The Palme Center has decided to make public a report on the human rights situation in Abkhazia, a disputed territory in the former Soviet Union. The report is based on thorough research and several field visits by myself and Magdalena Grono, an expert on post-Soviet conflicts, now working with the International Crisis Group.

The report states that the unresolved conflict has severe impact on the human rights of people living in the contested territory of Abkhazia, as well as of persons displaced by the 1992-1993 Georgian-Abkhaz armed conflict.

The human costs of the continued conflict, playing out at Georgian-Abkhaz as well as Georgian-Russian levels, must be a serious consideration in all settlement efforts and dialogue, recommends the report.

A final settlement that would guarantee sustainable peace may continue to be elusive for some time, but a number of human rights problems can be addressed, and even resolved, before comprehensive political resolution is reached.  

Further international visits to Abkhazia on human rights issues would benefit both people affected by the ongoing conflict but also the broader climate for conflict settlement, in which humanitarian and human rights issues get easily politicized. Substantive apolitical dialogue on human rights issues with internationally recognised independent human rights experts should therefore be encouraged.  

The report is based on extensive research on both sides of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict divide, and especially in Abkhazia, over the course of nine months in 2016. They had full access to all relevant interlocutors – including authorities, civil society and ordinary people.

Their report is the first major assessment of the human rights situation in Abkhazia made by international, independent experts. The situation of ethnic Georgian returnees living in Abkhazia’s Gali district is one of the important aspects the report highlights.

This assessment, and an earlier version of their report, was initiated by the European Union and also circulated to relevant diplomats and international organisations. In view of its broader significance the authors have given the Palme Center the privilege of publishing the full and updated report. It will be an important contribution to ongoing efforts to address the conflict, including in the Geneva International Discussions, the conflict settlement forum in this case.

The full report can be found on the web site of Olof Palme International Center.

The Olof Palme International Center publishes the first independent report on human rights in Abkhazia

Military coup in Greece 50 years ago, democrats were betrayed – what did we learn?

Fifty years have now passed since the military takeover in Athens. The coup in the early morning of 21 April 1967 was indeed a shock for democrats all over Europe. How was it possible that a simple group of colonels could wipe out democracy in one of the oldest members states of Council of Europe?

The shock deepened when it became known that the Greek parliament was closed and the political parties dissolved, that strict media censorship had been introduced and that about 6 000 people, including politicians and journalists, had been taken prisoner, many of whom were tortured  during interrogation.

Though the colonels were political novices and made naïve – even ridiculous – statements, they were well prepared in military terms, got to grips quickly with the state machinery and launched their systematic terror skillfully. Obviously, the Greek army and security forces had not been kept under sufficient democratic control. Their links to colleagues in the United States became gradually more obvious.

As a young member of Amnesty International, I went to Athens soon after the coup in order to collect evidence about torture. I was immediately struck by the wide spread fear in the community. To testify to a foreign human rights organization involved a serious risk.

However, testimonies did come out and an interstate complaint was submitted at the end of 1967 by governments in Scandinavia and the Netherlands to the Commission of Human Rights within the Council of Europe. The Commission concluded that the European Convention had been violated and the Greek junta decided in 1969 to leave the organization in order to avoid the embarrassment of suspension.

However, torture continued and the colonels managed to stay in power for another five years, until July 1974. There were several reasons for this, a major one being that the solidarity with the Greek democrats – though strong in several countries – was not shared by everyone. The US government gave the junta political protection and the colonel’s Greece could therefore remain member of NATO.

The Greek democrats at the time appealed to European governments to try to convince Washington to stop supporting the junta, or at least demand an end to torture, but their requests were generally met with silence.

The succeeding democratic regime in Greece reined in the military and security forces and put the colonels and some of the most notorious torturers to trial. However, there was little discussion about the fact that the international community failed to stop the junta for years.

What did we learn?