Commissioner for Human Rights Asida Shakryl answered the questions of the reporter.
13 July 2018

Commissioner for Human Rights Asida Shakryl answered the questions of the reporter.


Asida Georgievna Shakryl graduated from the Faculty of Philology of Abkhaz State University. She started working as a teacher of Russian language and literature, and later - as a head of the educational department of Sukhum Boarding School. In 1997, she began her work at the non-profit organization "Center for Humanitarian Programs" (CHP) where she led the program "Search for Missing Persons in connection with the Georgian-Abkhaz War.” She visited families where people were reported missing, collected a considerable amount of factual material, which enabled her to add dozens of new names to the official lists of the missing. Since her first year in CHP, she dealt with problems related to human rights violations, including the rights of the detained persons. After 2001, she joined a program focused on human rights education for youth. For several years, together with her colleagues, Shakryl was preparing a manual on civic education, which was recommended by the RA Ministry of Education as a guide for social studies in secondary schools. 

From 2006 to 2009, Asida Shakryl was working as a coordinator for the project "Promotion of civil initiatives aimed at strengthening human security", where she participated in the study of the effectiveness of courts and other institutions in the field of human rights protection.

From 2011 to 2016 – a member of the Public Chamber under the President of the Republic of Abkhazia.

From 2007 onwards – a member of the leaderboard at the CHP, supervising the work in the field of human rights protection. Was engaged in human rights activities within the framework of free public reception centers. 

During her work in the human rights sector, Asida Shakryl completed a number of specialized trainings, participated in numerous conferences and forums in Abkhazia, the Russian Federation, and countries of Europe. 

Back in February 2016, President R. Khajimba signed the Law “On the Ombudsman of Republic of Abkhazia”, which was adopted by the RA Parliament. In March of the same year, Asida Shakryl was approved for the position of Commissioner. This wasn’t a sudden decision, since Shakryl was the head of the human rights reception office at the CHP, and was fully familiar with the work. At the end of May, the Parliament approved the cost estimate for the maintenance of the Ombudsman’s office. 

– Your new work is directly related to your previous occupation, which was also a human rights practice. Do you find your accumulated experience useful now? Or shall we start from the top: Where is the office located, what is the salary, how many internal employees are in the cabinet? Your predecessor, Ombudsman Dmitry Marshan, had difficulties with these very issues. He worked voluntarily for a year without pay or an office, until he finally left. He used to manage his duties well, though. Maybe he did the right thing by leaving the office, otherwise the situation might not have changed. And now everyone understands the importance of this office, the government provides all the necessary financing. 

– We are now temporarily settled at the Center for Humanitarian Programs. Yes, office space was allocated for us is in the building of the National Library. Our budget for 2018 is 3 million rubles. The money was transferred to our account, the employees finally begin to receive their salaries. The office requires reconditioning - it’s a single large room that needs to be parted into separate spaces. In the meantime, the leadership of the CHP is kindly providing us with the office space and entire logistics, including a car.

– How many staff members are in the office?

– Right now we have 3 lawyers, one secretary, one accountant and me – that’s 6 people. Since we are able to work from the CHP, we already started to receive visitors, examine complaints and address the public bodies concerned, making appropriate recommendations. Unfortunately, I still haven’t received all the necessary support from the Parliament or other public bodies, but I hope the importance of our establishment will be realized and the situation will change. After all, this is a new structure, it needs to be built from scratch. 

– Can you think of any cases that can be viewed as an extension of your previous work?  

– I was a coordinator in a public Advisory Bureau For Human Rights at the Center for Humanitarian Programs for almost 10 years. There are also branch offices of the bureau in Ochamchira, Gal, and a mobile public access service in Tkuarchal district, which provides free legal advice and assistance for everyone and on all issues. Over a decade, thousands and thousands of people received support through these offices. Our services were not limited to advising people, we also accompanied complainants to the authorities concerned and to the courts. We acted as a Public Defender’s Office if it was necessary. These reception rooms at the CHP continue to work in the same mode. Now Diana Kerselyan is in charge instead of me. I continue to closely cooperate with them still. The advisory bureau lawyers are highly competent at their job. I am grateful for the support and help they provide. 

