On the occasion of the EU/CFSP mission in GEORGIA : Joint Open Letter to Bernard BOT Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands; Javier SOLANA, High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, on the occasion of the EU/CFSP mission in GEORGIA

16/07/2004
Press release

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Human Rights Information and Documentation Center (HRIDC) express their concern over the recent evolution of human rights in Georgia [1], in the autonomous republic of Ajaria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This evolution may reveal a gap between the declarations aroused by the new authorities in favour of democracy and the reality.

According to the information received, the recent legislative and constitutional changes, which have challenged a republican-style balance of powers, are of particular concern. The changes made by the Parliament, on February 6, 2004, strengthened presidential powers, allowing the president to dissolve parliament. Another amendment empowers the president to appoint and dismiss judges, thereby increasing the president’s influence over a judiciary that already suffers from a lack of independence. Moreover, the government rushed through those constitutional changes without publishing the draft amendments for public discussion, as required by the Constitution.

In addition, the new President Mikhail Saakachvili’s statements on law enforcement seem unlikely to encourage lower officials to respect human rights. President Saakashvili said on January 12, 2004, on Rustavi 2 TV: «I (...) have advised my colleague, Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili, I want criminals both inside and outside prisons to listen to this very carefully, to use force when dealing with any attempt to stage prison riots, and to open fire, shoot to kill and destroy any criminal who attempts to cause turmoil. We will not spare bullets against these people». On February 3, 2004, still on Rustavi 2: «I gave an order to [the Interior Minister to] start this [anti-crime] operation and, if there is any resistance, to eliminate any such bandit on the spot, eliminate and exterminate them on the spot, and free the people from the reign of these bandits.»

The FIDH and the HRIDC consider that those declarations from the highest official authorities contribute to the climate of fear and violence in Georgia. Excessive use of violence by the police and by the law enforcement bodies have been clearly denounced, for years, by both national and international organisations.

On January 11, 2004, police dispersed by force a demonstration that was blocking the central road for several hours in Terjola in a protest against the detention of Zaza Ambroladze, so-called "legal chief" of village Chiatura in the region. Its participants were severely beaten and some of the organizers were persecuted even after the demonstration had already finished. That was for instance the case of Zaal Adamia, beaten at his house and then taken to the police station unconscious.

On January 28, 2004, special police forces violently dispersed the demonstration of street traders in Tbilisi. They protested the decision of Tbilisi municipality regarding the prohibition of street trading from February 1st. The head of the police group Temur Mgebrishvili beat one of the women demonstrators. Three persons were injured.

The excessive violence used in the arrest of Old Calendarist Priest, Basil Mkalavishvili, on March 12, 2004, also illustrates this phenomenon. The HRIDC, although admitting the necessity to sanction Basil Mkalavishvili and other religious extremists, condemned the way the police stormed the church and beat approximately 30 people.

On June 9, 2004, the special police forces dispersed with the use of excessive violence a protest action against the construction of an oil pipeline in the village of Krtsanisi and detained two demonstrators.

Furthermore, the Interior Ministry’s Special Forces dispersed the public action of the three-day hunger strike of the victims of the earthquake, kept in front of the municipality building on July 1, in Tbilisi. The protesters, who required additional allocation in the city budget in order to provide them with relief resources, and also demanded the hearing with the president, were all beaten with clubs. One of them was taken to the hospital, severely injured by the police.

The increasing number of torture, inhuman and humiliating treatments, as well as arbitrary detentions also remains matters of deep concern for the FIDH and the HRIDC. The police practices various methods of torture - blows with rubber sticks or with back of the chair, locking in the safe and beating from outside, hanging the victim with the hands, use of electricity, etc. - in order to extort confessions and get evidence, sometimes completely false.

In the morning of December 20, 2003, Giorgi Inasaridze, arrested the previous night, was found hang in the cell of pre-trial detention centre of the Ministry of Interior. His suicide is subsequent to alleged ill-treatment by policemen. The case is being investigated, but no criminal charges have yet been brought against the police officers on duty.

On January 28, 2004, Shalva Orvelashvili, accused of theft, was detained in Vake-Saburtalo regional Police Station No. 2 Subdivision and was being severely tortured for five days. Before being transferred to a prison, he was threatened not to reveal the reason of his body injuries.

