South Ossetia * | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

South Ossetia *

South Ossetia *

Freedom in the World 2014

2014 Scores


Not Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


In May 2013, Russian border guards began installing wire fencing to separate Georgia and South Ossetia, shifting the de facto boundary in the affected area by about 300 meters into Georgian territory and hampering previously unimpeded movement between villages on both sides. Following significant international criticism of this “borderization” and its contravention of Moscow’s commitments under a cease-fire agreement that ended the 2008 conflict with Georgia, the Russian guards suspended the fence installation by mid-September, though there was no official comment from Moscow about whether the suspension was temporary.

After a protracted and chaotic election process in 2011–12, new South Ossetian president Leonid Tibilov oversaw a period of relative political stability in 2013. At the same time, he greatly increased the territory’s ties to Moscow, signing a series of agreements with Russia during the year. The Russian government now exerts almost complete control over the territory and funds the entirety of the South Ossetian government’s budget.

At the end of 2013, only Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and the Pacific Island states of Nauru and Tuvalu recognized South Ossetia’s independence from Georgia.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


Political Rights: -3 / 40 [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 0 / 12

Under the South Ossetian constitution, the president and the 33-seat parliament are elected for five-year terms. Elections held by the separatist government are not monitored by independent observers or recognized by the international community, and most ethnic Georgians have either declined or been unable to participate in the elections since separatist forces first seized territory in the early 1990s and expanded their control in the 2008 conflict.

In 2009, South Ossetia held parliamentary elections that resulted in a legislature dominated by supporters of Eduard Kokoity, the president since 2001, amid accusations that he had shut out and threatened opposition parties.

In June 2011, however, the parliament rejected efforts by Kokoity supporters to lift term limits and allow him to participate in the presidential election set for November. Eleven candidates ultimately ran in the first round on November 13, including several Kokoity loyalists; six other candidates were forced or pressured to withdraw. Opposition candidate Alla Dzhioyeva, a former education minister who opposed Russian annexation, and Moscow-backed candidate Anatoliy Bibilov, South Ossetia’s emergency situations minister, each won about 25 percent of the vote and advanced to the November 27 runoff. Results showed Dzhioyeva as the second-round winner with nearly 57 percent, but amid questionable claims of electoral violations, the Supreme Court declared the election invalid and ordered a new vote for March 2012.

The ruling triggered protests by Dzhioyeva’s supporters that continued until mid-December 2011, when Russia brokered a compromise under which Dzhioyeva would accept the court’s ruling if Kokoity stepped down immediately and the parliament fired the prosecutor general and the Supreme Court chairman. Kokoity stepped down, and Prime Minister Vadim Brovtsev became acting president. However, the parliament rejected the other conditions, prompting Dzhioyeva to announce that she would go ahead with her inauguration on February 10, 2012. On February 9, about 200 security personnel raided her headquarters and attempted to detain her. She was hospitalized after the confrontation, with some reports saying she was struck with a rifle and the authorities maintaining that she fainted due to high blood pressure.

Four new candidates, all favorable to Russia, ran in the repeat election on March 25, 2012. Dzhioyeva was barred from running, and neither her nor Kokoity’s camp succeeded in fielding a candidate. Leonid Tibilov, who had led South Ossetia’s Committee for State Security (KGB) in the 1990s, received 42 percent of the vote, followed by human rights ombudsman David Sanakoyev with about 25 percent. Tibilov won the April 8 runoff with 54 percent and was sworn in as president on April 19.


B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 0 / 16

In keeping with his campaign pledge of national unity, Tibilov brought members of the approved opposition into his government, including Sanakoyev as foreign minister and Dzhioyeva as deputy prime minister. During the 2011 election period, the leading opposition candidates had been prevented from registering, due in part to a 10-year residency requirement that was added to the constitution earlier in the year. Other opposition candidates were beaten or jailed, and one senior member of a disqualified candidate’s party was murdered in North Ossetia.

Tibilov has ushered in a period of apparent political liberalization. Since his inauguration, several new political parties have been registered, including Sanakoyev’s Nauag Iryston (New Ossetia). However, Tibilov has significantly increased ties with Russia, and officials endorsed by Moscow have held key government positions in recent years, many appointed directly by Russia or from Russia’s North Ossetia republic.

In September 2013, Russian president Vladimir Putin appointed Vladislav Surkov, the reputed architect of Russia’s nominally pluralistic but tightly managed party system, as his presidential aide responsible for social and economic issues in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.


C. Functioning of Government: 0 / 12

Russia exerted almost complete control over South Ossetia in 2013, and Tibilov has spoken repeatedly of formally uniting the territory with Russia’s North Ossetia republic or joining the Russian Federation directly.

