The return of the OSCE Mission?

Member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Matteo Mecacci, and Chairman of the General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, paid a three-day visited to Tbilisi in May. His visit sparked hopes regarding the reopening of the OSCE mission in Georgia four-years after its closing.

According to official information posted on the Italian Embassy’s website on May 16, Matteo Mecacci held various meetings in which he noted that “in the resolution approved in Belgrade last year, the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE has called for the reopening of an OSCE field mission in Georgia, and I believe that all OSCE Member States should support this goal with the aim of protecting the rights of the people who are still suffering after the 2008 conflict.”

Moreover, according to the Maestro TV report, while he visited Georgian and Russian checkpoints in Egneti, on the administrative border with South Ossetia, Matteo Mecacci announced the possibility of launching a new OSCE mission in Georgia by July 2012: “I am here due to the government’s invitation. I have met many people. I understand their condition and the OSCE will do everything to protect human rights. Recently, the Parliamentary Assembly discussed the issue of launching an OSCE office here, which will begin supposedly in July.”

The announcement made by the OSCE representative came as a surprise not only for the Ossetian side, but for Georgians as well. While the Georgian media was circulating information about the re-launching of the OSCE mission, the South Ossetian Foreign Ministry issued a special statement denying any talks or negotiations with South Ossetian authorities on the issue.

“Such nonsense is reported by the Georgian media. Currently, more than a year later, no negotiations about this issue are taking place. There were negotiations in 2009, 2010, and 2011 raised by the OSCE chairman. However, we did not accept their proposal, and neither did they accept our conditions,” said the head of the South Ossetian Presidential Administration, Boris Chochiev.

On May 16, The Messenger published an article reporting that Matteo Mecacci was confused about the Georgian media citing him about the information pertaining to the launch of the OSCE mission in conflict zone in July of 2012.

“With reference to the article published yesterday in our newspaper, S. Ossetia denies the return of the OSCE mission. Matteo Mecacci has kindly requested that we publish the following article, underlining that in his interview with Maestro TV, he never stated that the OSCE field Mission to Georgia will be re-established in July of 2012.” The article did not specify whether the Maestro TV report was simply a misunderstanding or purposeful misinformation.

The first OSCE mission in Georgia was established in late 1992 to facilitate the peaceful settlement of the conflict in Georgia’s South Ossetia region. In Tskhinvali, the region’s administrative center, the OSCE had eight unarmed military monitors. Military monitors were in charge of the monitoring of, and reporting of the ceasefire in the South Ossetian conflict zone. After hostilities resumed in the region in August 2008, they were pulled out of Tskhinvali.

With the obvious intention getting rid of the international monitors, Russia blocked the extension of the mission’s mandate, which expired in December 2008. As a result, the OSCE mission to Georgia after seventeen-years of being in the conflict zone was shut down on June 30, 2009.

Ever since this time, Georgia has tried to restore the mission. Despite the fact that European counties such as Finland and Greece were promoting the idea, Russia has been successful in its attempts at blocking the initiative. Moscow wanted the new mandate to reflect the post-August War’s “new realities” in the region- in particular, Russia’s recognition of the breakaway region’s independence.

The main question, however, is not the possible restoration of the OSCE mission, but the way in which the OSCE representatives would be settled in conflict zone. Therefore, the mandate, its obligations and effectiveness are more essential topics.

The OSCE mission in South Ossetia failed not because it ended up being closed; the mission failed because it has proven to be ineffective in promoting peaceful relations between Georgians and S. Ossetians, and has been ineffective in preventing the large-scale conflict that occurred in August 2008.The main reason for this was its lack of effective tools.

No doubt, the possibility of re-establishing the OSCE mission in the region is crucial for Georgia. Substantially, the OSCE mission differs from the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) by functioning directly inside the conflict zone. Therefore, the presence of an international mission inside the conflict zone will surely push the conflict towards the internationalization process. This in turn ensures that Georgia won’t stand alone against Russia. This also ensures that human rights problems would be taken into account and the process of demilitarization will become more rapid. This is the goal for which Georgian government has been fighting for years. But still, without effective instruments of mediation and influence, the OSCE mission loses its huge importance.

In the paper entitled The Failure of the OSCE Mission to Georgia – What Remains?- Center for OSCE Research analyst, Silvia Stцber, called the August War of 2008 “the major turning point” in the mission’s fate.

“The locus of this military conflict was the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict area. In nearly two decades however, it proved impossible to achieve a viable agreement that was acceptable to all sides – an agreement that would resolve the differences not only between the South Ossetians and the Georgians, but also between Georgia and Russia,” Stцber notes in the research.

By and large, the presence of the OSCE monitoring groups in the breakaway South Ossetia would be an immensely positive step forward in terms of internationalizing the conflict and preventing further escalation. However, without providing the mission with effective mechanisms, any mission would be doomed to fail.

The original article was published by GeorgiaToday. It is available here. PDF version.

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