Co-operation council between the European Union and Georgia

Press release

European Union plays an increasingly important political role in South Caucasus countries. Not only EU concluded with those countries Partnership and Co-operation Agreements, according to which « respect for democracy, principles of international law and human rights [...] underpin the internal and external policies of the Parties and constitute essential elements of partnership and of this Agreement » but more recently, consultations have started for the elaboration of the European Neighbouring Programme Action plans with the three countries of the Southern Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) where the crucial role of respect of human rights is fully recognised.

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Human Rights Documentation and Information Center (HRIDC) highlight the necessity for the European Union to be consistent with its commitments on human rights, as well as with the positions and recommendations of other European institutions, such as the Council of Europe and the OSCE. The European Union must use the occasion of the Co-operation Council to demand that Georgia effectively respect human rights.

Indeed, the human rights violations are still being perpetrated in Georgia. Moreover, a certain rollback in the field of human rights was observed in 2005.

The field of freedom of expression has clearly received the most serious setback. Arbitrary detentions, beatings, grenade attacks, defamation and pressure against journalists have almost become daily business. Dozens of journalists got victim of pressure, violence, and arbitrary detention in 2005. Several media holdings have been closed down.

Other areas show problematic signs as well. The judiciary is dependent and corrupted. Pressure against independent minded judges is mounting, with few judges daring to speak about it openly, as those who do are often punished. Impunity among law enforcers is still symptomatic and nobody is trying to seriously overcome it. Torture and maltreatment of detainees remain unresolved problems.
The right to assembly and manifestation, which is guaranteed by the Constitution, has frequently been violated. Peaceful protests and demonstrations have been forcefully dispersed and demonstrators detained. Violations of socio-economic rights, including mass dismissals of civil servants, have reached a systematic character. Civil organizations get marginalized and neglected, and independent NGOs are ignored and suffer from pressure from different high-ranking officials.

The president Saakashvili declared at a Tbilisi’s business forum that he was « proud » that Georgia is the first country of the region « where people are no longer beaten up and tortured and where the police does not commit any illegal acts ». Reality appears differently. The Liberty Institute and other Georgian organisations of human rights blame the police for human rights violations including the beating and torturing of detainees. According to penitentiary information, 21 persons were placed in prisons with heavy injuries in December 2004 and about 200 persons have been observed with injuries in Tbilisi in January, 2005. The General Prosecutor’s Office has been sent all the documentation and materials describing the conditions under which the persons were injured. However, the Prosecutor’s Office has not yet detained or incriminated anyone regarding these facts.

Besides, the Public Defender’s Social Monitoring Council has documented 137 violations by Tbilisi police departments between January 12 and February 9, 2005. 89 cases were classified as human rights violations and 58 as procedural ones. The monitoring process revealed that 28 detainees received body injuries, though only five of them confessed, as it is often the cause with police violence; seven detainees reported that the police applied psychological pressure to them. The monitoring underlined that in most cases detainees were not given an explanation of their rights. 56 cases of incorrect registering procedures by the police were counted.

New amendments were adopted by Georgian Parliament to the Criminal Procedure Code of Georgia in March 2005 meant to improve the quality of work of law enforcement bodies, especially in the sphere of protection of human rights. According to these amendments, nobody should be arrested without concrete evidence of guilt, the maximum period of prosecution (from the initial allegation to the final court decision) was reduced from 24 to 12 months, the maximum term of preliminary detention from 9 to 4 months, as well as a defendant should confirm his testimony in court for it to be considered as evidence. Although FIDH and HRIDC welcome these very much awaited changes within Georgian legislation, it has to be noted that arbitrary detentions, biased investigations, torture of detainees to coerce confessions and degrading treatment towards suspects are still methods used by law enforcement officers.

In Georgia, the right to fair trial is one of the most violated. Police, prosecutors, and the judiciary are so closely intertwined that it is impossible to speak of independence. Judges are frequently pressured by officials to go along with the demands of the prosecutor or to rule in a manner which is desirable for the government. In 2005, four Supreme Court judges have been sacked by the Disciplinary Board for alleged ill-performance of duties. According to the judges themselves, they have fallen victims to a hunt initiated after they refused several times to rule in accordance with orders.

