Human Rights Defenders Propose Running Post-Conflict Children's Camps in the Caucasus

Source: (author), 10/09/10

· Human Rights Defenders · Victims of Conflicts · Rights of Children

Svetlana Gannushkina, head of Civic Assistance and board member of the International Memorial Society, at a meeting with women peacemakers from Russia and Georgia made a number of proposals for joint projects and collaboration at the non-governmental level between the two countries. In particular, the human rights defender believes it is essential to run post-conflict children’s camps in the region.

Svetlana Gannushkina believes that human rights defenders should have no bias, writes In her own words, she is guided by the principle “if you’ve been on one side, then go on the other side”. That is how she and her colleagues acted during the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaidjan.

“We visited an Armenian prison. I remember a conversation with one of the prisoners. He was really just a boy. He told us he had fled, and not to escape from Azerbaijan to get to Armenia, but to die. “Every day in Azerbaijan, he was beaten and raped. There was hazing. Once in prison, he was happy. They did not hurt him there,” the human rights defender said.

Svetlana Gannushkina added that while “every war is filled with myths”, not all of them are true. “For example, we were told that in Azerbaijan, Armenian prisoners were used as slaves in the quarries. We travelled to the region in question to see what was happening. When we arrived, the local people told us: “What Armenians are you talking about? We are fighting to have the smallest chance of working there,” said the head of Civic Assistance.

The human rights defender insists that running camps where children come together from different countries and regions between which there have been recent conflicts would be effective.

“We ran a post-conflict camp after the conflict between Ossetians and Ingush. It was held outside Moscow, in Pushchino. The Ossetians and Ingush were joined by local adolescents who were classed as difficult. Initially, the children of different ethnic groups did not expect anything good from each other and they kept apart. We were even told that in the train in which the school students travelled to the camp, the boys from Ossetia hadn’t dared to leave their compartments to throw away rubbish since they would have had to pass compartments where there were Ingush children. However, two weeks went by, experienced teachers worked with the children, and they began actively communicating with one another. And by the end of the camp, they were simply crying when it came to say goodbye,” Svetlana Gannushkina related.

“There were love affairs between teenagers of different ethnic groups,” Svetlana Gannushkina said. “There was even a curious case when boys from the Caucasian who were dissatisfied with the style of wooing the girls adopted by their Moscow peers (involving twitching of pigtails and blows to the head with school bags) went to explain to them how they should properly treat the opposite sex,” the human rights defender added.

In addition, according to Svetlana Gannushkina, young people from regions where there have been conflicts are brought together by their shared love of Caucasian dances, which the Ossetian and Ingush boys and girls delighted in teaching the young Russians.

At a meeting of Russian and Georgian peacekeepers, the problems met by Georgians from Abkhazia in obtaining Russian citizenship were discussed.

As human rights defenders pointed out, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ignores their guidance and continues to obstruct ethnic Georgians in obtaining Russian citizenship. This problem also deserves the attention of the public of both countries.

A representative of Georgian NGOs, Manana Mebuke, however, believes that before a beginning can be made to put these plans into effect, the most important issue must be solved: “Now NGOs working have got to work to obtain the release of prisoners on both sides of the conflict [the 2008 war between Georgia and Ossetia]. After this, communications can begin from a clean slate.”

In the Dutch city of Leiden in July a meeting of those taking part in the Georgian-Ossetian Civic Forum took place. At this meeting an appeal to the participants of the Geneva Consultations was adopted. The Forum asked for help in solving the problems of the civilian population of Georgia and South Ossetia.

The most urgent problem that needs to be solved, according to Forum participants, was the restriction of freedom of movement: visiting relatives, religious shrines and cemeteries; access to fields and grazing areas for the inhabitants of Ossetian and Georgian villages, which were restricted after the war.

Also among those problems that require a rapid solution are the issues of the supply of water and gas, the lack of economic and trade ties, that “has an extremely negative impact on the welfare of the inhabitants of the region”, and access to South Ossetia for humanitarian organizations.