Georgia: Checkpoint Closures Have Led to a Critical Humanitarian Situation in South Ossetia

Press release

FIDH and two its member organisations, Human Rights Center (HRIDC, Georgia) and Norwegian Helsinki Committee, are alarmed by the humanitarian situation in Akhalgori District of South Ossetia/Georgia, due to the closure in September of checkpoints connecting the Tskhinvali breakaway region to the rest of Georgia. The restriction of movement in the Akhalgori region is trapping its population in humanitarian isolation. FIDH and HRIDC call on the de facto authorities of the breakaway regions—Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Russian forces—to prevent aggravation of the human rights situation in local communities by reopening the checkpoints and ceasing unlawful attempts to secure the ‘administrative boundary line’ (ABL).

In early September 2019, South Ossetian de facto authorities closed the two checkpoints connecting the South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region to the rest of Georgia. One of the checkpoints is between Akhalgori District of South Ossetia and Tbilisi-controlled territory [1]. As a result of its closure, people living in Akhalgori district have been deprived access to medical treatment and other humanitarian needs [2], since the only way for them to receive such services is by going to the city of Tskhinvali in South Ossetia, a long and costly journey.

Residents of Akhalgori District used to come to the city of Gori, in Georgia-controlled territory, for medical services, medicine, food supplies, and to receive pensions. Since the checkpoint closure nearly three months ago, Akhalgori residents have not been able to meet these and other humanitarian needs.

On 9 November, the representatives of border forces of the Russian Federation, detained doctor Vazha Gaprindashvili near the dividing line with Akhalgori. The doctor’s family members believe he was going to Akhalgori District to treat the patients who are unable to receive necessary medical help [3]. The doctor was consequently charged by the de facto authorities with “illegally crossing” the border and sentenced to two months in prison in Tskhinvali [4]. The de facto authorities further claimed that Dr. Gaprindashvili participated in the 2008 August War and served as captain of a military-medical unit [5]. However, family members and other medical professionals deny this information. According to them, the doctor worked in a clinic in Tbilisi during this time and treated the patients injured in the war.

In late October 2019, an emergency medical van carrying a stroke patient was not allowed to pass the checkpoint from Akhalgori to Georgia-controlled territory in order to receive medical help [6]. The woman later died in Tskhinvali hospital [7]. Another woman living in Akhalgori District was not allowed to enter Georgia-controlled territory to receive medical care for serious injuries she sustained by falling in a well [8].

According to South Ossetian de facto authorities, the reason for the checkpoints’ closure is a tension created by the government of Georgia at different parts of the dividing line with South Ossetia. Specifically, they refer to a Georgian police post building in Tsnelisi, a Georgia-controlled village. Tsnelisi is adjacent to Chorchana, a village controlled by the de facto authorities. The de facto authorities demand that Georgia remove the police post [9]. Their ongoing unlawful attempts to securitize the ABL have been the cause of the ongoing numerous human rights violations. Each year, hundreds of people are abducted and arbitrary detained when near the ABL. Such blanket restriction of movement is a grave breach of international human rights law.
Therefore, International Federation of Human Rights and HRIDC call on the Russian Federation and de facto authorities of South Ossetia to:

1. Immediately open recently closed checkpoints and ensure free movement between South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia;
2. Free all illegally detained individuals, including Dr. Vazha Gaprindashvili;
3. Allow international organisations providing humanitarian assistance and international monitoring missions to access South Ossetia.

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