THE HAGUE, 22 August 2012 – OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Knut Vollebaek today asked the de-facto leadership of the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia to clarify a statement indicating that it plans to demolish ethnic-Georgian villages.
“Such plans, if carried out, would eradicate what little remains of these ethnic-Georgian villages in South Ossetia,” he said. Vollebaek also requested that the de-facto leadership and authorities in control of this area clarify their intentions towards these ethnic-Georgian villages.
Vollebaek was reacting to statements by the de-facto leader of South Ossetia, Leonid Tibilov, who on 14 August announced plans to destroy the remnants of villages formerly populated by ethnic-Georgians displaced during and after the 2008 war.
“The houses still belong to the original inhabitants of these villages and they should not be demolished. Under international law, the displaced people have a right to return to their homes and their property should be respected,” Vollebaek said.
Vollebaek warned that international humanitarian law prohibits reprisals against civilians and their property. If carried out, the wanton destruction of villages is likely to constitute a crime under international law.
“I call on the de-facto leadership and relevant authorities in control of this area to respect the property rights of displaced persons and to fulfill their obligations under international law,” Vollebaek said. “Statements calling for the complete demolition of villages traditionally inhabited by ethnic-Georgians are provocative in this highly volatile region and, if actually carried out, could result in there being no ethnic-Georgians left in South Ossetia. Apart from being a potentially criminal act, such a step will certainly constitute an impediment to peace and stability in the region.”
Since hostilities ended in 2008, few ethnic-Georgians have returned to their homes in South Ossetia due to concerns over security.
The High Commissioner has long been concerned with the situation of the ethnic-Georgian population who remained in South Ossetia. His most recent visit was in November 2010, after which he reiterated his concerns to the OSCE Permanent Council. Vollebaek hopes to visit South Ossetia in the near future to learn more about the conditions on the ground and to discuss the situation with the new leadership in Tskhinvali.