Doc. 9693

14 February 2003

Situation of refugees and displaced persons in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia

Recommendation 1570 (2002)

Reply from the Committee of Ministers

adopted at the 826th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies (5 February 2003)

1.       The Committee of Ministers shares the concern expressed by the Parliamentary Assembly over the situation of refugees and displaced persons in the Southern Caucasus. Owing to the large number of refugees and displaced persons, the persistence of their insecure living conditions and the non resolution of the conflicts that have caused their displacement, this serious humanitarian problem, which has lasted for more than a decade, hinders the development of the entire region and makes the progress of the three countries of the Southern Caucasus towards democracy more difficult.

2.       The Committee of Ministers has already stated its views on this issue in its replies to Recommendations 1263 (1995), 1305 (1996) and 1335 (1997)1. These texts were forwarded to the governments of the member states at the time as was Recommendation 1570 (2002) (804th meeting, 11 July 2002, item 3.1). The Committee of Ministers calls on member states to give follow up to these texts and particularly to the assistance needs outlined by the Assembly in paragraph 9.i of Recommendation 1570 (2002).

3.       The Committee of Ministers regrets that the volume of humanitarian aid has been diminishing as a result of “donor fatigue”. It calls on donor countries and international organisations to continue emergency relief programmes for the countries of the Southern Caucasus, while establishing long-term programmes to alleviate the grave humanitarian situation of refugees and internally displaced persons. In this context it particularly underlines the needs in terms of housing, public health and education as well as the necessity of creating employment.

4.       As regards the Assembly’s request to reinforce co-operation programmes on the subject ( 10.ii), the Committee of Ministers forwarded the recommendation to the Ad Hoc Committee of Experts on Legal Aspects of Territorial Asylum, Refugees and Stateless Persons (CAHAR). At its plenary meeting from 17 to 19 April 2002, the CAHAR decided to set up a Working Party on Displaced Persons, which will hold its first meeting in 2003. The working party’s final membership has not yet been decided, but it will include experts from Armenia and Azerbaijan. Likewise, the Committee of Ministers reminds the Assembly that in June 2002 the Council of Europe, together with the Judicial Studies Centre in Yerevan, Armenia, held a seminar for judges on “European human rights standards and refugee protection”. It also underlines the importance of co-operation programmes, especially at regional level, in the field of social cohesion as well as in other fields, jointly implemented by the Council of Europe and the European Commission.

5.       As regards the intervention of the Council of Europe Development Bank ( 10.iv), the Committee informs the Assembly that the Bank’s Governing Board discussed Recommendation 1570 at its 171st meeting on 16 December 2002. The Governing Board’s statement of its position is appended and the Committee of Ministers cannot but encourage Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to become members of the Partial Agreement on the Council of Europe Development Bank, which would make them eligible for substantial conflict-settlement and post-conflict rehabilitation assistance from the Bank.

6.       As regards the measures to be taken by the countries concerned, the Committee of Ministers supports the recommendations made individually and collectively to the three Republics of the Southern Caucasus ( 9.ii, iii, iv, v) and addresses them to the three member states concerned, requesting them to take action on these recommendations. The Committee of Ministers will closely monitor the question of refugees and displaced persons in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia which is both a political and humanitarian problem. It is only through a political settlement of the conflicts in the region and the return of peace that a lasting and comprehensive restoration of respect for the human rights of refugees and displaced persons will be achieved. Refugees and displaced persons who so wish should have the right to return to their native lands in safety and dignity which requires that measures be taken to avoid the settlement of non-indigenous populations in the occupied territories. Moreover, the Committee cannot accept the exploitation of refugees and displaced persons for political aims and it is obvious that steps designed to alleviate the material and social situation of these people could help to create an overall atmosphere conducive to conflict resolution.

7.       In this context the Committee of Ministers wishes to draw attention to the positions adopted by the successive Chairs of the Committee of Ministers on the need to end the “frozen conflicts” which are undermining the development of the Southern Caucasus and prolonging unacceptable humanitarian situations. For example, in the report transmitted to the Assembly in September 2002 following her visit to the Southern Caucasus, Ms L. Polfer, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Luxembourg and Chairman-in-Office of the Committee of Ministers, noted that “the political and democratic development of the three countries is seriously hindered by the existence of unresolved conflicts (Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia). The dramatic situation of hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons is a heavy burden for the three countries and a large-scale violation of human rights”.

8.       The Committee of Ministers once again emphasises that the long-term solution to the problems of refugees and displaced persons in the Southern Caucasus is the settlement of existing conflicts in the region on the basis of the norms and principles of international law. The Committee of Ministers therefore urges Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to make every effort to honour their commitments without delay as regards the peaceful settlement of disputes by political means - commitments they made on joining the Council of Europe. It also calls on the Council of Europe member states to provide good offices, assistance and guidance to the parties concerned and other international players directly involved in the negotiating processes on the conflicts in the Southern Caucasus, to increase their efforts in order to achieve a just and lasting political settlement.

Appendix

The Governing Board took note of Recommendation 1570 (2002) and in particular of point 10, inviting the Council of Europe Development Bank to respond positively to projects submitted by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia in the field of aid to migrants and displaced people.

To help in solving the social problems with which European countries are or may be faced as a result of the presence of refugees, displaced persons or migrants is a statutory primary purpose of the Council of Europe Development Bank. Since 1956 the CEB approved almost 4.3 billion euros of loans designed to finance projects related to support actions for refugees and other measures for the management of population movements in 15 countries of operation. The CEB’s mandate also includes the part-financing of investment projects in the fields of social housing, health and education, rural modernisation, job creation in SMEs and vocational training that might facilitate the sustainable return of refugees and internally displaced population or their long-term integration in the receiving societies.

As a general rule the CEB may only act in favour of its members countries. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia have become recently members of the Council of Europe but they have not yet acceded to the Partial Agreement on the Council of Europe Development Bank. Therefore, the extension of the Bank’s development lending to the three countries depends on their previous accession to the institution.

Membership of the CEB is open to all members of the Council of Europe. Furthermore, to facilitate accession, the conditions for the accession of countries belonging to the category of the “smallest contributors”, including, presently, Georgia and Armenia, have been revised at the last Joint Meeting of the CEB organs, held in San Marino on 15-18 June 2002. In addition, special conditions are applicable to countries in transition.

In this perspective, the Governing Board expresses its hope that Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia will soon be able to join the CEB and thus have full access to the opportunities provided by its lending.


1 -       Recommendation 1263 (1995) on the humanitarian situation of refugees and displaced persons in Armenia and Azerbaijan

-       Recommendation 1305 (1996) on the humanitarian situation of refugees and displaced persons in Georgia

-       Recommendation 1335 (1997) on the humanitarian situation of refugees and displaced persons in Transcaucasia