In February, Russian officials reportedly discussed integrating South Ossetia into its tax and revenue system, after Russia set up a treasury on the territory. In May, South Ossetia signed a memorandum with Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkariya to increase cooperation on standards and practices between their respective parliaments. In June, South Ossetia signed an interparliamentary cooperation agreement with Russia to harmonize Ossetian laws with Russian legislation and to provide assistance in implementing international agreements. And in July, South Ossetia signed a memorandum of cooperation on antiterrorism with Moscow to enhance security and the protection of state borders. In 2011, South Ossetia’s parliament had signed a 49-year agreement allowing Russia to build and operate a new military base in the territory; roughly 4,000 Russian troops are stationed in South Ossetia.

Having pledged to root out his predecessor’s allegedly rampant corruption and increase stability, Tibilov initiated an investigation of Kokoity’s suspected embezzlement and replaced a number of reputedly corrupt officials in 2012. He also left some officials in their posts, including Bibilov. By August 2013, South Ossetia’s new prosecutor general, Merab Chigoyev, had opened some 70 criminal investigations, some aimed at former government officials, and Interpol was asked to issue international arrest warrants for nine people, including three former South Ossetian cabinet ministers.

Kokoity’s alleged embezzlement of Russian funds earmarked for postwar reconstruction was a major issue in the 2011–12 elections. A Russian report released in December 2009 found that only a fraction of the money had been used for its intended purposes, and Tskhinvali residents mounted several protests over the issue in 2010. After the Russian Audit Chamber conducted an investigation on embezzlement, subsidies for 2013 were reduced to 4.25 billion rubles ($134 million), compared with 6.4 billion in 2011 and 5.5 billion in 2012, though Moscow later lauded Tibilov for spending funds “efficiently” since he took power, and promised to increase both budgetary subsidies and money earmarked for infrastructure projects during the year.


Discretionary Political Rights Question B: -3 / 0

During the 2008 war, Ossetian forces seized or razed property in previously Georgian-controlled villages, and large numbers of ethnic Georgians fled the fighting. Authorities in South Ossetia have since barred ethnic Georgians from returning to the territory unless they renounce their Georgian citizenship and accept Russian passports.


Civil Liberties: 8 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression: 4 / 16

South Ossetia’s local electronic and print media are almost entirely controlled by the authorities, and private broadcasts are prohibited. Foreign media, including broadcasts from Russia and Georgia, are accessible. During the 2011–12 election period, independent or opposition-oriented journalists in the territory faced various forms of intimidation, including trumped-up criminal charges.

Freedom of religion has sometimes been adversely affected by the political and military situation. While the majority of the population is Orthodox Christian, there is a sizeable Muslim community, many members of which migrated from the North Caucasus. The educational system reflects government views, and many South Ossetians receive higher education in Russia.


E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 0 / 12

While antigovernment protests were extremely rare before the 2008 war, opposition groups mounted demonstrations following the flawed 2009 elections, and Tskhinvali residents protested repeatedly over the slow postwar reconstruction process and related government corruption. In the run-up to the presidential election in 2011, one human rights activist was beaten and another threatened after leading such demonstrations. Dzhioyeva’s supporters held weeks of peaceful protests after the annulment of the first presidential election, which Kokoity called unauthorized and threatened with violence.

Though some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate in the territory, in practice they are largely controlled by the state and funded by Russia. Activists operate under the close scrutiny of the authorities and are subject to intimidation. In August 2013, South Ossetia’s parliament amended the territory’s NGO laws, requiring the groups to provide information to the government about the source of their funding.


F. Rule of Law: 1 / 16

South Ossetia’s justice system has been manipulated to punish perceived opponents of the separatist leadership, while government allies allegedly violate the law with relative impunity. Russian prosecutors have attempted to curb malfeasance by local officials, but the Russian court system itself remains deeply flawed.

Physical abuse and poor conditions are reportedly common in South Ossetian prisons and detention centers. Arbitrary arrests of ethnic Georgians have been reported.


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 3 / 16

Freedom of movement in and out of the territory is restricted in various ways. In May 2013, Russian troops began installing wire fencing along the administrative border, dividing Georgian-controlled areas from South Ossetia and effectively halting previously unimpeded movement between local villages on both sides. They had erected 27 kilometers of fencing through 15 villages by September, pushing 300 meters into Georgian territory. The United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) called on Russia to halt construction and adhere to its commitments under the August 2008 cease-fire agreement. By mid-September, Russian forces had halted the installation.

South Ossetian authorities detained dozens of people for crossing the administrative border during 2013. The detainees were typically released after paying fines. Russian authorities have prevented ethnic Ossetians from entering Georgia, but travel to Russia is unimpeded. In September, the Ossetian authorities toughened restrictions on vehicles and limited the amount of cargo passing through checkpoints along the border. Meanwhile, the Georgian government elected in late 2012 has eased the previous government’s policy of detaining and intimidating Ossetian residents travelling to Georgia.


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

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