In a comprehensive open letter to president-elect Mikheil Saakashvili, Public Defender Sozar Subari has warned that unless human rights are taken seriously in his second presidential term, another crisis, like the one in November, is inevitable.
The letter, which addresses, what Subari sees as violence, neo-corruption and the syndrome of fear that have been widespread during Saakashvili’s first presidential term, opens by congratulating Saakashvili with his victory in the elections and reminding him that “the human rights situation in the country is extremely unfavorable.”
Subari starts by recalling that Saakashvili had said that the Public Defender had not shown any “favorable stance” towards the authorities. “It is unfortunate that my attempts to study and reveal cases of human rights abuses were perceived as an ‘unfavorable stance’ towards the authorities,” Subari says. “This kind of attitude was clearly demonstrated on November 7 when riot policemen beat me with batons just because I was the Public Defender. They acted in accordance with orders received from the authorities. I hope you will not perceive this example as an expression of my personal resentment and I want to assure you that batons will not make me change my opinions.”
He then writes that sidelining human rights under the pretext of “building the state” has become a slogan of “the ruling elite, which had a monopoly over the truth and faultlessness.” “Those, who did not agree with them, have been declared enemies of the state. I think that now it has become clear to everyone that this very ruling elite did a disservice to both you personally [referring to Saakashvili] and the country.”
“We will not overcome poverty, develop industry or become a better country, if we do not protect one major value – the individual and his rights,” Subari writes. “To see and recognize mistakes is an important step, which is appreciated by the Georgian public. But the people also expect the political will and desire that these mistakes are rectified and never repeated. It is not enough to replace old political figures in the party-list [ahead of parliamentary elections] with new faces. The attitude towards citizens, their rights and dignity should be changed as well.”
In a recent televised interview, Saakashvili said that as well as a cabinet reshuffle, he planned to fill his party-list ahead of parliamentary elections with new figures.
Subari, however, pointed out that people suspected “you will make only tactical changes in the government, while the real levers of power will remain in the hands of the same people by appointing puppets in their positions… I hope that will not be the case.”
“We should face the truth,” Subari continues, “the recent political crisis was a result not of actions undertaken by abstract or real state enemies, but it was a result of trampling on human rights by the authorities, which has become an everyday practice.”
“November 2 [when tens of thousands of people gathered at an anti-government rally] was a result of murders, insults, beatings, violation of property rights, demolition [of properties], intimidation and subsequent justifications on TV with a cynical smile on the faces [of the ruling elite]. Continuation of this practice will trigger grave results for both the country and the authorities,” Subari warns.
He also writes that his complaints reflected in “dozens and thousands” of letters sent to the relevant state agencies about abuses of human rights were left unanswered.
“All these individual cases, like drops of water, accumulated, forcing people to hit the streets. The authorities, in turn, responded with obvious excessive force,” he says.
Subari says that there is “an influential group” of people within the government, which “deemed force as the only means to resolve problems.”
“The only sign of an end to the policy of violence will be the punishment of those who demolished illegally seized [properties], or those behind beating, etc. There are numerous such cases, with concrete names. Firstly, they fully deserve punishment; secondly – it will be an impressive warning for other officials.”
Although the Public Defender praised the authorities’ drive to root-out widespread corruption and end the rule of criminal bosses, or as they are called, ‘thieves-in-law,’ he also claims that a new type of corruption – “neo-corruption or elite corruption” – has been created instead.
“There is a group of people for whom everything is permitted,” Subari says, describing this group of people as “neo-thieves-in-law.”
“Of course, neo-thieves do not need old thieves - that is a positive development - but they also do not need an independent judiciary, the European Union, NATO – not a single structure or organization, which will restrict their power,” Subari writes. “It is impossible not to notice that the real influence of a person is defined not by his position in the bureaucracy, but by his position in the hierarchy among these neo-thieves. This problem should be addressed urgently.”
In his letter, Subari also speaks about “the syndrome of fear among the people.”
“Unfortunately I have to confirm that this syndrome of fear has really emerged,” he says. “It will be difficult for foreign observers to notice it and I cannot substantiate it with concrete documents, proving how people are cautious in voicing their opinions in everyday live and at their jobs and how they remove batteries from their mobile phones and whisper with each other [to prevent possible phone taping].”
He writes that vocal opposition criticism of the authorities does not at all mean that there is freedom of speech. “Ordinary citizens are afraid that if they are perceived as ‘unfavorable persons’ they will be sacked from their jobs, or beaten or their relatives will be arrested. There is a perception that all phone conversations are being taped.”
He also suggests that this syndrome of fear is being planted “deliberately.” “It seems that a perception that it is easier to rule the country with [this syndrome of fear] dominates some in control,” Subari writes.
The letter also addresses the situation in the judiciary, noting that it has turned into “a rubber stamp and integral part of the General Prosecutor’s Office.” Subari says the GPO has turned into “a monster” and “the actual ruler of the country.” “Although it is difficult to prove it with concrete documents, we all know that this is true and should we turn a blind eye to it?”
He says that the Georgian people in the January plebiscite clearly decided they want NATO-membership, but they have also asked the question: “do the authorities themselves really want Georgia to join NATO? A key NATO requirement is to have an independent judiciary and this remains unfulfilled.”
In the letter, Subari makes a special focus on the Girgvliani murder case, calling it “a big black spot for the authorities.” He says that instead of insisting upon Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili’s political responsibility, the ruling elite defended the Minister, praising him as “the backbone of the state.”
“Moreover, Data Akhalaia [a former Interior Ministry official whose name was also linked with the Girgvliani murder case] informally still holds his position,” Subari writes. “I recommend you not to re-appoint those officials whose names are linked with human rights abuses.”
In relation to the January 5 presidential election, Subari says that all administrative resources, including those of the Interior Ministry and the General Prosecutor’s Office, were used by the incumbent candidate.
“It is not in compliance with European standards when your campaign office was actually led by the interior minister [Vano Merabishvili], who gave instructions to the heads of regional campaign offices, heads of districts, governors. Of course, no protocols of these meetings were compiled and these meetings were not attended by the international election observers. But it is impossible to hide anything in a small country,” Subari writes. “It is abnormal, when the entire municipal transport system was hired by the ruling party in order to ferry their supporters [to polling stations]… This is not a form of transport moving towards Europe.”
Subari also says the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) was in urgently need of a new board of trustees.
“If the political will exists to make the television station really independent, this issue can be resolved quickly and easily,” Subari says. “If there is no such will, the allegations that the public broadcaster is not independent will continue; however the public will not trust it and debates and discussions will move to the street.”
Subari also writes in the letter that the list of problems is long and to deal with them it is necessary “to turn the state towards liberalism.”