A bilateral U.S.-Georgia working group on democracy and governance under the strategic partnership charter between the two countries met on April 25 in Tbilisi to discuss Georgia’s democratic reforms.
Democracy working group is one of those four inter-agency bilateral groups, which were established to address priority areas of the U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Charter, signed in January, 2009. Other priority areas of cooperation identified by the charter are defense and security, economic and people-to-people relations.
The working group on democracy said in a joint statement after the meeting that the “expansion of directly elected positions at the local level”, involving introduction of direct election of mayors of eleven more cities and heads of all the municipalities in the upcoming June 15 local elections, as well as the October 2013 presidential election and judicial reforms resulting in the election of a new High Council of Justice “are among the recent positive steps demonstrating the continuing consolidation of Georgia's democracy.”
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Thomas O. Melia; USAID Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia Paige Alexander and Department of Justice's Regional Director for Eurasia Catherine Newcombe were among the U.S. delegation. During the visit the delegation held series of meetings in Tbilisi with the Georgian leadership, civil society and opposition representatives.
The Georgian delegation at the democracy working group meeting was led by First Deputy Foreign Minister Davit Zalkaliani and Deputy Minister of Justice Gocha Lordkipanidze, and it also included other officials from the government, as well as representatives from the parliamentary majority and minority groups; the judiciary and the prosecutor’s office.
Speaking with journalists after the meeting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Melia stressed on the Georgian delegation’s inclusiveness and said that it “reflects a degree of interesting political maturity in Georgia’s democratic system.”
“The Working Group discussed Georgia's efforts to further strengthen democratic institutions, checks and balances, human rights for all, political pluralism and electoral processes, media freedom and access, rule of law and judicial independence, government accountability and due process, with a view toward Georgia's achievement of its European and Euro-Atlantic integration goals,” the joint statement said.
It said that Georgia's plans “to cultivate a competitive electoral environment ahead of its local elections” and “its work to balance national security interests and civil liberties” were also discussed – a reference was apparently made to a package of bills to limit government’s capabilities of carrying out unrestricted surveillance, which is lobbied by civil society groups and supported by some GD lawmakers, but opposed by the Interior Ministry.
“The Working Group underscored continuing U.S. support for Georgia's democratic development, at a time when events in the region pose challenges,” the statement reads.