Doc. 8145

22 June 1998

Refugees and displaced persons in Transcaucasia

Reply to Recommendation 1335 (1997)

from the Committee of Ministers

adopted on 19 June 1998 at the 636th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies

The political settlement of the conflict situations concerning Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia is the basic prerequisite for a lasting and comprehensive solution of the problem of refugees and displaced persons in the region. Steps towards alleviating and resolving the problem of refugees and displaced persons can be conducive to the overall settlement of the conflicts.

Negotiations for the political settlement of the respective conflict situations are held within the framework of other international organisations, the OSCE and the United Nations in particular. The Committee of Ministers continues to consider that independent initiatives at this stage of the negotiations by the Council of Europe would not be opportune. In line with the Assembly Recommendation 1335 point 10.i and in particular in the context of the accession procedure to the Council of Europe, the Committee of Ministers will urge all parties concerned to intensify their efforts towards the earliest possible political settlement of the conflicts. The Council of Europe is ready to be involved in activities necessary in the post-conflict rehabilitation.

The Council of Europe co-operates, with the main organisations providing aid in the region. Such co-operation focuses on areas of competence of the Organisation:

-       As far as the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh is concerned the Council of Europe is in a position to contribute, alongside the international organisations directly involved, its specific expertise in the search for a negotiated solution and expresses its readiness to increase its assistance in the organisation and consolidation of democratic institutions.

-       As far as South Ossetia is concerned, the Council of Europe has already organised a joint seminar with the OSCE to promote mutual understanding and confidence-building between the two sides, and participated in a co-operative effort with the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the OSCE and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to assist the Georgian authorities in finding solutions to property and tenancy problems which could result in clearing the major obstacle to repatriation of persons displaced as a result of the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict.

-       Concerning Abkhazia, the Council of Europe could provide assistance in the constitutional aspects of a future solution as well as assistance to the OSCE and UN presence in the region, particularly concerning the protection of human rights and the rights of refugees and displaces persons.

In general terms, problems of refugees and displaced persons in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are raised during most of the activities carried out within the Council of Europe programmes of co-operation in these three countries. Directly or indirectly the programmes contribute to the long-term solution of problems described in Assembly Recommendation 1335 (1997).

The approach by the Committee of Ministers, as described above, has been discussed with the respective partners on the following occasions:

-       Second Summit of the Heads of State and Government with the Presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia;

-       High level Tripartite Meeting between the UN, OSCE and the Council of Europe as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Organisation for Migration, held in Geneva 23 January 1998;

-       Tripartite (Council of Europe, OSCE, UN) Target Oriented Meeting on the Caucasus with participation of the representatives of the European Commission, held in Vienna 4 November 1997;

-       Seminar on “State Structures in Complex Ethnic Situations: the European Experience” held in Georgia (Tbilisi and Tshinkvali) 1 -2 December 1997;

-       Meetings at senior official level in Baku and Yerevan in March 1998.

The Committee of Ministers recalls that the authorities of the three Transcaucasian Republics, candidates for accession to the Council of Europe, should be aware that progress in the negotiations with a view to a political settlement of the conflicts in Abkhazia and in Nagorno-Karabakh, but also the efforts which they make in the field of democratisation and conforming with the legal standards of the Organisation will play a decisive role in the examination of their candidature.

The Committee of Ministers will resume discussion on this issue following the outcome of recent and up-coming political events concerning the Transcaucasian region, such as the Presidential elections in Armenia (March 1998), and in Azerbaijan (October 1998) and the resumption of the activities of the OCSE - Minsk Group (May 1998) etc.