Lawmakers heard at a parliamentary session on July 30 Public Defender’s annual human rights report and adopted a resolution laying out recommendations to various government ministries, developed based on the report.
“This resolution and its implementation will be a test [for the current government],” Public Defender, Ucha Nanuashvili, told lawmakers. “The authorities should now set time frames for the implementation of these recommendations.”
Nanuashvili, who was confirmed by the Parliament as Public Defender in early December 2012, said that this annual report documenting multiple grave crimes and human rights violations, including in the penitentiary system, “is a mirror in which we look and see what was happening last year.”
“We should face it and not shun away from it in order to prevent those cases from reoccurring,” he said.
Nanuashvili said that although serious problems were remaining, situation “improved in many areas” since change of government after the October 2012 parliamentary elections. He, however, said it would not be helpful to make such comparisons between the situations under the current and previous governments.
“Standards should be now much higher,” he said and added that the government’s human rights practices should be judged by those high international standards not by comparing them to the situations that was in this regard under the previous authorities. “What was happening in the past should in no way serve as an excuse for committing wrongdoings now.”
Significant part of Public Defender’s 770-page report on human rights in 2012, like previous similar reports, addresses situation in penitentiary facilities, saying that abuse of inmates was of “systemic nature”.
“Monitoring [of penitentiary facilities] revealed systematic nature of torture and mistreatment [of inmates] to which the Public Defender’s team from [national] preventive mechanism was regularly drawing attention in previous years. Unfortunately the Georgian government was not taking proper and adequate measures to eradicate these problems; moreover, ignoring of revealed violations of systemic nature became a tendency, which eventually led to establishment of syndrome of impunity,” Nanuashvili said, adding that inhuman treatment of inmates were confirmed by shocking video recordings aired on television stations in September, 2012.
Nanuashvili told lawmakers that although there were “certain incidents”, no cases of torture in penitentiary facilities were reported this year.
Another issue that attracted most of the attention in Public Defender’s report since it was first released in early April, is findings of a probe by Nanuashvili into armed clash in Lopota gorge in late August, 2012 and events leading up to that incident in which at least seven militants and three Georgian troops were killed. The Public Defender claims that his probe found evidence suggesting that the armed group, involved in the clash, was formed, armed and trained by then leadership of the Georgian Interior Ministry, which recruited members of the group mainly from Chechen exiles by promising them to give free passage to Russia’s North Caucasus via Georgia.
Initially the Public Defender was calling on the Parliament to establish an investigative commission to probe into those developments. But during the hearing in Parliament on July 30, Nanuashvili called for setting up of, as he put it, “maximally apolitical, public commission, composed of highly reputable figures, as well as foreign experts.”
“I think that work and conclusions by such a commission will be much more credible rather than those by a commission, composed by politicians,” Nanuashvili told lawmakers.
He suggested that the investigation carried out by the Interior Ministry was not effective. He also said that the Interior Ministry, which was directly involved in the Lopota gorge developments, might be biased or unwilling to investigate it thoroughly and the case should be taken over for further probe by the prosecutor’s office.
On Lopota gorge armed clash, the Parliament’s resolution in response to Public Defender’s report, calls on the prosecutor’s office to investigate this incident and to sidelining from the investigation those employees of the Interior Ministry, who were somehow linked to this case. The resolution instructs the prosecutor’s office to provide the Parliament “periodically” with updates about ongoing investigation.
UNM MP Pavle Kublashvili, who was among those few lawmakers from the parliamentary minority group who were present at the hearing, asked the Public Defender why he decided to look into Lopota gorge clash, which, as he said, was a sensitive issue from the security point of view and “not normally a topic of such reports” and why he was presenting his conclusions as “actual facts” while official investigation was still ongoing. MP Kublashvili also asked Nanuashvili whether he thought that his conclusions were “coinciding with those which our country’s ill-wisher wants to see” in those developments.
Nanuashvili responded that he could not have turned a blind eye on such a serious incident, which involved death of several people, including Georgian citizens, out of fear that the issue might be used for political purposes.
Asked about conditions in which former interior minister and ex-PM Vano Merabishvili is held in pretrial detention, the Public Defender responded that conditions were “satisfactory.”
“Our representative visited Mr. Merabishvili for several times and I can say that he has no problems as his conditions are satisfactory. He was demanding a TV set, which was made available for him. He also demands a meeting with family members, but existing laws, which were adopted by the previous authorities, ban visits of family members to those who are in pretrial detention pending investigation.”
Georgian Dream MP Eka Beselia, who chairs parliamentary committee for human rights, which in recent month held four separate hearings into ombudsman’s report, stressed that adoption of the resolution by the Parliament, laying out recommendations to various ministries, was an important move, which was in contrast to past practice when the previous Parliament was only “taking note” of ombudsman’s reports without calling on the government to heed recommendations of the report.