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The Russian Occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia
A Decade of De Facto Annexation in Georgia
Monday, July 16, 2018

August 2018 marks 10 years of Russian occupation of approximately 20 percent of Georgia’s internationally recognized sovereign territory. The Russian occupation, and the ensuing recognition by Moscow of the “independence” of South Ossetia (referred to in Georgia as the Tskhinvali region) and Abkhazia, represent material breaches of international law and an active disregard for the Charter of the United Nations, and the founding principles of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) embodied in the Helsinki Final Act and subsequent OSCE commitments.

This report offers a brief overview of the history of the outbreak of war in August 2008; the evolution of the unresolved conflict since that time; and an overview of the U.S. Helsinki Commission’s efforts to advance a resolution and restore Georgia’s territorial integrity.

Download the full report to learn more.

Contributors: Everett Price, Senior Policy Advisor
and Alex Tiersky, Senior Policy Advisor

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  • THE NEW AND IMPROVED SUPREME SOVIET AND THE INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS REFORM

    The hearing looked into the role of the Supreme Soviet in promulgating and institutionalizing human rights in the Soviet Union. Our Soviet guest today was Mr. Fyodor Burlatskiy who gave testimony alongside Louise Shelley, consultant to the Helsinki Watch on issues of Soviet law. This briefing was a follow-up to talks in Moscow in November of 1988.

  • The Baltic Question

    This Helsinki Commission hearing was brought to order due to the independence movements in the Baltic States. The independence movements in these states expressed the desire for self-rule on the part of peoples who, after forcible incorporation into the Soviet Union, had been brutally colonized for 50 years, reduced to the status of minorities and second-class citizens in their historic homelands, robbed of their language, their culture and their history, and victimized by police brutality and environmental assault. They sought independence from Moscow not because they hate Russians, but because they saw it as a prerequisite for physical and cultural survival.

  • Paris Human Dimension Meeting: Human Rights in the Helsinki Process

    This hearing, chaired by Commissioner Steny Hoyer, took place after the first meeting of three 4-week meetings of the Conference of the Human Dimension. These meetings were a function of the Conference on the Security and Cooperation in Europe the first of which took place on June 23, with the 35 member states of the OSCE in attendance. On the U.S.’s part, the goal was to seek greater implementation of the human rights and human contacts provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The atendees discussed the Vienna Concluding Document of January 1989, continued Soviet and East European violations of the rights of national minorities and religious believers and restrictions on the rights of free assembly, association, expression, and noncompliance with human contacts provisions, and fostering greater respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

  • A Changing Soviet Society

    This hearing addressed Soviet nationalism and the Baltic States’ argument for self-determination. The April attack by armed troops on peaceful demonstrations in Georgia was provided as an example of how dangerous official Soviet reaction to popular protests can be. The need for the Kremlin to learn tolerant methods of dealing with dissent was emphasized. Witnesses testifying at this hearing addressed the changes occurring in the U.S.S.R and called for a set of criteria by which Soviet progress or lack thereof could be assessed. The impact of these changes on the human rights arena, including the right to due process, was also a topic of discussion.

  • THE RIGHT TO RECEIVE AND IMPART INFORMATION - PRELUDE TO THE LONDON INFORMATION FORUM

    This Commission hearing focused on the implementation of the provisions of the Helsinki Accords in the member countries of Eastern Europe. The hearing reviewed the compliance records of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, with the provisions regarding the free flow of information. The East has had a mixed record in regards to its compliance of the information provisions of the Helsinki Accords. Expert witnesses gave testimony to bring better understanding of the bewildering, and sometimes contradictory signals the East is sending on its information policies.

  • Conclusion of the Vienna Meeting and implications for U.S. Policy

    The general tenor of East-West relations has changed considerably in recent years. Some changes give cause for hope, others reinforce longstanding doubts. The Helsinki process in general, and the Vienna Meeting in particular, have contributed to this dynamic period, and rightly so, for change is what the Helsinki process is all about, the changing relationships between governments, their citizens, as well as between states. The Vienna Concluding Document itself contains more precise provisions than any previous CSCE document. Particularly noteworthy are those texts concerning religious freedoms, the rights of national minorities, freedoms of movement, the environment, and information. The document, like those which preceded it, will be used as a standard against which to measure the behavior of the participating States. For it is a demonstration of commitment which will give the document its true meaning.

  • The State of Human Rights in Turkey: An Update

    Since September 12, 1980, many governments, international bodies and nongovernmental organizations have taken an extreme­ly active interest in the human rights situation in Turkey. That date marked the third time in as many decades that the Turkish military had taken power, this time in the wake of governmental paralysis, political polarization, and an uncontrolled wave of vio­lence and terrorism which even civilian-imposed martial law could not stem. Still in power in 1982, the ruling generals had made it clear that power would not be returned to civilian hands until, in their view, the causes of the previous unrest had been eliminated. Political activities remained restricted, and large numbers of Turkish citizens were in prison awaiting trial on a variety of politically related charges. Allegations of serious human rights abuses were wide­spread. The Commission had been urged by nongovernmental organiza­tions, by Members of Congress, and by parliamentarians in other NATO countries, to investigate the charges of abuse. A staff delegation visited Turkey from August 22-29, 1982, and its report repre­sented one of the first open expressions of concern about the Turkish situation by official representatives of the United States. Since the October 1982 report, the Commission, Members of Con­gress, various international bodies, and a variety of private organi­zations have followed events there with great interest. In the past six years, certain sanctions have been applied by the international community, and have been rescinded as progress was made in im­ proving the human rights situation. In light of its ongoing interest m Turkey, and the concern which private organizations continue to express, the Commission felt it appropriate to visit Turkey again and to assess the situation once more. The Commission believes that, since the previous staff report, Turkey has made impressive strides toward a full restoration of human rights and the democratic process. The past six years have seen a renewal of the national commitment to achieving democrat­ic ideals for all Turkish citizens and patterns of tolerance have emerged. They are being strengthened by institutional reform, a citizenry largely committed to the democratic process, and by the activities of the press and various private organizations. The Commission also believes that certain human rights prob­lems, which often predate the 1980 military takeover, persist in Turkey. The report describes them and certain measures which are being undertaken in order to deal with them. This report by the staff, describing developments since the 1982 report and assessing the current state of affairs, is a product of the Commission's continuing interest in Turkey's progress toward full democratization. The hard-won national independence of 1923 en­ compassed a vision of the future which incorporated a proud histor­ical heritage in a Western framework. The profound changes that followed required great national will and commitment. It is the Commission's hope that the momentum of Turkish human rights improvements will be sustained. Turkey is a geographical and cul­tural bridge between Europe and the Middle East, and the Turkish experience may serve as a lesson for both worlds.

  • Status of Conventional Stability Talks in Europe

    This hearing, which Commissioner Steny H. Hoyer presided over, was part and parcel of an anticipated series of Conventional Stability Talks within the framework of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The hearing also was a joint hearing of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Helsinki Commission. At the hearing, Commissioner Hoyer expressed the sentiment of a heightened political awareness of the conventional force issue, particularly in the wake of the recently ratified INF Treaty, tempered with the desire to not have these sorts of issues (i.e. the CSCE’s expansion to encompass conventional force negotiations and the developing overlap of the conventional stability and CSBM talks) overshadow human rights. Balancing of the different East-West relations is an explicit objective, the Commissioner said. Not only did attendees at this hearing discuss Conventional Stability, but they also discussed the status of the agenda in Vienna and the developing relationship among all these talks within the CSCE process.  

  • Soviet Trade and Economic Reforms: Implications for U.S. Policy

    The motive for holding this hearing, which Rep. Steny H. Hoyer and Sen. Dennis DeConcini chaired, was due to the increased attention that the commercial aspect of East-West relations had gotten. Of course, balance among the different aspects of East-West relations has been a stated political objective of all signatories of the Helsinki Final Act. More specifically, attendees at the hearing discussed tying human rights on the part of the U.S.S.R. to East-West trade relations. From its inception, the Helsinki Final Act has explicitly set forward progress in the area of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as increased cooperation in areas of trade, exchanges, and military security. The sense of the hearing was that the U.S.’s security needs, human rights concerns, and economic can be balanced.

  • Reform and Human Rights - The Gorbachev Record

    Based on the Commission's continuing, professional contacts with a wide range of experts on Soviet affairs in this country and abroad, this report is a sober, factual survey of Mikhail Gorbachev's efforts during his first three years as General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party to promote significant reforms in the politics, economy and society of his country. The report is designed to contribute to that consistent pressure, for in describing how much has changed or seems to be in the process of changing, it also documents how many fundamental rights of Soviet citizens to freedom of expression, of belief, of movement and of national character remain restricted and unprotected. There has been much to applaud in the three years of Gorbachev's rule, especially compared to the repressive actions of his predecessors. The release of many political prisoners from camps and psychiatric prison-hospitals, the rise in the numbers of Soviet citizens permitted to emigrate and to travel, the increasing candor of the official Soviet press and the increasing tolerance shown to unofficial groups and unorthodox points of view are all welcome first steps in the right direction. They are, however, no more than first steps. And as our reportdocuments, they were taken slowly and could be retracted almost overnight. Until the rule of law establishes a decent balance between the power of the Soviet state and the human dignity of individual Soviet citizens, the latter will always be at risk.

  • Vienna Review Meeting of the CSCE - Phase III and IV

    The main activity of the Vienna Meeting throughout Phases III and IV was the presentation and negotiation of proposals for inclu sion in the concluding document of the meeting. The number (more than 160), complexity and controversial nature of many of these propos­als led to the extension of the Vienna Meeting well beyond its target closing date of July 31. These factors, along with other ele­ments such as continuing major shortcomings in the implementa­ tion of existing commitments, are largely responsible for the con­tinuation of the Vienna Meeting into 1988. The slow pace of progress already evident in Phase II continued through the next phase. Each side defended its own proposals but showed little disposition to begin the process of compromise which could lead to the conclusion of the meeting. The main procedural development during this phase was the appointment of coordina­tors from the neutral and non-aligned states to guide the work of the drafting groups. This development provided greater order and structure for the proceedings but did little to advance the drafting work or to induce compromises. Other major developments during this phase were the introduc­tion of the long-awaited Western proposal on military security and the tabling of a comprehensive compromise proposed in Basket III by two neutral delegations, Austria and Switzerland. Both propos­als were put forth at the very end of the phase and thus did not have much impact until the next phase. The Western (NATO) proposal on military security questions was designed as a response to the Eastern proposal which envisioned two main objectives: another round of negotiations on confidence­ and security-building measures (CSBMs) to build upon the success­ful Stockholm meeting and the initiation of negotiations on conven­tional disarmament, both within the same CSCE forum. The West­ern response to this proposal was delayed primarily because of United States and French differences over the connection between the conventional arms negotiations and the CSCE process, the French arguing that the negotiations should be an integral part of the process and the U.S. insisting that they be independent. The issue was resolved by agreement that the negotiations would be "within the framework of the CSCE," but should remain autono­mous.

  • The Miroslav Medvid Incident - Findings, Conclusions and Recommendations (Part 2)

    This report results from an investigation directed by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe into the attempted defection of Miroslav Medvid and other similar incidents of involuntary repatriation of Soviet and Soviet-bloc nationals, with recommendations for any appropriate changes in US law. This investigation began in July 1986, with research into available public source background material. By September 1986, fieldwork commenced, consisting primarily of witness interviews, records reviews, and search for other evidentiary materials. More than 200 interviews and 100 informal contacts were conducted by CSCE investigators. A few investigative initiatives were hampered by foreign government and Executive Branch decisions to deny access to certain witnesses and records. However, the effect of the omissions was minimized by the preponderance of other available evidence on the issues. This report presents a narrative story of The Medvid Incident, followed by the factual and legal issues raised by the events (Part I). The second section examines other incidents of repatriation cases, including case studies and analyses, and a statistical examination of deserting crewmen and apprehensions.

  • The Miroslav Medvid Incident - Findings, Conclusions and Recommendations (Part 1)

    This report results from an investigation directed by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe into the attempted defection of Miroslav Medvid and other similar incidents of involuntary repatriation of Soviet and Soviet-bloc nationals, with recommendations for any appropriate changes in US law. This investigation began in July 1986, with research into available public source background material. By September 1986, fieldwork commenced, consisting primarily of witness interviews, records reviews, and search for other evidentiary materials. More than 200 interviews and 100 informal contacts were conducted by CSCE investigators. A few investigative initiatives were hampered by foreign government and Executive Branch decisions to deny access to certain witnesses and records. However, the effect of the omissions was minimized by the preponderance of other available evidence on the issues. This report presents a narrative story of The Medvid Incident, followed by the factual and legal issues raised by the events (Part I). The second section examines other incidents of repatriation cases, including case studies and analyses, and a statistical examination of deserting crewmen and apprehensions.

  • Allocation of Resources in the Soviet Union and China

    Hon. William Proxmire, Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security Economics, presided the hearing on the allocation of resources in the Soviet Union and China. The first section of the hearing was devoted to the Soviet Union, because of the many changes and substantive developments in this region. Since coming to power in March 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev had put forward the most ambitious program for economic, political, and social change since Nikita Khrushchev, often linking the URSS's ability to mantain its status as a military "superpower" to the success of his efforts. This hearing provided an initial evaluation of Gorbachev's program. It began by describing Gorbachev's policies and assessing their impact on the economy's performance in 1986. The witnesses, then, analyzed the future direction of his economic modernization program in light of the 1987 Plan and the demands for continued military force development. Finally, they evaluated the Soviet external relations, including the trade initiatives and the effect of changes in Soviet-China relations. Senator Proxmire was joined by Douglas MacEachin, Director of Soviet Analysis for Central Intelligence Agency and Rear Admiral Robert Schmitt, Deputy Director of Defense Intelligence Agency.  

  • Documents of the Helsinki Monitoring Groups in the U.S.S.R. and Lithuania (1976-1986), Vol. 3 - Ukraine

    November 9, 1986, marked the 10th anniversary of the largest and, in terms of prison sentences, the most repressed of the Soviet Helsinki Groups--the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. Founded by Ukrainian writer and World War II veteran Mykola Rudenko, the group produced extensive documentation on violations of the Helsinki Accords in Ukraine, such as persecution of individual dissent, suppression of the Ukrainian language and culture, and religious persecution. The Soviet Government was determined to deny this group any public voice. Of the 38 members of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, all but one have been imprisoned at one time or another. Fourteen Ukrainian Helsinki Monitors and one Estonian human rights activist who joined the group while in a labor camp, are currently serving lengthly sentences. Since May 1984, three members have died in camps. All three men had been ill and denied adequate medical care. Oleksa Tykhy, Yuriy Lytvyn and Vasyl Stus all died for their beliefs. Prior to his death, Stus had written "Moscow has given the camp authorities complete power, and anyone harboring the illusion that our relations with /the camp authorities/ are regulated by some sort of law is sadly mistaken." His words were tragically prophetic. We are concerned that the same fate awaits others, including Lev Lukianenko, Mykola Horbal, Ivan Kandyba, Vasyl Ovsienko and Vitaly Kalynychenko. It is vital that we remember the courageous members of the Ukrainian Monitoring Group and their eloquent call for compliance with the ideals of Helsinki. In fact, the Congress recently passed a resolution commemorating the anniversary of the founding of the Ukrainian Helsinki group and honoring the members of all the Soviet Helsinki Monitoring Groups. At the ongoing Vienna CSCE Follow-up Meeting, the United States and other Western delegations are speaking out on behalf of the imprisoned members of the Ukrainian and other Helsinki Groups. We hope that the documents contained in this volume will help to ensure that the Ukrainian Group and its message are not forgotten.

  • Report: Vienna Review Meeting of the CSCE - Phase I

    At the initial session of the third CSCE follow-up meeting held in Vienna from November 4 to December 20, 1986, the Soviet Union and a number of its Warsaw Pact allies came under the most concentrated and concerted attack for human rights abuses since the beginning of the Helsinki process in 1975. In some ways the barrage of criticism directed at the East during the implementation phase of the Vienna Conference was more remarkable for the fact that the Soviet Union for the first time offered a series of gestures, promises and public relations maneuvers specifically designed to soften or mute negative Western assessments of its performance. Partly out of underlying distrust for Soviet motives and partly because of Soviet bumbling or callousness in the death of imprisoned Helsinki Monitor Anatoly Marchenko and the agonizingly delayed departure of cancer patient Rimma Bravve, Western as well as neutral and nonaligned (NNa) participants joined together to mount an unprecedented indictment of Soviet and East European violations of the human rights provisions of the Helsinki Final Act. As a result, the calculated Soviet effort under General Secretary Gorbachev to project a new, more open and humane image remained at best open to doubt and at worst suffered a serious loss in credibility.

