After a heated debate on October 1 the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution on “the functioning of democratic institutions in Georgia”, which was opposed by the ruling GD members of the Georgian delegation and supported by opposition UNM.
Initial draft of resolution was prepared by PACE’s co-rapporteurs on Georgia based on their report, which was part of PACE’s regular activity of monitoring how the country honors its obligations undertaken upon its accession to the Council of Europe (CoE) in 1999.
But the initial draft was revised after amendments, many of them pushed for by UNM opposition members of the Georgian delegation, were endorsed by PACE’s monitoring committee a day earlier and then by the Assembly session on October 1.
Many of those amendments made the draft more critical of the Georgian authorities than it originally was.
Michael Aastrup Jensen of Denmark and Boriss Cilevičs of Latvia, the two co-rapporteurs on Georgia, were strongly against of some of those amendments, arguing that the proposed changes were turning their “balanced” report into a “partisan” one.
“If amendments are approved it actually steals the report in a completely different way [from] what we were trying to paint in our report,” PACE’s co-rapporteurs on Georgia Michael Jensen said.
“I am quite saddened by that, because Georgia is a very polarized place… We tried to write a report that is somewhat balanced, but still addressing different issues that still are in Georgia. But if the amendments are approved… then it will also take polarization and partisanships that are in Georgia into our report in this Assembly,” Jensen said, adding that it’s “completely a shame”, because PACE should not be taking sides in Georgia’s internal politics, instead should “try paint a picture as correctly as it is.”
While presenting the draft at the session, Jensen said that despite of problems, “all in all we see progress” in Georgia and another co-rapporteur Boriss Cilevičs said that Georgia is “on the right track, but there is still long way to go.”
He said that some of the commitments undertaken by Georgia while joining the Council of Europe in 1999 still remain unfulfilled. He noted cases of intolerance towards religious, sexual minorities and also said that although the government is condemning such cases, the authorities are not taking sufficient measures to investigate and prosecute perpetrators. Repatriation of Meskhetians, he said, remains a problem and ratification of the language charter is still pending.
The resolution notes “marked progress” in democratic development over recent years in Georgia, but after one of the amendments was added, the adopted text also says that this progress “has been overshadowed by the arrest and prosecution of almost the entire leadership of the former government party and former high officials, which raises questions about the eventual use of the justice system for political purposes.”
Members of the Georgian delegation from the ruling GD coalition were strongly against of adding to the resolution a paragraph calling for replacing lengthy pre-trial detention of ex-defense minister and former prison system chief Bacho Akhalaia with other non-custodial measure. In the resolution the Assembly “expresses its concern about the length of the pre-trial detention of former Defence Minister Bacho Akhalaia and asks the authorities to use all legal means available to replace his detention on remand with some other non-custodial precautionary measure.”
The issue of prosecution of former senior government members and now opposition leaders dominated debates, which preceded the vote.
Pieter Omtzigt, a Dutch lawmaker from the group of European People’s Party (EPP), said: “The fact that almost whole former government can in a little while hold a cabinet meeting in a prison cell somewhere in Tbilisi is quite worrisome.”
Tiny Kox, a lawmaker from the Netherlands, who chairs Group of the Unified European Left in PACE, said the fact that “so many former politicians are now in prison is a very bad signal.”
Roger Gale, a British Conservative MP, who is a member of European Democrat Group in PACE, said that “the Georgian Dream has turned into a nightmare” and ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili exercises “power without responsibility” and called Georgian cabinet members “puppet ministers.” He also said that amendments, which were endorsed by the monitoring committee, were needed in order to “give this report some real teeth.”
Echoing co-rapporteurs’ position, a Swiss lawmaker Luc Recordon from the Socialist Group said that many of the proposed amendments were “radically” changing the report prepared by co-rapporteurs and added that some PACE members, unlike co-rapporteurs, were rushing to conclusions without properly checking facts on the ground.
Georgian Dream lawmaker, Eka Beselia, who chairs human rights committee in the Georgian parliament, said during the debates that calling for change of Akhalaia’s pre-trial detention for non-custodial measure “will be considered as a pressure on the independent court.” “There is no political persecution in Georgia; it was in the period of Saakashvili’s [presidency],” she added.
UNM MP Giorgi Kandelaki, a co-sponsor of many of the amendments, said during the debates that proposed changes were endorsed by the monitoring committee with overwhelming majority and rejecting them would be “utterly inappropriate and not respectful” of the committee members.
“Government of oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia, has been obsessed with the agenda of political retribution. By now this agenda has gone too far; Georgian democracy is backsliding,” MP Kandelaki said and called on the PACE to adopt the resolution with the proposed amendments because it would “help Georgia to slow down this democratic backsliding.”
“Ivanishvili is repeating path of [Ukraine’s former president Viktor] Yanukovych. Remember what Yanukovych was saying when he was prosecuting his opponents – that it’s ‘rule of law, I can’t interfere’. Ukraine’s experience showed that we must not buy these arguments, because they lead to disastrous consequences and we don’t want Georgia to explode,” he added.
