Public Defender, Ucha Nanuashvili, announced on October 22 about launch of a twelve-member commission, which will gather “information and facts” surrounding armed clash in the Lopota gorge in August, 2012 in which at least seven militants and three Georgian troops were killed.
In April, 2013 the Public Defender announced about findings of his own probe into the Lopota gorge clash, claiming that he found circumstances, which contradict official version of events, which at the time of the incident was provided by the previous government. In his findings, which is part of the Public Defender’s annual report on human rights, Nanuashvili was 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.
In April, when Nanuashvili first announced about his allegations, he called on the Parliament to establish an ad hoc investigative commission to probe in to the case, but in July he floated an idea of setting up “apolitical” public council to examine developments related to the Lopota gorge clash. Nanuashvili has been criticizing the Interior Ministry for dragging out the official investigation and focusing only on probe into hostage-taking episode of the case, not even investigating allegations about excessive use of force by the law enforcement agencies.
“In the condition when families of the victims still have many legitimate and unanswered questions and there is high public interest towards issues such as how this special operation was planned and enforced, as well as towards necessity and legitimacy of use of lethal force, the Georgian Public Defender cannot remain indifferent towards alleged violation of human rights in this case,” Nanuashvili said in a statement.
“I deemed it appropriate to establish a public council at the Public Defender’s Office for the purpose of documenting and comprehensive examination of alleged human rights violations as a result of the special operation carried out in the village of Lapankuri,” Nanuashvili said.
The key task of the council will be “to find information and document facts” in connection to the Lopota gorge clash in order “to provide answers to diverse opinions persisting within the society about factual development of events,” he said in a statement.
“The council will draw attention on putting focus on interests of the victims and on the need of carrying out the process of investigation independently and transparently,” Nanuashvili said.
Based on its findings the council will produce a report and submit it to the law enforcement agencies.
“It should be stressed, that the council does not represent an alternative to the law enforcement investigation, on the contrary it will contribute to the comprehensive, efficient and transparent [official] investigation,” Nanuashvili said.
The 12-member group is chaired by Nanuashvili and, along with several lawyers and analysts, also includes some representatives of “council of elders” from the Pankisi gorge, area in north eastern Georgia populated by Kists, ethnic Chechens of Georgian citizenship: Umar Idigov, Zaur Gumashvili, Khaso Khangoshvili, Murad Kavtarashvili. Other members of the group are: political analyst and a frequent commentator on Caucasus affairs and conflicts Mamuka Areshidze; political analyst Soso Tsiskarishvili; lawyer Kakhi Kakhishvili of Research Center for Elections and Political Technologies;; Tamar Gabisonia, executive director of Article 42 of the Constitution; defense lawyer Gela Nikolaishvili; lawyer Lia Mukhashavria of the Human Rights Priority and defense analyst Vakhtang Maisaia, who was convicted for alleged espionage in 2009 and released earlier this year after he was listed among “political prisoners” by the Parliament.
“The issue is very sensitive. Any information discussed during council meetings will be confidential and it will not be released until preparation of a final report,” Public Defender told journalists on October 22.