Parliament adopted on August 1 resolution calling on various state agencies and ministries to address most of the recommendations laid out in Public Defender’s annual human rights report.
Adoption of the resolution came after series of parliamentary committee hearings last month on the Public Defender’s annual report, culminating with debates at a parliamentary session on July 31 during which opposition UNM lawmakers slammed Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili for “failing to efficiently” react on human rights violations and accused him of bias in favor of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition. Nanuashvili responded that he would not engage in political debates as he would fail to outdo them in “political demagogy.”
Among Public Defender’s recommendations is a proposal to establish an independent mechanism for looking into complaints filed over alleged cases of human rights violations by the law enforcement agencies.
Proposal echoes a recommendation, which was laid out in his final report in the capacity of special advisor to Georgia on human rights and legal reforms, Thomas Hammarberg, who said that “oversight over the law enforcement structures remains a problem.”
“There is a need for an independent and effective complaints system to which one can turn knowing that the complaint will be dealt impartially. This should not only cover police but also prison staff and prosecutors,” reads Hammarberg’s report. “Sometimes, when the general inspections send complaints to the Prosecutor’s Office due to suspicion of crime, they are returned back by the Prosecutor’s Office. This practice contributes to the current public mistrust in the system.”
In its resolution prepared based on Public Defender’s recommendations, Parliament stopped short of straightforward endorsement of this recommendation; saying that proposal is “noteworthy”, the resolution calls to continue working with the government on this initiative.
“I personally do not think that this recommendation is something that the state needs now,” a senior lawmaker from the GD parliamentary majority, Giorgi Volski, said at the session on July 31, adding that instead of setting up of a new structure, it would be better to focus more on improving general inspections of law enforcement agencies.
In other recommendations, the resolution calls on the ministry in charge of penitentiary system to provide for more transparent procedures while taking decision on transfer of inmates from one prison to another, as well as to provide more tools for public defender’s representatives while monitoring penitentiary facilities.
Public Defender, Ucha Nanuashvili, told lawmakers that no cases of torture have been reported in 2013 in the penitentiary system, but there were cases of mistreatment of inmates, which were not appropriately investigated. He also noted that circumstances surrounding death of several inmates in the reporting period were “alarming.” He also said that there were improvements in healthcare services in the penitentiary, but added that more financial resources are needed to address still remaining problems.
The resolution calls on the Interior Ministry to apply restriction of freedom of movement only when such measure is envisaged by the law. Although the resolution does not specify, an obvious reference here is made on part of Public Defender’s annual report, which criticizes law enforcement agencies for multiple cases when Georgian citizens of Chechen origin were stopped on border not allowing them to leave the country without having any legal ground for applying such measure and without providing any explanation to citizens against whom such measures were applied.
Parliament’s resolution also calls on the Interior Ministry for “comprehensive and efficient” investigations into cases of violence on religious grounds that took place in 2012-2013 – reference is mainly made on cases when Muslim communities in several villages were prevented from performing prayer.
The resolution calls on the prosecutor’s office to take a lead role in investigating 2012 Lopota gorge special operation – an issue which is persistently followed by the Public Defender. The resolution also calls on the prosecutor’s office to intensify investigation into cases of “mass violation of human rights” during crackdown on anti-government protesters on November 7, 2007, as well as incident of May 6, 2009; attack on protesters on June 15, 2009, and break up of protest rally on May 26, 2011. The resolution calls on the prosecutor’s office to carry out efficient investigations into alleged crimes committed during and after the August, 2008 war, including into the cases of missing persons.
Much of the opposition lawmakers’ criticism of the Public Defender during the parliamentary session on July 31 was focused on what UNM MPs were saying was his reluctance to call cases of selective justice by their right name. Some UNM lawmakers were telling Nanuashvili that while his report was documenting quite well cases showing application of selective justice by the authorities, the Public Defender himself was avoiding to directly call them “selective justice.”
“While the EU and the U.S. call on the government to avoid political prosecutions, you do not speak about it – what’s the reason behind that? Is it because you don’t want to upset government and Bidzina Ivanishvili?” UNM MP Giorgi Kandelaki asked the Public Defender.
UNM MP Davit Darchiashvili told the Public Defender that it is selective justice when the authorities do not investigate the June, 2013 case of illegal detention of two dozen of Tbilisi municipal officials by the financial police (also documented in Public Defender’s report), but pursue prosecution of former government officials.
On opposition’s allegations of politically-motivated prosecutions, Nanuashvili said that transparent court proceedings and due process are important in this regard.
“There is always a risk that cases against former high-ranking officials will be perceived as politically motivated,” Nanuashvili said and added that proceedings are transparent. “Courts deliver guilty verdict in some cases [of former high-ranking officials] and acquittals in some other trials; if we doubt objectivity of guilty verdict, then we should also doubt objectivity of acquittals.”
“We describe specific facts in legal terms and we cannot assess a case as political prosecution if there are no relevant evidence. Documenting all the facts is important and analysis of those facts may show such problem if it is of systemic nature. Public defender cannot assess if there is a political prosecution; politicians probably will assess if such cases exist,” Nanuashvili said, triggering protest among UNM lawmakers from the chamber.
UNM MP Nugzar Tsiklauri told Nanuashvili that his remarks “prove your political bias in favor of the ruling coalition.” MP Tsiklauri told the Public Defender that while he was failing to assess whether there were politically-motivated prosecutions of former government members, he was not at all critical of controversial resolution of Parliament from December, 2012 through which 190 persons arrested when UNM was in power were declared as “political prisoners” and subsequently released through amnesty. EU said that process of identifying and then releasing of 190 inmates, recognized by Parliament as political prisoners, “suffered from a number of flaws”. MP Tsiklauri said that Public Defender’s reports should be called “Georgian Dream defender’s report.”
UNM MP Levan Bezhashvili criticized the Public Defender for saying that 2013 was better in terms of human rights protection than the previous year. “It was incomprehensible assessment to say that human rights record improved in 2013,” MP Bezhashvili said.
UNM MP Givi Targamadze told the Public Defender: “The report itself is not bad… unlike your address, which was completely structured in a way not to upset the government.”
Responding to his criticism from UNM lawmakers, Nanuashvili said in his closing remarks at the parliamentary hearing: “I am not going to react on all the remarks made here; I am not going to engage in political debates either – that’s not my duty. To put it bluntly I will simply fail to outdo some [of the lawmakers’] in political demagogy.”
“Regrettably elements of political show prevailed today. I was expecting questions more on human rights, questions about those 7,000 homeless persons registered at the Tbilisi mayor’s office; questions about children’s rights and child mortality rate, which is one of the highest in Georgia; questions about violence against women; questions about intolerance and about rights of persons with disabilities,” Nanuashvili said.
“Instead we’ve been hearing ‘political prosecution’, ‘political prosecution’, ‘selective justice’. Yes international actors express concern in order not to have political prosecutions and selective justice and we join these concerns. That’s why it is important to have transparent legal proceedings and to monitor all these processes,” he said.
“Our daily work – recommendations, statements, periodic reports on specific issues – gives answer to a question about how independent Public Defender’s Office is, and this work is seen by people, society and international organizations,”
The U.S. Department of State’s annual human rights country report, covering developments of 2013, says that non-governmental organizations in Georgia continued to view the Public Defender’s Office as “the most objective of the government’s human rights bodies.”
“While the office generally operated without government interference and was considered effective, the public defender reported that the government often responded partially or not at all to inquiries and recommendations,” reads the report.