– You mentioned the issue of transport. When will it be solved?

– The transport cost was not included in the proposed budget. But I hope that this issue will be resolved too. There are many places that we need to visit to get acquainted with local authorities. Government employees need to know about the role of the Ombudsman. Also, we plan to carry out admissions for citizens in the districts, so they would be able to contact us without having to travel to Sukhum. The schedule for the reception will be set, the citizens will be notified about the reception dates for the districts. It is difficult to manage all this without transport. 

– What types of cases were you able to process so far?

– Some cases were forwarded to us from the reception center of the CHP. These were issues that were impossible to resolve through the public advisory bureau. These were, for example, cases associated with the passport exchange procedure.

– Were there any facts of illegal passport refusals?

– Sure. And a lot. At a recent meeting with Vice-President Vitaly Gabniya, where I was invited along with the members of Parliament, heads of OVIR divisions, lawyers of the Presidential Administration, it was decided to consider amendments to the Law "On Citizenship". But back in mid-March, when I did send to the Parliament the analysis and proposals prepared by the lawyers of the CHP, for the reasons unclear to me, they were never reviewed by the MPs. And the problem is that people who left Abkhazia from 1994 to 1999 are now being refused in obtaining the passports of citizens on the accusation of illegally acquiring the passports they hold. But I must mention that during that period, the Law "On Citizenship" of 1993 was still in force. The citizens did not violate any of its norms by leaving the country. The new amendment appeared in the Law “On Citizenship” in 2005, but already in 2013, an amendment was revoked, giving the Law “On Citizenship” of 2005 retroactive effect.

– But the law can not be applied retroactively. 

– Unfortunately, in our case and contrary to the norms of law, it can. The amendments which were adopted in the first reading, concern several categories of people - those who went abroad to study (the prohibitions should not be applied to them), who lived here, but left for various reasons (to apply for allowance, etc.), those who were minors at the time, and veterans of 1992-1993 war. But what about those who had to leave for medical reasons and stay on long-term treatment? What about those who were absent not for the entire period specified in the law, but for a shorter time, and came back to Abkhazia? What about people in retirement? During the post-war period, it was very difficult to survive, especially for Russian-speaking citizens. Like many Abkhazians, they left the country to provide for their families. This should not have any legal consequences. The anti-constitutional amendment, which gives retroactive effect to the law, should be removed. The 2005 Citizenship Law should not be applied to people who lived here before, but to those who arrived after 2005 and want to obtain Abkhazian citizenship now. It is unacceptable to take away passports from those who have been citizens of the Republic for many years, took part in presidential elections, parliamentary elections, in a referendum. The offices that issued passports were created by the state, and hence only the state should be responsible, not the citizens. The authorities should think about painlessly resolving the issue, without falsely accusing people, who received their passports following laws and procedural requirements.

– I think that applicants should be prohibited from obtaining citizenship if they had deserted and joined the enemy side during the war if they did not live here for many years after the war. Is that so?

– But all that you have listed is exactly what’s not defined by the law in our country. Did you know this? You cannot refer to any law on these issues. It turns out that the final decision is left to the official. This creates a corruption circle.

– Did you propose to introduce those important amendments to the law?

– Not yet, but previously, during my work at the CHP, we did put together an analytical report after undertaking courts-focused research. In it we indicated that the issue mentioned should not be left to the discretion of officials or judges.

But in the end, the procedure for renewing old passports has been changed to the procedure of obtaining citizenship. Since the commissions were found to be illegal, people are forced to go through all this. And many are simply offended by such an attitude. In general, people are confused by the requirements.

– But those who fail to receive citizenship can get the residence permit, and in ten years receive both the citizenship and passport regardless. 

