Democracy and Human Rights
Remain a Problem in Georgia

MOSCOW (RIA Novosti, by Yevgeny Sidorov) — The 18 months that have passed since the "rose revolution" in Georgia have shown that it is much easier to proclaim the goal of democracy and civil society than attain it. Experts, including UN, Council of Europe and U.S. State Department representatives, believe the human rights situation and the supremacy of law is far from normal in the country.

In late January 2005, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution on a report from the Monitoring Commission concerning how Georgia was honoring the commitments it assumed when it became a member in 1999. It is full of sharp criticism.

One violation that also concerns the interests of Russia is a failure to fulfill an obligation on the adoption by 2001 of a law on the repatriation of Meskhetian Turks (Meskhi), under which they were to be granted Georgian citizenship and to be repatriated in the next ten years. Since this obligation was not fulfilled, PACE has called on the Georgian authorities to create without further delay the legal, administrative and political conditions for beginning the repatriation of Meskhis, which is to be concluded by 2011.

But Tbilisi is sabotaging these requirements under the pretext of dramatic social and economic conditions.

PACE also criticized the 2004 amendments to the Georgian constitution, which gave the president too many powers over the weakened parliamentary opposition, embryonic civil society and first tender shoots of local self-government. The European body also noted a failure to ensure an independent and effective judicial system, the introduction of self-censorship in the Georgian media and unjustified limits put on the independence of Adzharia.

The European experts concluded that Georgia had not honored over 30 commitments and recommendations it had assumed upon joining the Council of Europe.

They pointed to the need to limit the powers of the president quickly, give up the "money for freedom" deals in the judicial system and the system of "commitment law," step up efforts to combat corruption, and stop torture and violence in prisons and pre-trial detention.

PACE also stipulated a deadline (September 2005) for signing such vital intergovernmental documents of the Council of Europe on human rights as the European Charter for Regional Languages or Minority Languages, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the European Social Charter, and the European convention for cross-border trade.

The Council stressed that the post-revolutionary period cannot justify unsubstantiated decisions and a neglect of democratic and human rights standards.

The US State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices provides a similar assessment. It stated the human rights situation in Georgia remained inadequate, democratic institutions and processes were still taking root, and the freedom of assembly was restricted. The report expressed concern over the contents and the form of amendments to the constitution adopted in early 2004. It is noted that many former officials and businessmen charged with ties with the previous regime were detained in violation of the norms of procedure, that blackmail was used against them, and serious pressure was put on the courts.

According to the State Department experts, "Government officials continued to tolerate discrimination and harassment against some religious minorities" and "journalists practiced increased self-censorship." Trafficking in people remained a problem and "law enforcement officers continued to torture, beat, and otherwise abuse detainees." Human rights NGOs have even reported deaths.

The preliminary findings regarding a February 2005 visit to Georgia by Manfred Nowak (Austria), Special Rapporteur on Torture from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, mention "torture and inhuman, degrading treatment" and punishment (the report is to be presented at the 61st session of the UN Commission on Human Rights).

Nowak writes that law enforcers still use torture in Georgia and detention center conditions are mostly degrading. Courts and prosecutors frequently use pre-trial detention disregarding the gravity of crime, which overcrowds prisons and violates the presumption of innocence and Point 3 of Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ("it shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody"). The special rapporteur is especially alarmed how individuals guilty of torture are almost never called to account, which shows "the existence of a non-punishment culture in Georgia."

In reply, Tbilisi refers to "current difficulties" and shifts the blame for this situation to the previous Georgian authorities.