FIDH NOTE ON THE HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN GEORGIA

26/09/2003
Press release

In the perspective of the Cooperation Council between European Union and Georgia, to take place on 30 September 2003, the HRIDC and FIDH would like to draw your attention to the Human rights situation in Georgia.

Violations of the Freedom of Press, Consciousness, and Human Rights Defenders

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Human Rights Information and Documentation Center (HRIDC) welcome the conclusions of the last session of the Cooperation Council in 2002. At that session, the European Union once more expressed its wish to improve its relations with Georgia and to play a more active role in this region. Both the EU and Georgia underlined the importance of the development of democracy in this region and considered human rights values as the basis of such a process. One year ago, when this meeting took place, special attention was paid to the freedoms of press, of expression and of consciousness, as well as to the amelioration of the legislations and of security measures.
One year later the FIDH and HRIDC feel it necessary to express their concern regarding the human rights abuses and continued escalation of the violence in Georgia, which occurs in the context of considerable impunity.
On 2 November parliamentary elections will be held. These elections are seen as a prelude to the 2005 presidential elections, all the more as President Shevardnadze has announced that he will not seek a third term in office. These elections are therefore considered crucial to assess the progress or the lack in the democratic development of Georgia.
In the scope of the coming parliamentary elections, one reason of particular concern is the restriction of freedom of expression. The FIDH and HRIDC recall that already in 2002, the Report of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe concluded that "the media situation in Georgia gives rise to serious concern."
In June 2003 a new amendment to the Criminal Code prepared by the Ministry of Justice was ratified by the Georgian parliament. The amendment extends imprisonment term - up to five years, for the vaguely defined accusation of defamation of honor and dignity of governmental officials by the media. In addition, the amendments provide for the settting of higher penalties for the defamation of governmental officials than those of ordinary citizens. The FIDH and the HRIDC are very concerned by the fact that the amendment was ratified exactly three months before the parliamentary election.

Rustavi 2 TV channel, which is especially threatened because of its very critical position towards the flourishing corruption and impunity, suffers continuous attacks and faces constant obstacles. The murder of Mr. Georgy Sanaya, anchorman on this channel known for his denunciations of corruption of high-ranking officials, which took place on 26th July 2001, remains unsolved. The police and the forces of the Ministry of State Security raided the Rustavi 2 TV station in 2001 and 2002. In February 2002, shots were fired at the premises where the program "60 minutes" is recorded.
In August 2003, the Tbilisi regional court pronounced a decision, according to which TV Company Rustavi 2 was imposed upon to pay an unprecedented amount of money - one million lari, or approximately 450,000 euro - to one of the leaders of the governmental block Akaki Chkhaidze. Rustavi 2 staff did not even have permission to submit evidence. In this programme, Akaki Gogichaishvilli, the programme’s main author and anchorman, exposed the corruption and certain illegal activities of Akaki Chkhaidze, the head of the Georgian railway department. It should be mentioned that Akaki Gogichaishvilli had already received threats from representatives of the authorities and businessmen, some of whom are linked to the Presidential family. These threats were also in connection with a documentary about State corruption and crime.
Monitoring and dissemination of information about human rights violations among the international community is still a high-risk activity. Mr. Shevardznadze even considered it at the Governmental session in March 2002 a "betrayal of the Motherland" and "actions directed against the national interests" and compared the activities of NGOs to terrorist activities, implying that NGOs and terrorists are financed from the same sources.1
On 18 February 2003, the Ministry of Security circulated a draft law "On Suspension of Activities, Liquidation and Banning of Extremist Organizations and Organizations under Foreign Control" which gave the ministry power to suspend the activities of, liquidate and ban any organization under "foreign control" which acted against "the interests of Georgia". Together with the lack of clarification of "the interests of Georgia" the draft was missing any substantive criteria for labeling organization activity as extremism or terrorism; the Ministry of Security would be allowed to stop the activity of any organization, including political parties and CSOs without a right to appeal in national courts.
The Ministry of Security toned down this draft law, after the protests of national and international organizations. However, the new draft on "banning the activity of extremist organizations and unions" maintains several restrictive provisions.
Human rights defenders are still victims of various aggressions. In April 2003, Giorgi Lagidze, a member of the Public Control Council of the Justice Ministry’s Penitentiary System and a journalist from "Sakartvelos Respublika" ("Republic of Georgia") were not allowed into the Juvenile facility and then physically abused. Lagidze has requested to the Deputy Director of the regime and the security department of the facility, Mr Gogoshvili, to show the list of the persons in charge. This request upset Gogoshvili who forced him from the facility whilst insulting him morally and physically.
Also in April 2003, unidentified persons attacked "The Fund of Georgian Human Rights Defence and Social Security of Prisoners". The assailants took technical equipment and documentation. According to the president of the Fund, Giorgi Tevzadze, it was done on purpose in order to prevent the release of information about police violence, which was recorded in the documents. It should be noted that the Fund’s regional office had been robbed two months before.
In 2002 similar attacks were carried out against the Liberty Institute and "Prisoners Brotherhood" office in Tbilisi.
The FIDH and the HRIDC are concerned that for the last years none of the attackers on human rights activists and on human rights organizations have been punished.
The situation with religious extremism in the country remains of great concern. Over the last three years, nearly 800 criminal complaints have been filed with the Prosecutor’s office against known religious extremists who have carried out violent attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses and evangelistic Baptists. One notorious example is the case of Basil Mkalavishvili, an ultra-orthodox priest, who was defrocked by the Georgian Orthodox Church. The criminal case against Basil Mkalavishvili has been in process for three months, but nothing has been done concerning his detention and he continues his activities aggressing other religious communities. According to the information received, none of these 800 individuals were arrested or convicted for their criminal acts.

