Human rights watchdog Amnesty International has said that Russia’s attempts to physically divide Georgia from its breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia have led to severe restrictions on the freedom of movement and other human rights violations, and has called on Russia to relax border restrictions.
According to the organisation’s new report, “whole communities are being cut off from vital sources of income and other important aspects of their lives — punished solely because of where they happen to live.”
The story of Davit Vanishvili, a resident of Khurvaleti in South Ossetia, is one of 150 collected during Amnesty’s field trips.
“Russian border guards came to my house and told me it is no longer Georgia,” he said. “The same day they started installing fences around my yard. I can no longer access the rest of the village, or the rest of the country.”
Amnesty International’s regional director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia added that borderisation continues to have a severe impact on previously very active cross-border trade, leading to a serious erosion of the social and economic situation as local producers have lost access to nearby markets.
“Every year I used to harvest more than a hundred boxes of apples from my orchard and sell them. The profit was enough for my family to survive,” said Amiran Gugutishvili, a 71-year-old-farmer in the village of Gugutiankari near the South Ossetian border. “Since 2017, I cannot access my garden. Russian border guards installed a state border sign there. I still pass by sometimes to take a look at my apple trees through the fence.”
The human rights organisation has called on Russia to respect its international obligations in humanitarian law and human rights, and to reopen previously closed crossing points and relax movement and related restrictions for locals who live next to the administrative line. It is also calling on Georgia to support families affected by Russia’s actions.
The two Georgian breakaway regions have been illegally occupied by Russia since the two countries fought a brief war in 2008.