  • List of Organizations Involved in Exchange Programs with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe

    The Commission developed this report to help in­terested persons and organizations participate in exchange pro­grams with the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe: Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. It lists organizations which conduct exchange programs and other contacts with these countries. The parties to the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe declared their intention to expand cooperation in security, economic, humanitarian, information, culture, and education affairs and to respect and put into practice certain basic principles, including those of human rights. The Final Act was signed in Helsinki on August 1, 1975, by 35 heads of state or govern­ment, including the United States, Canada, and every state in Europe except Albania. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsin­ki Commission) was created as an independent government agency in 1976 to monitor compliance with the Final Act and to encourage U.S. governmental and private programs to expand East-West eco­nomic and cultural cooperation and exchange of people and ideas. In the Final Act, the signatories express the view that cultural exchanges and development of relations in education and science contribute to the strengthening of peace, better mutual under­ standing, and enrichment of the human personality. In the Com­ mission's view, exchange programs with the Soviet bloc countries break down barriers and lessen distrust. They help Americans learn about the views and goals of these societies. Such programs help expose the peoples of these countries to the values and goals of our pluralistic society. Critical to such programs is that Americans are given the opportunity to tell the Soviets and their allies on a personal level about their concern for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

  • Vienna Follow-Up Meeting of the CSCE

    This hearing focused on the Vienna Meeting and narratives in previous meetings in Belgrade and Madrid. These meetings centered on the U.S.S.R.’s persistent publicity about the true nature of the Soviet system, in particular regarding the role it played in the reversal of the Soviet image in Western Europe in the early 1980's. Due to Soviet improper compliance with OSCE rules and statues, such as detaining Helsinki monitors, the Vienna Meeting focused on strengthening the relevance and effectiveness of the Helsinki process to improve efficacy on progress.

  • The Miroslav Medvid Incident

    On October 24, 1985, Soviet Seaman Miroslav Medvid jumped from the Marshal Konev (a Soviet grain freighter) while it was docked in New Orleans, LA, and reportedly attempted to request political asylum in the United States. He was interviewed by U.S. Border Patrol agents on that same night and then ordered returned to his ship. U.S. officials from the INS and State Department subsequently boarded the ship, obtained an agreement from Soviet officials that Medvid would be re-interviewed concerning his desire for political asylum, and proceeded to question him over a period of 2 days. Mr. Medvid consistently held that he did not want political asylum during this second interview process, and was finally returned to his ship on October 29, 1985.  The Medvid case has raised many questions concerning the manner in which U.S. Government officials handled the incident and concerning U.S. asylum policy toward Communist-bloc nations in general. The Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and Refugee Policy held a series of hearings and conducted a staff investigation on the matter. This report addresses the facts developed through that hearing and investigation process. This report is divided into 6 sections: (1) a brief summary of the events from the time of Medvid's desertion to his final return to the Soviet ship; (2) a summary of the hearings that the immigration subcommittee held on November 5, 1985, November 7, 1985, February 5, 1986, and March 7, 1986; (3) a review and discussion of the major issues and points of controversy concerning the incident; (4) a description of the roles played by the individuals who had the most contact with Medvid, and their perspectives on the case; (5) a review of the adequacy. of present INS asylum procedures; and (6) conclusions drawn by the subcommittee based on the hearing and investigation process.

  • Soviet Violations of the Helsinki Accords in Afghanistan

    The Helsinki Commission held its second hearing on Soviet aggression in Afghanistan six years after Soviet invasion in 1979. The witnesses shed light on the deliberate destruction of the people, culture, and way of life in Afghanistan for the Commissioners present, and considered ways to move forward.

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