The dispute between public institutions of Georgia and a number of NGOs and local protesters opposing the hydropower project on the Rioni river in Western Georgia needed a channel for direct discussions and work towards solutions. The mediation provides that channel. After a first session on 12 June 2021 in Natakhrari outside Tbilisi, the parties have been jointly working on the implementation and prepare the move to the next stage of the mediation.
Given the tensions between local protesters and the police at the time the mediation started, de-escalating the situation in the Rioni valley was in focus in the first phase of the mediation. Since the Natakhrari meeting, implementing the agreements has yielded concrete results. An iron fence blocking the valley has been taken down by the police, the protesters were offered to put up their tents in the valley, and two protesters detained by the authorities have been released on bail. While the protesters decided to not move into the valley after all, the situation onsite seems to be calm at the moment. Under these circumstances, the first phase of the mediation has been completed. To maintain the achievements also once traffic on the road starts again, it is essential that protesters refrain from violence and respect the law unconditionally, and that police takes a prudent approach when maintaining the public order in the valley and protecting the rights of third parties affected.
In the next phase of the mediation, the contractual framework and the environmental impact assessment documents and procedures will be reviewed by independent experts, with the goal to identify or exclude significant risks. The parties have already agreed on terms of reference for those reviews and are now asked to cooperate in selecting the experts performing the reviews. The involvement of the project developer in this process would be highly beneficial for accomplishing also this next phase.