– That’s not exactly the case. Now the Presidential Commission on Citizenship is dealing with these issues. And it’s up to them to decide whether your citizenship will be restored or not. Since the law does not include the categories of citizens I mentioned above, it turns out that the commission is to determine who is eligible to be a citizen and who isn’t, and I assume that this decision is highly subjective. Once again, not the law, but the officials decide.

Of course, many of those who left the country, return to claim their own after the recognition. (Perhaps, a small property that they owned grew in value). They decided that there would be no war and they’ve got nothing to fear. But that’s not fair. It’s hard to trust such people. We, Abkhazians, and people of other nationalities, of whom there are many, live here regardless of the political situation, during difficult times and war. 

– But elderly people, women who could not fight and tried to survive. All the Abkhazians who had to leave. Are they treated just as strictly?

– That is a different question. Abkhazians who live around the world are automatically issued with citizenship of their historical homeland.

Abkhazians can hold the citizenship of the Republic regardless of whether they live here or not. But this should apply also to other nationalities, who live abroad. According to the constitution, the residence of a citizen of Abkhazia outside the country does not terminate his citizenship. But it turns out, that in relation to persons of non-Abkhaz nationality, it is permissible not to comply with the Constitution.

– May I ask, what is the second most pressing issue after citizenship?

– But I haven’t yet spoken about the problems with regard to the passport issuing procedure in Gal district.  

–That is a separate and rather complicated issue, we can leave it till next time. Our newspaper will allow you to comment on this in detail.

– Very well, we’ll talk about this next time, thank you.

– So what is the second most serious problem after the passport policy?

– The homicide rate across the country. We receive most information from secondary sources rather than victims or witnesses. The persons willing to cooperate are those who refuse to put up with such forms of behavior, completely inappropriate for traditional Abkhaz society. Blood feud was present here before, but it was strictly regulated and did not affect women. The verdict was determined by the special council after a thorough analysis of the situation, and death was never used as a punishment. Nowadays there’s more thirst for violence. What makes it even worse is that no one thinks of children in these situations, though their lives change dramatically.

– How would you act in such a situation?

– We are a democratic state governed by the rule of law, so I would appeal to the law enforcement agencies. However, an inadequate response from law enforcement may lead to recidivism. It’s important not to downplay the significance of prosecuting instigators. It turns out that instigators play a critical role in the origination of violence. They can often act as catalysts to violence. I cannot substitute for law enforcement, but I can use my authority to ensure that the law enforcement agencies act under the law. And if they don’t, I must draw attention to this matter, demand investigation. 

– Is there any reaction from law enforcement agencies so far?

– Not yet, but I hope for successful cooperation. After all, our aims are generally the same. Those are, first of all, ensuring compliance with laws and protection of human rights. We all should contribute to crime prevention on all levels. The institution of the Ombudsman aims to identify systemic issues leading to breaches of people's rights and to promote a culture of lawfulness in general. This is an independent body not subject to the executive branch. I can not be removed from my position, because I am elected by Parliament for five years. Unless, of course, I break the law myself.

– “The Ombudsman, in exercising his/her authority, is independent and not accountable to any government body, local authority or official.” (From the Law of the Republic of Abkhazia "On the Ombudsman of the Republic of Abkhazia"). This means you have the right to invoke responsibility, to raise many questions.

– And even sue officials who violate human rights. 

– Let’s go back to the problems that people face here.

– Sexual violence against children. I can’t say that there are many cases, but still enough for our society.

Another serious concern is domestic violence. Non- profit organizations help women flee violence, but there is a serious lack of comprehensive legal response to these issues. There is an urgent demand for a law to protect women from violence. Now the civil society is discussing this problem, the version of the draft law is ready. I strongly support them and hope that the Parliament will collaborate.

One of the most pressing issues is restrictive abortion. There is a paradoxical situation in parliament regarding this issue. Some MPs agree that it was a rash decision and it’s necessary to amend the healthcare legislation, while others protest an amendment procedure. But I hope that the deputies will take this issue seriously since this policy undermines human rights. Now the Ombudsman’s office is preparing a document that would justify the need to amend the Law "On Health Care".

Interview by Zaira Tsvizhba

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