The lack of legal status for non-Orthodox religious communities has led to difficulties carrying out their activities, especially over building and opening new places of worship. In fact, as there is no religion law, no religious groups apart from the Orthodox Church have any legal right as a community.

Moreover, one of the leaders of the religious extremism, a member of parliament and the leader of the movement ‘’Georgia first’’ Guram Sharadze joined the president’s political block in September 2003 and is going to be a part of the elections of the same party.
In its six-monthly Report, prepared by the Directorate of Strategic Planning (DSP) (January - June 2003) of the Council of Europe, the Secretariat delegation underlined that the fight against impunity remains a priority to be dealt with urgently by the Georgian authorities. However, little progress has been made in this regard. The trial of defrocked priest Mkalavishvili was mentioned as an illustration of this situation. It was concluded that the law-enforcement agencies still seem incapable of protecting the exercise of basic freedoms and rights as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights, such as the freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.
Penal Law and the Right to a Fair Trial
Torture and inhuman treatment in pre-trial custody, police departments and prisons remains one of the most serious problems in Georgia. More than 4500 prisoners in several penal facilities throughout Georgia launched a coordinated hunger strike on I May 2003. They protested against the large backlog of appeals and parole cases and against poor living conditions. Despite several torture cases found by NGOs and journalists, none of the policemen have been punished for their involvement.

In its concluding observations on the second periodic report of Georgia (19 April 2002) the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations noted the widespread and continuing subjection of prisoners to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by law officials and prison officers.
The country’s criminal situation is alarming. The kidnapping of people, despite the recommendations of the Council of Cooperation of the European Union, remains a common occurrence. For example, after 44 days of detention 15-year-old kidnapped Beka Mumladze was released on August 17. The Prosecutor publicly announced the group of assailants, among whom was the deputy chairman of the Justice Ministry’s penitentiary department Merab Shubitidze. USD70,000, the portion of the ransom paid by Beka Mumlaze’s parents, was found in his cabinet. Now Shubitidze is being detained by the police.

In August 2003 the President announced his wish to adopt an amendment to the criminal code on the death penalty and mentioned that the death penalty had been abolished only to ensure the entry process to the Council of Europe in 1999. The President underlined that he would like to restore the death penalty for serious crimes.
Moreover, on September 15, President Shevardnadze said that transferring the penitentiary system from the Ministry of the Interior to the Justice Ministry was a mistake. "The Justice Ministry could not deal with the prison service. That is why jailbreaks have increased in the country recently", President Shevardnadze said. He said that the possible return of the penitentiary system under the Ministry of the Interior is also discussed.