In most cases, judges are open to corruption. Too frequently they have poor professional skills and lack knowledge of international human rights standards and legislation. Intended, as well as unintended, mistakes are made and procedural norms are violated.

It has already been a long time since pre-detention became an inevitable norm in Georgia. International experts do not approve the practice of the Georgian Courts and advise them not to apply pre-detention so often. In their view, if decisions favouring pre-detention are rare, it will greatly contribute to improving the situation in pre-detention, where currently there are about 40 individuals per cell instead of 11 recommended . One of the main recommendations made by the UN Human Rights Committee to Georgia regards pre-detention procedure. « It is not necessary to sentence all suspects to pre-detention, especially if their staying outside will not interfere with the process of investigation," stated Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on Torture from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who conducted a two-day visit to Georgia.

While the current government has used the demonstrations effectively in the past to come to power, once in position, it seems to be less eager to accept it and considers it now as a threat. Protest actions have frequently been dispersed by force for formalistic reasons. There have also been cases of outright harassment of people known to be involved in demonstrations. Such activities resemble to a policy aiming at spreading fear among the population. People are discouraged to speak out their grievances, which falters the growth of an active citizenship.

In March 2005, the students of Tbilisi State Medical University led the protest actions which had a large echo in public debate. The government used force to break up their demonstrations. The Minister of Education didn’t compromise with the students, and advised them « to get prepared for the National Exams instead of standing in the streets ».
In May 2005, the Government again used force and deployed Special Forces against protesters that demanded electricity.

Pressures on media and intimidations of journalists are frequent.
In December 2005, unknown persons rushed into the office of the newspaper "Imedi". The door and windows of the building, as well as the computers, were shattered. According to Gela Mtiulashvili, editor-in-chief of the newspaper one of the officials had warned him to expect an incursion several days before, because governors of the Kakheti Districts were dissatisfied with the activity of the newspaper. Among the documents taken from the office of the newspaper, there were materials regarding the murder committed in Dedoplistskaro (one of the districts of Kakheti) a few days ago and the journalists of the newspaper saw a connection between the incursion and this document. "This has been done to finally destroy freedom of speech in Kakheti," said Gela Mtiulashvili.

In June 2005, editor-in-chief of the Gurjaani regional newspaper "Imedi", Mtivlishvili, has been beaten. According to the victim, the assailant hit him with a heavy object several times on his head. The incident might be in some connection with the recent articles published in the newspaper, which criticized the law-enforcement bodies. Gurjaani regional police group is investigating the incident. After being released from the hospital, the victim continued his treatment at home. Gurjaani’s gamgebeli (local governor) told "Media News", the investigation was open to clarify whether Mtivlishvili was beaten for his journalistic activities or not.

In September 2005, the regional correspondent of the J.H.N. information agency Saba Tsitsikashvili was attacked near the railway station in Gori by three unknown persons. The journalist was cruelly beaten up by the attackers and, suffering from heavy injuries, needed to be transferred to the regional hospital in Gori. The journalist connects this incident to his professional activities. A few days earlier, he was threatened by Revaz Gogiashvili, head of the judicial department of the regional municipality of Gori. Gogiashvili publicly verbally attacked Tsitsikashvili in the building of the municipality. It is interesting to note that Tsitsikishvili was in the process of writing an article about the "Dzevera" corporation that happens to be property of Gogiashvili’s uncle, Omar Bukhradze. The journalist stated that when Bukhradze was director of the corporation, he made it go bankrupt on purpose, which would provide him with the possibility to buy the entity for a low price.

At last, FIDH and HRIDC remind that the Secretary General of the Council of Europe declared on 23 February 2006 that 5 countries out of 46 failed to reply within the imposed deadline to the questions raised to Governments by the Council of Europe on alleged CIA activities and secret detention centres in Europe. Georgia is one of the countries that did not respond. The failure to reply is a clear breach of the legal obligation under Article 52 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which underpins the defence of human rights across the continent. The breach shall be corrected urgently.

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