The Georgian government is listening to international calls and paying “heightened attention” to due process while probing into possible wrongdoings that may have happened in the past, during the previous administration, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Thomas Melia, told journalists in Tbilisi on December 12.
He said that the United States, like others, had urged Georgia’s new government to pay “strict attention to due process as they pursue investigations and prosecutions of possible wrongdoing that may have happened here in the past.”
“And we think the government is hearing these voices; they are listening to us and we think that there has been a heightened attention paid in recent weeks to due process,” Melia said.
He said that he discussed this issue with Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani and Chief Prosecutor Archil Kbilashvili during a meeting earlier on December 12.
“They are very committed, I believe, to proceeding in a way that is consistent with the highest standards of due process and international standards,” the State Department official said, adding that the U.S. would continue to watch these developments closely.
Melia made the remarks after he was asked to comment on a letter, sent last week to PM Bidzina Ivanishvili by five U.S. Senators in which they said they were “deeply troubled” about the possibility that recent legal proceedings against officials from the previous government “are politically motivated and designed to settle political scores.”
Melia said that he would personally update on this issue Senator Jeanne Shaheen, one of the five Senators who signed the letter to PM Ivanishvili, early next week.
The State Department official is holding meetings in Tbilisi on December 12 with senior government officials and civil society representatives. He is accompanied by Catherine Newcombe, a regional director for Eurasia at the Department of Justice’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training.
Melia said that this visit was a follow up to the one which was conducted by the U.S. inter-agency delegation ahead of the October 1 parliamentary elections.
“We are watching very closely the transition process here and emerging tradition of cohabitation in the Georgian government and are supporting the efforts of officials here to make that work for the Georgian people,” he said.
Responding to a question on UNM’s accusations that Georgian Dream was exerting pressure on local-self government bodies to replace local heads of municipalities in the various provinces, Melia said: “We’ve heard the stories about pressure that has been placed on local officials in various places. I know that different civil society groups are monitoring that and I know that the Ministry of Justice is looking into that and so I think it’s a subject of general concern and we will look forward to seeing how it’s addressed in weeks ahead.”
In his opening remarks during the press conference, the State Department official raised the issue of recent incidents, involving minority groups; in particular, last month in the village of Nigvziani in western Georgian region of Guria a small local Muslim community, ethnic Georgians who settled in the village after moving from Adjara region in early 1990s, was prevented by the local Orthodox Christian community to perform religious service in a house, which was converted into the place of worship for the Muslim community. A similar incident has also taken place this month in the village of Tsintskaro in Kvemo Kartli region. The State Department official said that protecting the rights of minorities was a fundamental principle and “noted in a positive way” a statement by PM Ivanishvili on this issue.