In addition to the above-mentioned concern, growing threats against the independence of the judiciary should be noted. According to the information of the Council of Europe, some media exert pressure on judges, notably by questioning their integrity (in cases of corruption) and when broadcasting live court proceedings (including interviews of detainees during court proceedings) (SG/Inf(2003)25 24 June 2003). Some important decisions seem to be taken by the court with the agreement of the President. For example, on 11 August 2003 the President voiced his concern regarding the decision of the constitutional court, which referred to the reduction of the electricity rate. The President stated that such important decisions should have been agreed with him. A similar event took place when the decision of the Supreme Court regarding the eviction of the refugees from the premises was ignored, which is a violation of the respect of the independency of the judiciary.
Corruption and trafficking
In its six-monthly Report the Secretariat delegation of Council of Europe, pointed on the necessity of efforts in three priority areas, namely preparations for the parliamentary elections the functioning of the judiciary and law enforcement agencies, and combating corruption.
Although Georgia ratified the Civil Law Corruption Convention on 22 May 2003 and recently adopted a law against money laundering was recently adopted, there is still little in terms of concrete results in the fight against corruption.
Trafficking has become the major problem, which was indicated once more in the statement of US state department of June 2003, where Georgia was put in the third category (where trafficking flourishes and is not obstructed). In June 2003 The U.S. Department of State has categorized Georgia as a "Tier 3" country (the worst grade possible) that fails to meet minimum standards for combatting trafficking of persons. This is a step down for Georgia, which last year was ranked as a "Tier 2" country. Unless significant efforts are made to combat trafficking of persons during the year, countries receive progressively lower rankings.

The conflicts in Abkhazia and in South Ossetia remain a permanent and unsolved problem in Georgia. 270,000 refugees are still considered displaced persons and the government is unable to help to return them to their living quarters. Hard social-economic conditions, the criminal situation, corruption, violence and mass violation of human rights make many citizens leave Georgia; more than a million people have left the country in the last ten years and, according to the opinion polls, even more are going to do the same.
The FIDH and the HRIDC have to conclude that the Georgian authorities are not fulfilling their obligations, particularly the guarantee of physical and psychological integrity of its citizens and residents, including human rights defenders and journalists. Tortures and inhuman treatment are rarely punished. The freedoms of expression, consciousness and free association, as well as the right to have a free and fair trial are regularly violated. All this continues to occur in the context of significant corruption, violence and impunity.
This situation requires a strong and strict position of the European Union, whose recommendations are largely disrespected by the Georgian authorities.
FIDH Recommendations
The FIDH insists that stability in the region depends on the respect of the rule of law.

The FIDH considers that the policy implemented by Georgia contradicts Article 2 of the EU-Georgia "Partnership and Co-operation Agreement", which states that "respect for democracy, principles of international law and human rights as defined in particular in the United Nations Charter, the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, [...] underpin the internal and external policies of the Parties and constitute essential elements of partnership and of this Agreement."

The FIDH highlights the necessity for the European Union to be consistent with its previous commitments, as well as with the positions and recommendations of other European institutions, such as the Council of Europe and the OSCE. The FIDH further recalls that in June 2001, the Council’s conclusions on the European Union’s role in promoting human rights and democratisation in third countries reaffirmed the strong commitment to "mainstreaming of human rights and democratisation into EU policies and actions" and stated that "human rights and democratisation should systematically and at different levels be included in all EU political dialogues and bilateral relations with third countries." In addition, the Communication on human rights, adopted on 8 May 2001 by the European Commission states that "in all dialogues with third countries, the Commission will in the future seek to ensure that the discussion covers issues of concern relating to human rights and democracy" (...) "however a prerequisite for success is that these states are genuinely ready to co-operate. The EU should pursue this approach wherever possible, while recognising that in some cases, the third country may have no genuine commitment to pursue change through dialogue and consultation, and negative measures may therefore be more appropriate".

The FIDH therefore urges the European Union to exert political and diplomatic pressure on Georgia for improving the human rights situation.

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