On April 14, the Gardabani Regional Police detained a resident of a village of Akhalsoplei, 24-year-old Iakob Martiashvili, who was compelled to admit illegal keeping of arms. At first, he was taken to the forest, where he was tortured, denuded and threatened with rape. Later, he was taken to the police station where torment continued. Police officers justified it, presuming his suspicion in a murder that took place in the village a month before.

On April 22, 2004, Messrs. Gia Lobzhanidze and Valeri Kurtanidze were brutally detained by six armed policemen in civilian. During their detention in the Police Department of Didube-Chugureti region, they were tortured to make them confess to the flat robbery. Then, in the Tbilisi Main Office of the Internal Affairs, where they were transferred, tortures, including those with electric wires and electric stick, continued, in order to extort confessions. At present, they are serving three months of pre-detention in prison No. 5.

Mr. Khvicha Kvirikashvili, charged with burglary, died shortly after being in police custody. Interrogated twice, on 22 and on 23 May, in the third department of the Gladni-Nadzaladevi police, he died 25 minutes after being taken home in a taxi by police officers. Multiple injuries on his body indicate that he was being tortured. An investigation has been opened.

The reason for the death of Mr. Arsen Khutsishvili, who died on May 31 in the First Prison of Tbilisi, remains unexplained. According to the official version, his death is due to a heart attack, whereas his family sustains that his body wore signs of torture and that his death is directly related to the wound in stomach area, apparently inflicted by scissors.

The FIDH and the HRIDC note that the climate of fear and violence goes hand in hand with the disappearances which recently occurred in Georgia. For instance, Vazha Shengelia, the Tbilisi Labor Party leader, was kidnapped on March 30, 2004. His unknown captors have finally released him after five days.

Two Chechens, Islam Khashiev and Hussein Alkhanov, disappeared in Georgia after being acquitted by a Tbilisi Court on February 6, 2004. They were accused of violating border regulation. Their fate remains uncertain despite the claim of one Russian media on February 25, 2004, that they were detained by Russian authorities. However, in a BBC’s Hardtalk interview on March 8, 2004 President Mikhail Saakashvili denied that Georgia has "secretly extradited to Russia the two Chechens," though he quoted them as "armed combatants." Despite the Tbilisi court decision, which acquitted the two Chechens, Georgian President said "they definitely are combatants, according to my information".

The FIDH and the HRIDC are also preoccupied by the restrictions to freedom of information and media in Georgia. According to the NGO The Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights, the government exercises pressure on the independent media by threatening the editors and heads of TV companies of financial control or through real implementation of those threats. The report of the Directorate of Strategic Planning (DSP) of Council of Europe, entitled « Compliance with commitments and obligations: the situation in Georgia » dated June 28, 2004, states that according to the civil society, the situation of media independence has recently worsened. In their view, links between the political forces and media owners had become stronger and this had an influence on the editorial policy of the media outlets. They noted also that the post-revolution regime was less tolerant towards criticism than the previous one, not so image-conscious.

In December 2003, Nato Oniani’s Program "Time Out" on 1st Channel was cancelled. According to Mrs. Oniani, the government is responsible for the cancellation of the program.

On February 19, 2004, the representatives of the General Prosecutors’ Office of Georgia launched a special operation and sealed the offices of the company «Omega Group», which is constituted of the independent TV company «Iberia», the news agency «Media News» and the newspaper «Akhali Epoka». The representatives of the General Prosecutors’ Office claimed that the group was involved in a large-scale illegal cigarette importing racket and tax evasion, but so far no evidence has been revealed.

On February 4, 2004, two of the most popular privately owned TV stations «Mze» and «Rustavi2» had their highly-rated political talk shows, respectively "Night Mzera" and "Night Courier", unexpectedly cancelled. The fact that the shows were cancelled on the same day was explained as a simple coincidence. The Mze representative offered assurance that the program, as well as the host, Inga Grigolia, who was supposedly on the way to Egypt and unavailable for comment, will be back on the air in March after some technical changes are made. Unfortunately, most of this information happens to be completely false. Inga Grigolia quit Mze. Besides, Eka Khoperia’s "Night Courier" was replaced with another program where no debates take place. On April 5, 2004, the TV Company "Ninth Channel" also ceased operations for no apparent reason. Opposition factions in the Parliament expressed the view that the simultaneous suspension of political shows on several TV stations was the result of government pressure.

