Georgia made “some progress” last year with “achievements notably” in human rights and “substantial progress” in the visa liberalisation process, according to the European Commission’s annual report assessing progress in EU’s neighborhood countries.
The progress reports, which review achievements made by countries within the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in 2014 and outlines areas and recommendations where further efforts are needed, was released by the European Commission on March 25.
Like the previous report, the recent one also calls on Georgia to ensure adequate separation of powers and checks and balances; improve the political climate by “avoiding political retribution, confrontation and polarisation and ensuring space for opposition”; to use pre-trial detention “only as an exceptional measure”; ensure the full independence of the judiciary; to increase the accountability and oversight of law enforcement agencies.
The report also calls on Georgia to tackle “illegal surveillance by revising the surveillance legislation in line with international standards” and in consultations with the Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal affairs, Venice Commission. In late January the Georgian Public Defender filed a lawsuit in the Constitutional Court against a clause in law on electronic communications, which allows the Interior Ministry to retain direct access to telecom operators’ networks.
Progress report on Georgia says that last year’s local elections were found to be in line with international standards, but it also notes that run-up to the elections was marked by polarisation.
“Most violations of freedom of assembly and association occurred in this period [of run-up to elections]. In addition to disruption of some opposition gatherings by ruling party supporters, authorities failed to protect opposition members from occasional violent attacks and/or to adequately investigate assaults on politically active individuals,” reads the report.
It says that the “lack of prompt and effective investigation of attacks on opposition figures risks sending the unfortunate signal that such assaults are tolerated.”
According to the report, media freedom “improved” and media ownership became more transparent. It also says that media environment “continued to improve” and became more diverse, albeit also more polarised.”
“Occasionally, authorities demonstrated a hostile attitude towards critical reporting by the media,” report reads.
The report says that the status of the prosecution service is “one of the most urgent issues to be decided.” It calls for ensuring that reform of the Prosecutor’s Office, announced by the government in December, is completed and that the office is “independent from political influence and is publicly accountable”.
On the judiciary, the report says that independence of this system in general “remained fragile.”
“Amendments made to the Law on Common Courts create the basis for judges to be more independent; however, a three-year probation period for judges prior to their life-term appointment remains problematic,” it says.
“The monitoring of high-profile cases did not reveal grave violations of due process during trials. In general, judges were said to have demonstrated greater diligence in ensuring standards of proof at different levels of proceedings in high-profile cases than in ordinary cases,” according to the report.
The report notes progress made in “improving the quality of the prison system, in particular in healthcare” and the prison mortality rate has “decreased significantly to a level comparable with some EU member states.”
“However, incidents of alleged ill treatment and violence continued and were noted by the Public Defender’s Office,” the report reads.
It says that although the Interior Ministry’s internal monitoring mechanism was improved and procedures for handling complaints upgraded, “the lack of accountability for abuses committed by law enforcement authorities remained a problem.”
The report notes that “despite controversy and prevailing social prejudices”, the Parliament adopted last year anti-discrimination law.
The report, however, says that “in general, the rights of minorities were not substantially improved.”
“Since 2012, the number of cases of intolerance against religious minorities has increased. In several cases Muslims have been prevented from gathering or praying. While senior officials, the PDO and NGOs publicly condemned these incidents, the relevant authorities failed to investigate them properly or prosecute offenders,” reads the report.
On Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the European Commission report says that the EU was expressing in its bilateral contacts with Russia that Moscow’s “alliance” treaties with Sokhumi and Tskhinvali were going against Georgia’s territorial integrity.
The report says that the Georgian government continued bilateral discussions with Russia, which “led to progress on trade, transport and cultural issues which the EU welcomed.”
It also says that Georgia continued to implement its strategy for engagement with the breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia by “taking steps, albeit modest ones, to make it more effective.”
“Ongoing efforts yielded positive results in the areas of healthcare provision and, to a lesser extent, educational opportunities,” reads the report.
“The EU also welcomed a positive change in rhetoric and language towards the breakaway regions. These efforts were widely appreciated,” it says.