The Law "On the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Republic of Abkhazia", which marked the beginning of the independent from executive authority state human rights body, was adopted by the Parliament of the Republic of Abkhazia on February 24, 2016.
Although as an independent institution Ombudsman’s Office was established only in 2016, other human rights state structures functioned under the President of the Republic for over two decades.
First there was a Commission on Human Rights under the President of the Republic of Abkhazia, established by Presidential Decree No. UP-23 of March 21, 1997. The chairman of the commission was appointed by the President of the country. In 1997 , V. S. Khagba was appointed as a chairman of the commission.
On May 22, 1997, by another presidential decree (No. UP-28), the Commission was reorganized into the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The Decree contained references to relevant UN resolutions on national institutions, in particular, UN General Assembly Resolution 48/134 of December 20, 1993. The Chairman of the NHRC was appointed by the President, the composition of the members of the NHRC was also approved by the President after the proposal of the Chairman. The NHRC had the right to recommend changes in legislation and submit draft laws corresponding to the International Bill of Rights. The Commission was authorized to recommend new legislation or the modification of existing laws. The regulation on the NHRC allowed the commission to consider any case of human rights violations, as well as to draw proposals for measures aimed at countering such violations. In practice, the organization's activities were limited to informing the executive authorities about the situation with regards to human rights issues in Abkhazia.
On May 15, 2007, instead of the NHRC, the position of the Commissioner for Human Rights was established as part of the structure of the Presidential Administration. It was stated in the Article 3 of the Law on the Commissioner, that his/her activity complements the existing means of protecting the rights and freedoms of citizens, does not cancel and does not entail a revision of the competencies of state bodies, that also ensure the protection and restoration of violated rights and freedoms. In accordance with this Provision, the Commissioner was appointed and dismissed by the President of the Republic of Abkhazia. From March 3, 2007 to May 4, 2016 (until the abolition of this position), G. A. Otyrba was in the position of Commissioner.
The activities of the Commissioner, in accordance with the Statute, were aimed at assisting the State authorities in implementing policy in the field of ensuring and protecting human and civil rights and freedoms, as well as at creating conditions for their implementation by the President of the Republic of Abkhazia.
The provision did not allow for the Commissioner to make proposals independently on measures to improve the protection of human rights. It only authorized the Commissioner to submit these proposals to the President. However, there had been a slight improvement in the institution’s effectiveness in dealing with individual complaints. The Commissioner was authorized to consider complaints not only from citizens but also from foreigners and stateless individuals. He could apply to the competent authorities to initiate disciplinary or administrative proceedings or criminal proceedings against an official whose decisions or actions (omissions) violated human and civil rights and freedoms.
However, the Statute did not provide the Commissioner with a comprehensive set of tools to respond to human rights violations. Administrative and criminal legislation did not provide for liability for ignoring the requests of the Commissioner. The Commissioner was limited in the ability to apply to courts for protection of rights and freedoms violated by decisions or actions (omissions) of the authorities. The limited scope of the Ombudsman’s competences indicated that the authorities were not ready to fully institutionalize human rights activities. Given that human rights violations were often a result of ineffective and derogatory public administration, the inclusion of the institution within the executive branch did minimize its impact on the authorities. The same factor made the Ombudsman’s office less accessible to society and civil rights organizations.
It should be noted that the activities of human rights defenders from civil society and deputies of the Parliament of the Republic of Abkhazia contributed to the establishment of a truly independent Ombudsman institution. Prominent lawyer, former deputy of the Parliament of the Republic of Abkhazia Zurab Achba, during his work at the Parliament and later in the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations Mission, actively advocated for the creation of an independent Ombudsman’s Institution. Major work in the field of human rights was carried out by former deputies who at various times headed the Human Rights Commission in the Parliament of the Republic of Abkhazia: Natalia Akaba, Batal Kobakhia, Emma Gamisonia. In general, most human rights protection mechanisms were in fact created by non-governmental organizations and civil society activists. For example, the public human rights offices of such organizations as the Foundation «Civil Initiative and Man of the Future», the Center for Humanitarian Programs, the Necessary Newspaper, the Association of Women of Abkhazia, the Association of Invest-Assistance have been functioning for many years.
Work on the draft law defining the legal status of the Human Rights Ombudsman as an institution independent from the State authorities began in 2012. The draft law was developed in the Administration of the President of the Republic of Abkhazia and was called «On Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights». The document had some advantages over the current law, as it provided for a more democratic procedure for the election of the Commissioner - public associations could submit proposals on his/her candidacy to the Parliament. The term of office was extended to six years, with no limit on the number of consecutive elections. The bill also had significant shortcomings. It provided for a limited range of rights and opportunities to deal with complaints. Experts from the Center for Humanitarian Programs made a significant contribution to the finalization of the draft law by preparing comments, some of which were taken into account. The Office of the Human Rights Commissioner to the President of the Republic of Abkhazia and G. A. Otyrba himself have carried out significant work in order for the law to be adopted. The final version of the Law «On the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Republic of Abkhazia» was adopted on February 24, 2016. In accordance with the Law, the Commissioner is elected to office by the People’s Assembly - Parliament of the RA by a majority of votes in a secret ballot for a period of 5 years. The Commissioner enjoys inviolability throughout his term of office. The Act significantly expanded the competence of the Ombudsman to respond to complaints and to take remedial measures. Given the new status, the Commissioner can respond more effectively to violations committed by public officials. For the first time, the Commissioner has been granted the right to review criminal and civil case files, administrative offences cases, as well as cases where proceedings have been discontinued and materials for cases which were dismissed.
The protection of the rights of persons in places of detention has been significantly strengthened. The Commissioner has the right to attend at any time places of detention, pre-trial detention facilities, penal enforcement institutions and compulsory treatment and rehabilitation centres, to interview the detainees in private, receive information about conditions of their detention and inspect the documentation certifying the legality of their stay in these institutions. The Commissioner has the right to amend the legislation of the Republic of Abkhazia affecting human and civil rights and freedoms by applying to the Constitutional Court of the RA. The Commissioner has the right to request the authorities and their officials to implement the prescribed recommendations, and in case of non-compliance to initiate legal proceedings, and to request the initiation of administrative or disciplinary proceedings against the officials responsible. The Commissioner has the right to apply to the Procurator’s Office for verification of a court decision, sentence, court decision or ruling or judge’s decision that has entered into legal force.
On November 22, 2016, Dmitry Marshan was appointed to the post of Human Rights Commissioner. However, the work was halted because the State had not provided in a timely manner any of the logistical assistance needed to make the institution fully operational. The Commissioner did not even have an office at the time. Lack of financial, material and personnel support for the activities of the Commissioner did not allow for the reception of citizens and the consideration of written complaints of complainants in a proper manner. On October 16, 2017, D. Z. Marshan resigned from his post at his own request.
On March 21, 2018, Asida Shakril was elected to the post of Human Rights Commissioner in the Republic of Abkhazia by the Parliament of the RA. She previously headed the Public Reception for Human Rights in the Center of Humanitarian Programs. On December 11, 2018, the office of the Human Rights Commissioner in the Republic of Abkhazia was opened in one of the premises of the I. I. Papaskir National Library.