian) Zviad Gamsakhurdia and those of the junta that had ousted him (then led by Eduard Shevardnadze); the war in South Ossetia, which Gamsakhurdia had initiated, was still being fought, and Georgia had no constitutional government. The recognition was offered solely in the mistaken belief that Gorbachev's former Foreign Minister would restore order to his rapidly disintegrating native land. Membership of the IMF, World Bank and, most importantly, the UN quickly followed before Shevardnadze could secure a legitimate mandate. And within 2 weeks of Georgia entering the UN, Shevardnadze began the assault on Abkhazia (14 August), which his forces then lost 14 months later. However, UN member-states tend to support fellow member-states. Moreover, the United States and the UK (EU states) have been doggedly unwilling to acknowledge their error in the spring of 1992 and place pressure on others to follow their lead. This pressure has been applied to those South American and Pacific states who have either recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia or who have shown some interest in doing so, and similar “persuasion” can reasonably be assumed to lie behind the annual increase in the UN vote in favor of those refugees who fled Abkhazia at the end of the Abkhazian war. The vote, while it might please the authorities in Tbilisi, has absolutely no relevance to the position on the ground.
Ergün Ozgur (Assistant Professor, Cyprus International University):
The UN General Assembly adopted the resolution on June 13 by a recorded vote of 62 in favor to 16 against with 87 abstentions. The resolution “recognized the right of return for all refugees and internally displaced persons to their homes in Georgia, including Abkhazia and South Ossetia.” The resolution was initiated by Georgia, which is on one side of the problem, while the other side, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, were not given any chance to express their views.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been participants of the “Geneva International Discussions” together with Georgia, Russia, and the United States, with the mediation of the EU, UN, and OSCE, since 2008. Particular UN member countries that take part in the Geneva discussions should know that “durable peace, a commitment to confidence-building measures, and immediate steps to ensure respect for human rights and favorable security conditions for return of internally displaced persons” can be possible if the “non-use of force” agreement is signed by Georgia and all parties decide on how the humanitarian issues are to be solved. If the “non-use of force” agreement is not signed by the Georgian side, there may be the possibility of another conflict taking place, like the one we saw between Georgia and South Ossetia in 2008.
Moreover, adopting the resolution initiated by Georgia will satisfy one party to the conflict but will not generate any peace in the region and will not solve the problem. If there is the possibility to use force against Abkhazia or South Ossetia, how can the adoption of this resolution by UN member countries protect the people in the area? In terms of the return of displaced persons, the Georgian side, instead of insisting on their return, should listen to the ideas of the other sides and try to find a “win-win solution” for the problem. UN members can also contribute to the situation while taking into consideration the opinions of all sides involved in the situation.
The UN members that voted for this resolution take Georgia’s side in the long-lasting conflict by supporting the territorial integrity of Georgia and they try to put pressure on the newly recognized and war-damaged territories, which suffered heavy sanctions for more than a decade (Abkhazia in 1992-1993 and South Ossetia in 1991 and 2008).
Instead of adopting such a resolution, which does not consist of Abkhaz or South Ossetian perspectives, those 62 UN member countries should try to listen to all sides of the conflict and try to help them find a “win-win solution” to the problem, which "can occur if the “non-use of force” agreement between Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Georgia is signed, which would then serve as a good basis for future negotiations on political and humanitarian issues.
Sufian Zhemukhov is a visiting fellow at the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (IERES), George Washington University, blogging for PONARS Eurasia on the Caucasus.