‘Georgia’s Political Polarization Sweeps into PACE’
In his closing remarks PACE co-rapporteur on Georgia, Boriss Cilevičs said he disagrees with allegations voiced by some speakers that some former government members were prosecuted because they are now in the opposition. He said there are cases in which “credible allegations” exist and these allegations should be properly investigated.
He said that the PACE should not be telling Georgia not to prosecute someone just because a person was once a minister.
“Our mission is to follow that all the investigations, all the trials are held in full conformity with our own principles… and we wrote this in our draft resolution. When we notice violations, we speak about it and criticize our Georgian colleagues, but to say ‘no, don’t prosecute the former government in general’ – it’s politicized,” Cilevičs said. “Polarization is really harmful… We must do our best to help Georgia to overcome this polarization. If some superficial, not corresponding to the facts, amendments will be adopted today, it will not help Georgia, it will help some politicians and will deepen polarization, so this is why we, the co-rapporteurs, cannot agree with this.”
Another co-rapporteur, Michael Jensen, said: “We have a polarization in Georgia and this polarization has also swept into this Assembly.”
“I think co-rapporteurs’ work in this report is balanced, but we are also frank in our assessments and also in our proposals what Georgia should do. Therefore it is very important that two to three amendments… are being voted down, because if they are voted for, the report will stir in a completely different way and will be a partisan report,” Jensen said.
Cilevičs voted against the amended draft of resolution and Jensen abstained; the resolution was passed with 103 votes to 27.
The resolution “expresses concern over the widespread application of asset freezing to family members of opposition figures and former government officials in criminal cases not involving allegations concerning illicit assets.” The measure was applied in case against ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili. Co-rapporteurs spoke against inserting this wording in the draft, arguing that use of wording such as “widespread” in regard to this measure was factually incorrect.
Only one controversial amendment, which was expressing concern over ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili’s “reported interference… in the Georgian Government’s decision making”, was voted down.
There was a motion to send the report and the draft resolution back to the monitoring committee, but the proposal was rejected.
The resolution expresses concern over “the increase of intolerant discourse and discriminatory acts against minorities, especially sexual and religious minorities, in Georgian society.”
“The Assembly is concerned by the lack of effective investigation and prosecution of hate crimes against minorities. The authorities need to make clear that such behaviour will not be tolerated and that any perpetrators of violent or discriminatory acts will be prosecuted,” reads the resolution.
“There can be no impunity for such acts, irrespective of who committed them. All stakeholders, and especially representatives of political parties and institutions that hold high moral credibility in Georgian society, should refrain from divisive language and acts that could incite intolerance or deteriorate the situation of minorities,” it says.
Several lawmakers from the Turkish delegation, as well as an Azerbaijani MP proposed adding to the text call for meeting “the demands of the Muslim community in the country for the construction of new mosques.” This proposed amendment was rejected by the Assembly.
PM to UNM: ‘Stop Partisan Struggle Against the State’
PACE was still debating on the draft resolution, when in Tbilisi PM Irakli Garibashvili expressed hope that the amendments, which were opposed by GD members of the delegation, would not have been added to the final text. He said that UNM, backed by its partner European People’s Party (EPP), “is very active there” at the PACE.
“Some amendments have been made [to the initial draft], but I think our delegation will respond to all the existing questions. Everyone should take into consideration reality that is in Georgia; the will of people has been expressed; we have different reality and I am sure [GD members of the delegation] will be able to demonstrate this reality as it is. I hope that – whether EPP or others – will not accept rumors and groundless allegations leveled by the [United] National Movement,” Garibashvili told journalists on October 1.
Next day, when commenting on the adopted text, PM Garibashvili said that there was no reason to make a stir because of this resolution. He suggested that it was passed because of EPP’s “solidarity” towards its partner party, UNM.
“They [EPP] expressed solidarity towards the issues that were pushed for by the UNM. In fact there is no reason whatsoever to create a stir about it. If you have seen the main text of resolution, it speaks only positively… The wording that was made in reference to Akhalaia and Saakashvili – I do not deem it alarming. This is yet another attempt by the UNM to fight against its own state, its own people… This [resolution] is an expression of political parties [representing in PACE] and they [UNM] portrays it as if it is a call by the Council of Europe,”
“These people [referring to UNM] now tell people that they have achieved adoption of an incredible resolution – they have achieved nothing. These people fight against the state… People know the reality… and they [UNM] are marginalizing themselves every day… Their reintegration into the society will be very difficult, so I call on them to stop this partisan struggle against their own state and people; what they are doing is damaging for the country; they fail to harm us by doing it, but they are damaging the state,” Garibashvili told journalists on October 2.
Giga Bokeria, a foreign secretary of the UNM party, said that PM’s such reaction was not a surprise. He said that Garibashvili’s rhetoric is similar to the one of “representatives of the authoritarian regimes, like Putin and others, for whom criticism from Europe amounts to state treason and action against the state, and who think that they are the state and fail to differentiate between the government and the country.”