Parliament confirmed with 82 votes to 18 Ucha Nanuashvili as new Public Defender for a five-year term on December 7.
Nanuashvili, 38, who served as executive director of a rights watchdog group Human Rights Center, was nominated by the Georgian Dream parliamentary majority group.
Lawmakers from the United National Movement (UNM) parliamentary minority group did not support the nomination, claiming that Nanuashvili will fail to be “neutral” on the post of the Public Defense and will be biased in favor of the Georgian Dream.
Parliament heard Nanuashvili earlier on December 7. He told lawmakers that among his priorities would be to make the Public Defender’s Office (PDO) more “proactive” institution; to strengthen PDO’s regional branches and contribute to increasing “culture of tolerance” in the society.
He said that national preventive mechanism at PDO, which is empowered to monitor penitentiary facilities and treatment of inmates, should become more efficient. He said that this mechanism in its current form failed to prevent and properly monitor cases of inmates’ abuse.
On December 6 Nanuashvili met UNM lawmakers who questioned him about the issues ranging from recent arrests of officials from the previous government to his stance about the breakaway regions.
Asked by UNM lawmakers during the December 6 hearing if he thought that the recent arrests were politically motivated, Nanuashvili responded that at this stage it was too early to make conclusions.
“If as a result of thorough examination we find sings that [these legal proceedings] are politically motivated, I will be the first to declare about it,” Nanuashvili said.
He, however, also said that there were “serious question marks” about the legal proceedings against former head of the Interior Ministry’s internal investigations unit Tengiz Gunava, who was initially arrested, then released on bail, for charges related to illegal possession of arms and drugs; other charges were added against him later related to embezzlement.
“There are serious question marks about Gunava’s case,” Nanuashvili said and added that he would follow this case closely.
UNM lawmakers say that Nanuashvili was affiliated to the Georgian Dream during the pre-election campaign – the allegation Nanuashvili denies. Nanuashvili said that he was an invited expert at the Georgian Dream public movement to provide his expertise on human rights issues; Nanuashvili said he received no payment for this consultancy and added that he was ready to share his expertise with any other political group if invited.
Nanuashvili also said that his organization was one of the first to condemn cases of sacking of public servants after the new government came into power. He said that the Human Rights Center in which he is now an executive director, “even managed to achieve restoration in office some of the sacked public servants.”
He criticized the new government for a failure to “react appropriately” to the incident in the village of Nigvziani in western Georgian region of Guria last month, when a small local Muslim community, ethnic Georgians who settled in the village after moving from Adjara region in early 1990s, was barred by the local Orthodox Christian community to perform prayer in a house, which was converted into the place of worship for the Muslim community.
A similar incident has also took place recently in the village of Tsintskaro in Kvemo Kartli region with local Orthodox Christians threatening local Muslim community, made up of ethnic Georgians who settled there from Adjara in early 1990s, to stop gathering for praying in a house converted into the place of worship. PM Bidzina Ivanishvili said in a written statement on December 7 that there were “obvious signs of provocation” in the recent cases of “confrontation on religious grounds” and vowed that “our government will not allow anyone to breach” the principle of freedom of religion.
When asked about cases of use of hate speech by some of the Georgian Dream representatives, Nanuashvili said it was something that should be condemned.
During the hearing on December 6, UNM lawmakers also asked him about the ‘sorry campaign’ launched by the Human Rights Center in March, 2007 calling for apologizing for those mistakes of the Georgian side which led to the armed conflict in Abkhazia in early 1990s; at that time this campaign was lambasted by UNM, which at the time was ruling party.
“I can reiterate once again – the Georgian state should apologize to both Abkhazians and Ossetians, as well as to the Georgian people, because the Georgian state failed to secure protection of rights of these people and they have been expelled from their homes. Assuming responsibility is sign of strength and opens up more opportunities for confidence building,” Nanuashvili said.
“This is not only a conflict between Georgia and Russia, this is also Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-Ossetian conflict, but of course Russia plays a major factor in this respect, representing instigator,” Nanuashvili said. “Even if Russian factor disappears, will we be able to find a common language with Abkhazians and Ossetians and will they tomorrow join [Georgia]? I think they will not, because there is also an element of ethnic conflict in this.”
This stance of Nanuashvili, which one UNM lawmakers described as “Russian narrative”, was cited by the parliamentary minority group as one of reasons behind the refusal to support Nanuashvili on the post of the Public Defender; among other reasons cited by UNM MPs was their allegations that Nanuashvili was affiliated with the Georgian Dream and that he would be bias in favor of the authorities.
Georgian Dream MP Tina Khidasheli said during the parliamentary session on December 7, that the new parliamentary majority should end the practice when the previous Parliament, dominated by the UNM, was simply “taking note” of Public Defender’s annual and biannual reports.
“We should be the parliamentary majority, which will immediately react to all the issues raised in [Public Defender’s] reports. Ombudsman is our major partner in fulfilling Parliament’s key function, which is overseeing the executive government,” MP Khidasheli said.
Although there were several would-be candidates for the Public Defender’s post, Nanuashvili was the only candidate who was formally nominated.
UNM did not nominate anyone for the post.
Nanuashvili’s nomination was backed by a group of 24 non-governmental organizations.
Among other potential candidates was Tamar Gurchiani, who was also supported by a large group of non-governmental organizations.
Other potential candidates included former MP Dimitri Lortkipanidze; lawyer Gela Nikolaishvili; Natia Imnadze, head of the National Preventive Mechanism at the Public Defender’s Office and Lia Mukhashavria of Human Rights Priority.
In early November Georgian Dream parliamentary majority announced that Nina Khatiskatsi was its favorite candidate, but shortly after a meeting between representatives from local non-governmental organizations and PM Bidzina Ivanishvili last month, GD lawmakers said their decision about Khatiskatsi was not final and they would continue discussions.
The post of the Public Defender was vacant since September 20 after then ombudsman Giorgi Tugushi was appointed by President Saakashvili as minister for penitentiary system, following prison abuse scandal. Tugushi served on the post for five weeks before he was replaced by also a former public defender Sozar Subari after the new cabinet led by PM Bidzina Ivanishvili took office on October 25.