Capers picking season has been “officially” opened in Georgia. Demand for the spring seasonal food increases during the given period, although not many have ever thought about those, who aside from going kilometers per day in forests, looking for and picking the given useful plant and having hands scratched from prickly and sore muscles gain only several GEL.
Despite that residents of villages in close proximity with the so called ABL with South Ossetia risk their lives for those several GEL and go to the territories not controlled by Georgian side for picking capers.
This is because in spring their main source of income and diet is capers.
According to the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) data, after 2 May, when the first group of caper pickers was detained, the EUMM has registered series of 5 detainments of 26 local residents in total.
South Ossetia de facto territory border guards detained Tamaresheni village resident 54-year-old man the last time.
Detainments in Shida Kartli ABL villages statistically frequent in spring. Reason is capers, which blossoms in May and for marinating its yet unopened flowers are necessary.
The aforementioned is confirmed by Radio Liberty Shida Kartli correspondent Goga Aptsiauri, who has been covering news from the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone for years.
“Number of detainments traditionally increased during the capers picking season every year. Ossetian side justifies detainments by trespassing of so called border; although local population in Khashuri and Sachkhere regions do not know where this so called border is, so they go forest to pick capers, as it is their additional source of income,” Aptsiauri says.
It is noteworthy that quite often Georgian citizens are detained 20 kilometers away from the “border”, which is quite far from their houses. Ossetian side claims “trespassing” of the border as a reason, while local population says that they do not go to the occupied territories and the occupation regime detains them at Georgia-controlled territory.
Detained citizens are released in exchange for payment of 2000 ruble fine, which is approximately GEL 120 GEL. According to locals, the given amounts are paid by themselves, by help from family members and relatives. For socially vulnerable citizens, who risk their lives for several GEL, a GEL 120 fine is quite a heavy burden.
If these people really cross the administrative border line, when why is the Georgian Border Guard Police inactive? They are responsible to control the ABL crossing facts both from Ossetian side and by Georgian citizens.
Official position of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) is that as long as the so called border is not recognized by Georgia, Police patrols village entrances, but due to existence of multiple small paths, which go to the occupied territories, it is impossible to control all the possible roads. Due to the given motive, they are not able to restrict free citizens of a free country to move around.
Public Defender’s Office also calls on the MIA to care more for the security of citizens.
Considering the existing problems, in the 2014 report on IDP and Conflict Victim Persons’ Legal Status, Public Defender stresses that the creation of the Governmental Commission for Reaction to Needs of Population of Villages in the Proximity of the ABL in 2013 was a positive step taken.
Fact of detainment of Georgian citizens was followed by significant response from the international community. Along with the fact that the EUMM monitors the situation at the Georgian-Ossetian ABL, the occupation line and nearby villages have also been visited by the UN High Commission for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who was on a 5-day visit to Georgia starting 18 May.
According to her, “South Ossetia “has become one of the most inaccessible places on earth, with no access permitted for international agencies, except the ICRC.”
“My visit to an IDP settlement and to the Administrative Boundary Line with South Ossetia, has confirmed my view that more attention needs to be paid to the situation of human rights in South Ossetia and Abkhazia”, said Pillay and expressed her concern over the isolation that has been growing in the recent months.
“As I saw for myself yesterday, the effect on local villagers on both sides of the wire fence is devastating,” Pillay said.
According to Pillay, civilians seeking to cross the Administrative Boundary Line are continuing to be unlawfully detained. Their detention may last for several days, often simply for attempting to visit their own property on the other side of the wire to harvest their crops, including the valuable local delicacy known as Jonjoli (caper), which for many is their sole source of income, and they are only freed upon payment of substantial fines.
Despite many rounds of negotiations, international community reaction and Karasin-Abashidze bilateral meetings, the population of villages along the ABL live insecurely along with grave social conditions. It is a fact that “delicacy “jonjoli” remains an unsecure and choiceless source of income.
Georgian media shows interest to these people’s problems only when ABL village residents are detained, kidnapped or when villages are visited by high-ranking politicians.
According to Media Develoment Fund Director Tamar Khorbaladze says, Georgia media is a media of “comments” and follows only statements made by public officials.