MINELRES: MRG: Georgia's popular revolution heralds new era of hope and uncertainty

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Original sender: Graham Fox <graham.fox@mrgmail.org> 


Minority Rights Group International - press release - Georgia's popular
revolution heralds new era of hope and uncertainty 

Minority Rights Group International 

Press Release      25 November 2003   For immediate release

Georgia's popular revolution heralds new era of hope and uncertainty

Georgia's popular revolution has created the possibility of a new era of
development, rights and tolerance in the troubled state. However urgent
interim measures and political sensitivity are required to ensure that
the opportunity for political, economic and social reform is not lost,
say rights experts. The protection of minority rights is an important
factor in ensuring peace and stability in a country torn apart by years
of conflict and political and economic corruption, stated Minority
Rights Group International (MRG) today. Questions have been raised over
the former opposition party's attitudes to minorities, which some
suggest are right wing, nationalistic and xenophobic. This has led some
minority groups to take only a cautiously optimistic view of the
future.   

MRG together with its partner organizations in Georgia have stressed a
need for local and international actors to work together to monitor the
situation and encourage a culture of tolerance, due to concerns over
tensions developing along ethnic lines. According to reports received by
MRG prior to the revolution, constitutional rights of minorities such as
their right to vote, have been questioned by former opposition groups,
who may now be in a position to exercise political power. MRG has called
for measures to ensure the full and effective participation of
minorities in all areas of political, social and economic life in
Georgia. The interim government's expressed intention to establish
inclusive democracy and hold new elections offers an opportunity to
demonstrate a commitment to minority rights and restore the confidence
of minority groups. The OSCE Mission to Georgia reported manifold
irregularities during the elections and now has a vital role in
monitoring and reporting on the actions of the new government. It must
remain alert to the possibility of conflict and unrest taking on an
ethnic dimension, and should continue to support minority communities.

Georgia was temporarily excused the need to ratify the Council of Europe
(CoE) Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities
(FCNM), when it became a member the CoE in April 1999, and still has yet
to do so. According to MRG, a further measure to instil confidence in
the future treatment of minorities in Georgia would be for the new
government to accede to the FCNM and to incorporate its provisions into
its constitution as soon as possible. MRG has long advocated the
European wide ratification and implementation of this important minority
Convention, since it offers a valuable, legally binding minimum standard
of good practice regarding minority rights protection and promotion.
Georgia has numerous minority groups including Abkhaz, Armenians,
Ajarians, Azeris, Kists and Ossetians. 

Georgia's long-standing internal territorial disputes over Abkhazia,
Ajara and South Ossetia, may prove to be further cause for concern,
since some of those now likely to take power have expressed desires to
re-integrate these lost provinces. Abkhazia's de facto secession
followed a bloody conflict, which resulted in over 200,000 Georgians
fleeing Abkhazia in September 1993. The new Abkhaz leadership then
proclaimed formal independence from Georgia in November 1999. If these
provinces are to be peacefully re-integrated, which some consider
unlikely, it will require important concessions to be made by the new
Georgian government in regard to minority rights and autonomy of these
regions, concessions which have failed to be made in the past.  

As Minority Rights Group International highlighted in its May 2002
report1, Armenians form the largest minority in Georgia, mostly living
in Javakheti where they constitute 95 per cent of the population.
Javakheti hosts a Russian military base, and close relations between the
military and Armenians are regarded as a security threat by the Georgian
majority. Anti-Armenian sentiment has been rising in recent years and
Armenians found themselves pushed out of political and economic
positions in the capital. In Georgia's Pankissi valley relations between
Kists, Ossetians and Georgians were described as 'extremely tense',
exacerbated by widespread possession of firearms and virtual
lawlessness. Russia regards the area as a security threat, claiming that
Chechen and 'international terrorists' move into the valley disguised as
refugees. The US claims that fighters from Afghanistan are in Pankissi,
and has provided training and logistic support to Georgia. 

Notes for editors: 

1. The South Caucasus: Nationalism, Conflict and Minorities by Anna
Matveeva. Published by Minority Rights Group International (MRG). May
2002. ISBN 1 897693 44 3. This MRG report is available to download for
MRG's website at:
<http://www.minorityrights.org/OnlineReports/OnlineReport.asp?ID=19>

For interviews or further information please contact the Press Office at
MRG on 020 7978 9498 or 07734768223 (mobile). 

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non-governmental
organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and
linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide, and to promote
cooperation and understanding between communities.

http://www.minorityrights.org

ENDS/