Three NGOs condemn Georgian authorities’ excessive force against peaceful protesters

27/06/2019
Statement
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Mari Nikuradze / OC Media

(Paris, Tbilisi, Oslo) The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), together with its member organization in Georgia, Human Rights Center (HRIDC), and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC), condemn the Government of Georgia’s resorting to excessive force in violently dispersing a demonstration in front of the Parliament of Georgia last Thursday.

On 20 June 2019, around 10,000 protesters gathered in front of the Georgian Parliament building in Tbilisi after a Russian legislator, Sergei Gavrilov, took the Speaker’s seat in the Parliament of Georgia and addressed Georgian parliamentarians in Russian. The protesters urged Gavrilov to immediately leave Georgia and demanded the resignations of some government officials, including the Chairperson of the Parliament Irakli Kobakhidze, for having invited the Russian parliamentarian to address the Parliament of Georgia. In 2008, an armed conflict erupted between Russia and Georgia during the course of which Russia occupied parts of Georgian territory.

The police resorted to excessive use of force, documented by numerous videos, in a violent attempt to break up the demonstration. Without warning, the police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons against protesters. According to reliable media reports, about 240 people were injured and 50 hospitalized, including two persons in a comatose state.

Most of the victims suffered injuries to the face or head; some lost an eye, implying that the rubber bullets were aimed at protesters’ heads. Among the injured were passers-by who did not participate in the demonstration. Despite the prohibition on use of physical force against elderly people, video records show that several elderly people were hurt.

Thirty-four journalists covering the events were injured by rubber bullets used against them by police. Before the dispersal started, the head of the Special Forces of the State Defense and his allies expelled the accredited journalists from the Parliament building and prevented them from carrying out their professional activities, in violation of Article 154 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, which prohibits illegal interference in the professional activities of journalists.

On 24 June 2019, an investigation was launched into the actions of approximately ten police officers. FIDH, and two of its member organizations, HRIDC and NHC, call on the government of Georgia to ensure that the investigation is effective, thorough and conducted in a timely manner. The three NGOs find the resort to excessive force against civilians unacceptable. According to Georgian laws and applicable international human rights law standards on the use of force during demonstrations, police may only use appropriate and proportionate coercive measures in the case of necessity, upon warning, and to the extent that shall ensure achievement of legitimate objectives. A police officer must ensure that no disproportionate harm is caused by the coercive measures. The use of plastic and rubber bullets by the police, targeting vital organs, constitute a grave breach of international and domestic law.

The demonstration is still ongoing, despite the violent dispersal last Thursday. As a result of the large-scale protest, the Chairperson of the Parliament, Kobakhidze, has resigned. In another compromise, the government declared its readiness to hold the upcoming 2020 Parliamentary Elections based on proportional representation, rather than a mixed system, meeting one of the protesters’ demands. Amendments to this effect will be introduced to the country’s constitution.
FIDH, Human Rights Center, and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee call on the Government of Georgia, Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor’s Office to:

- Immediately start a thorough and effective investigation into each case of excessive use of force by the police;

- Impose responsibility on officials who ordered the use of disproportionate force against demonstrators;

- Restrain from the use of excessive force against peaceful protesters;

- Hold a public discussion on alternative means that could be used by police as non-violent coercive measures during mass demonstrations and to make the respective amendments to the legislation of Georgia;

- Ensure the strict compliance of the police with the obligation to refrain from using disproportionate coercive measures against protesters;

- Immediately open an investigation concerning the interference into the professional activities of journalists and physical abuse against them;

- Fully cover the costs of medical treatment for injured protesters.

For further information, please contact:
FIDH: Eva Canan: +33 6 48 05 91 57 / ecanan@fidh.org
HRC: Aleko Tskitishvili +995 599 93 76 76 /a.tskitishvili@gmail.com

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