Torture and abuse of prisoners before the change of government, shortfalls in the rule of law and lack of judicial independence, as well as obstacles to exercise freedoms of association and assembly particularly for opposition were the most important human rights problems reported in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of State’s annual human rights country report, released on April 19.
Among other problems the report, which covers developments of 2012, lists allegations of property transfers to the government under duress; reported cases of arbitrary harassment, job loss and arrests for political reasons.
According to the report although Georgian authorities took some steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, “the preelection government”, the one in power before October parliamentary elections, “frequently terminated or delayed investigations into such allegations, contributing to an atmosphere of impunity.”
“However, after the parliamentary elections, more than 25 high-level former government officials were indicted on torture, abuse of power, and corruption-related charges,” the report reads.
The report says, citing findings of OSCE observers, that October 2012 parliamentary elections constituted an important step in consolidating the conduct of elections in line with most of the international standards. The report, however, also says that “harassment and intimidation of party activists, often ending in detentions and/or fines of mainly opposition-affiliated campaigners, marred the campaign.”
Like previous reports, the recent one also says that “outside influence on the judiciary remained a problem”.
Citing findings of local non-governmental organizations, the report also says that the lack of checks and balances within the judiciary itself “undermined its independence.”
Citing the same sources, the report says that concentration of power within the High Council of Justice (HCoJ) and the Supreme Court Chairman “weakened the independence of judges.”
“NGOs also cited continuing problems of transparency in the selection, appointment, and disciplining of judges and stated selection criteria were not sufficiently based on merit,” the report reads.
Parliament confirmed on April 5 legislative amendments envisaging reforming of the HCoJ, a body overseeing the judiciary. The bill is now awaiting signature by President Saakashvili.
On media the report says that “direct or indirect government influence over the most watched countrywide media outlets remained a problem.”
“The three largest television broadcasters were the state-owned Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB), and the privately owned Rustavi-2 and Imedi TV, the country’s two most popular stations. Before the October elections, all three reportedly had close ties to the government, generally had a progovernment editorial policy,” the report reads.
After the elections, Imedi TV changed hands and its ownership was regained by family of late tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili.
The report notes that Channel 9 TV, funded by then opposition leader and now PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, as well as “pro-opposition stations” Kavkasia and Maestro were expressing views critical of the previous government.
The report says that head of the Georgia National Communications Commission (GNCC), Irakli Chikovani, who resigned from GNCC’s chairmanship in April, 2013, “owned a major advertising agency, which represented a direct conflict of interest because he received income from the advertising company regulated by the agency he headed.”
According to the report there were “no indications of censorship or content being blocked” by authorities or Internet service providers.
It says that although on October 25, 2012 the Constitutional Court ruled that operative investigations of private Internet communications would require a warrant, “the Ministry of Internal Affairs appeared to have continuing direct access to the technological infrastructure of telecommunication companies, raising concerns regarding continued illegal government surveillance.”
Report notes that allegations of high-level corruption persisted.
“NGOs and independent media raised concerns about the government’s close connection to some businesses and a lack of transparency regarding their ownership structures, the conduct of bids on public projects, and major government expenditures,” the report reads.
“The prevalence of opaque business structures and the dominance of select markets by a few companies contributed to allegations of elite corruption and crony capitalism,” it says. “The preelection government reportedly used heavy-handed practices or leveled questionable fines against companies.”
The report also notes wave of changes in leadership of local administrations in provincial municipalities following the October elections and says that in some cases, the resignations of UNM-affiliated heads of municipalities and town mayors “appeared to be in response to protests by intimidating crowds of GD activists.”
“Many NGOs considered the involvement of financial police to audit local city council budgets a clear sign of the GD coalition’s desire to consolidate its political base in the regions in advance of local elections in 2014. Local governments were vulnerable to charges of misuse of administrative resources in view of the opaque laws governing local and national spending,” the report reads.
Georgian-language skills continued to be the main impediment to integration for the country’s ethnic minorities, according to the report.
It also says that the Georgian Dream included “in its leadership several figures who reportedly engaged in xenophobic, racist, and anti-Muslim statements”; the report in particular makes a reference to remarks made during the pre-election campaign by Murman Dumbadze, who is now the vice-speaker of parliament. The report also notes about remarks of PM Ivanishvili, who said: “All citizens of Georgia are equal irrespective of their ethnic origin. This is guaranteed by the Constitution of Georgia and it is also my personal belief.”
The report says that social prejudices against sexual minorities were strong and problems included police mistreatment, family violence, and verbal and physical societal abuse. The report also notes that the police were “slow to protect the right to peaceful assembly” during a march in downtown Tbilisi in May, 2012 marking International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia.