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Opposition Steps Up Criticism, Amid Ombudsman’s Report
/ 25 May.'07 / 21:43
Civil Georgia

The ruling majority in Parliament responded to the recent public defender’s critical report on human rights by ignoring it on May 25.

Public Defender’s Report

Sozar Subari, the Georgian public defender, spoke of property rights abuses, misuse of power by the police and problems in the judiciary while addressing the near-empty parliamentary chamber on May 25.

Subari said that the Public Defender’s Office had received a total of 3,500 complaints from citizens, a two-fold increase on 2005.

“But it does not automatically mean that the number of human rights abuse cases has increased in the country. The increase in public awareness of our office might be a reason for this trend,” Subari said.

He noted that it was impossible to ascertian whether there had been an improved or worsened human rights situation in the country.

“For example, there has been a significant decrease in the incidence of torture of detainees by the police; but on the other hand we have had a significant increase in the abuses of property rights by the authorities recently,” Subari said.

He said that most of the cases investigated by his office in respect of seizures of private property by the authorities had been carried out illegally and “those responsible should be punished.”

“For example, in Ozurgeti [western Georgia] the local authorities seized a plot of land from a local resident after the authorities had decided to construct a water reservoir there. When we asked the local authorities about this incident they responded that the plot of land would not be returned to its owner because the land was required for a good cause,” Subari said.

“In another case, in Signagi [in eastern Georgia] a local resident was threatened by the local authorities, saying that the police would  ‘plant’ drugs on his son if he refused to hand over his property to the local authorities; and he agreed,” Subari added.

In his report, Subari also recalled two high-profile murder cases, of Sandro Girgvliani and Amiran Robakidze.

“The most high-profile murder case in Georgia’s recent history ended in the shortest period of time – only six court hearings were held. Moreover, the court rejected all the motions by the Girgvliani family attorneys, which would have cast some light on the case,” he said.

“Although a policeman has been convicted for the murder of Amiran Robakidze, the investigation is not yet over, because those top level police officials who fabricated evidence in the case have not been punished yet,” Subari said.

Subari also stressed some recent cases of misuse of office, especially  the one involving the chief of the Special Operations Department at the Interior Ministry, Irakli Kodua. He allegedly arrested and tortured three innocent men and then fabricated evidence against them for the purposes of “personal revenge.”

Subari, however, acknowledged some improvements. He noted that cases of excessive use of force by the police against suspects had declined in 2006.

“22 persons were killed by the police in 2005 and 18 in 2006. The numbers started to decline after a May 2 [2006] shooting incident in Tbilisi. The Interior Ministry changed its tactics following huge criticism of this operation,” Subari said.

MPs' Reaction

Of dozens of questions addressed to the public defender by MPs after his address, only two came from lawmakers from the ruling majority.

The ruling party tried to downplay the significance of the report, with one influential lawmaker from the National Movement, Giga Bokeria, telling reporters a few hours before the hearings that there was nothing new in the report and that the allegations were groundless and unsubstanciated.
 
“He [Subari] has undermined the reputation of the entire institution [of the Public Defender],” Bokeria said.

Opposition lawmakers, however, have used the hearings to further step up criticism of the authorities.

“The situation will not improve by ignoring them. The cases reported by the public defender will not disappear with your silence,” Davit Berdzenishvili, MP, of the opposition Republican Party told the ruling majority.

“Facts described in the report are a clear demonstration of a trend in the country, demonstrating a policy in the country. It means that the misuse of power by the authorities is not just an isolated case, but part of a broader policy. This is one of the major conclusion we can make after reading this report,” the opposition lawmaker, Davit Zurabishvili, said.

“This government has put the judiciary in the grave. The judiciary has been usurped by the prosecutor’s office… Why hasn't anyone been punished for the illegal seizure of private property? Because [Zurab] Adeishvili [the Prosecutor-General] was seizing them… These are issues and questions on which you are afraid to answer – I mean you Mr. Bokeria and you the ruling majority,” the opposition lawmaker, Koka Guntsadze, said.

Hearings ended late in the evening, without any response from the ruling majority.

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