On May 10, three assailants attacked Mr. Zurab Kachlishvili, editor in chef of the local newspaper "Objective", who was writing about the waste of money in the local administration. The unidentified men beat him in his own apartment in Kakheti, ordering him to leave the city.

Moreover, the FIDH and the HRIDC strongly condemn the fact that human rights defenders are also often subject to violence. For example, on May 4, Mr. Levan Sakhvadze, head of the Rustavi branch of the NGO Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights, was badly beaten by unknown assailants.

The FIDH and the HRIDC want as well to express their deep concern over the situation of Chechen refugees in Georgia, where they lack humanitarian aid and are often exposed to dangerous security conditions despite the presence of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in the region. The Georgian branch of the UNHCR has repeatedly ignored the rights of refugees and violated internationally recognized security norms by sending Chechens back to Chechnya against their will, while offering shelter in neutral countries to non-Chechen refugees who have fled to Georgia. Additionally, the UNHCR has granted only the minimum amount of aid to keep Chechen refugees alive. According to the Human Rights Information and Documentation Centre, the branch has been guilty of flagrant corruption, gross incompetence, as well as of conducting an intentional and systematic policy of discrimination against Chechen refugees. On May 10, 23 Chechen refugees in Pankisi Gorge went on a hunger-strike, which they have been planning to continue until the UN meets their demands of sending them to another country.

The FIDH and the HRIDC remain concerned over the increasing tensions between Tbilisi and the autonomous province of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In late May, Tbilisi stepped up pressure on South Ossetia by establishing checkpoints at the Georgian-Ossetian administrative border crossings in order to, according to them, eradicate smuggling and corruption. On June 1, Georgian Security Council Secretary, Vano Merasbishvili, was ready to increase the number of troops and arms in the joint South Ossetia peacekeeping contingent. South Ossetia leader, Eduard Kokoiti, using former Ajaria President’s language, issued an order to his loyalists «to use weapons if the state border of South Ossetia is violated».

The tensions between these autonomous republics and Tbilisi follow the declarations of the Georgian President Saakachvili, who wishes to restore the Georgian territory integrity. Raul Khadzimban, Prime Minister of Abkhazia, and Maurad Dzhioyev, South Ossetia self-styled foreign minister, both rejected this project on May 6, 2004 following a speech made by the Georgian President suggesting the possibility of the creation of a federation with these republics.

The FIDH and the HRIDC hope that both in the republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia the crisis will find a peaceful resolution, that the human rights will be fully respected and that the authorities will guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of the civil population.

More generally, the FIDH and the HRIDC ask the Georgian government to comply with the international standards on human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of information, freedom of the media and administration of Justice. The excessive use of violence by the police and by the law enforcement bodies, as well as torture, inhuman and humiliating treatments and arbitrary detentions, reported more and more systematicly, also remain matters of special concern for the FIDH and the HRIDC.

The International Community is looking forward, since the Rose revolution, to concrete steps on the way to the Rule of law in Georgia. The European Union - Georgia "Partnership and Cooperation Agreement" that includes the human rights clause, signed in June 1996 and entered into force in July 1999, makes of Georgia a direct partner of the European Union. Therefore, the FIDH and the HRIDC hope that the EU will be consistent with its commitments and will exert political and diplomatic pressure on Georgia for respecting and guaranteeing the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country. The FIDH and the HRIDC highlight the necessity for the EU to urge Georgian authorities to fulfil their international obligations in the field of human rights.

Sidiki Kaba President of the FIDH

Ucha Nanuashvili Executive Director of the HRIDC

cc:

Heikki TALVITIE, EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus Region

Sylvie PANTZ, head of the EU/CFSP mission "State of law" in Georgia

[1] The FIDH seized the Georgian authorities about the evolution of human rights in Georgia and the autonomous Republic of Ajaria in an Open letter dated May 3, 2004.

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