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HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE CONSIDERS REPORT OF GEORGIA

HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE CONSIDERS REPORT OF GEORGIA
11 July 2014

The Human Rights Committee today completed its consideration of the fourth periodic report of Georgia on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.   

Presenting the report, Tea Tsulukiani, Minister of Justice of Georgia, said that in April 2014, Georgia had, for the first time, adopted a seven-year National Human Rights Strategy.  In May 2014, the Law on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination had been adopted, while the process of de-politicization of the police and transformation of the Ministry of Internal Affairs into a community-oriented organization had been among the main Government priorities since 2012.  A special strategy and action plan to support tolerance and national integration were in place.

During the discussion, Committee Experts asked questions about the application of the Covenant in Georgia’s judiciary, treatment of prisoners and conditions in prisons, corporal punishment,  plea bargaining and low acquittal rates, applicability of laws in the occupied Georgian territories, rights of ethnic, religious and sexual minorities, and the representation of women in public and private spheres.  Accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 2008 conflict, as well as responsibility for torture and inhuman treatment, were discussed at length. 

In concluding remarks, Nigel Rodley, Chairman of the Committee, said that a lot had been achieved under the current Minister of Justice over the previous two years.  Work remained to be done, which was acknowledged by the delegation, especially when it came to balancing impartiality with impunity.  Very serious ill-treatment problems ought not to be repeated, sometimes in response to political dissent. 

Ms. Tsulukiani, in her concluding remarks, stated that the presence of the broad-based delegation was a sign that human rights were at the centre of the current Government’s reforms, which had, unfortunately, not been the case with previous Governments.  Many members of the delegation were former human rights lawyers and defenders, and were committed to correcting the wrongs of the past and ensuring better conditions for the future.

The delegation of Georgia included representatives of the Ministry of Justice, Parliament of Georgia, Ministry of Corrections, Ministry of Education and Science, Office of State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality, Personal Data Protection Inspector, Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Chief Prosecutor’s Office,  State Fund for Protection and Assistance of Victims of Human Trafficking, Supreme Court, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of Georgia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.


The next public meeting of the Committee will take place on Monday, 14 July at 10 a.m., when it will start considering the fourth periodic report of Ireland (CCPR/C/IRL/4).   


Report

The fourth periodic report of Georgia can be read here (CCPR/C/GEO/4).


Introduction of the Report

TEA TSULUKIANI, Minister of Justice of Georgia, presenting the report, said that in April 2014, Georgia had adopted for the first time a National Human Rights Strategy through an inclusive process, which defined a seven-year policy in the field of human rights.  The main goal of the strategy was to consolidate “institutional democracy” and ensure a consistent Government policy of Georgia in the field of human rights.  The National Human Rights Action Plan for 2014-2015 had been adopted a month ago, covering concrete activities to be undertaken by responsible agencies. 

In May 2014, the Law on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination had been adopted, after being reviewed by a number of relevant international bodies, whose feedback had been largely reflected in the law.  Under the law, temporary special measures had been introduced to accelerate de facto equality.  The Government had also continued its reforms to build institutional safeguards of independence from any outside interference, reconstituting the High Council of Justice, where politicians were no longer present.  The principle of life tenure for judges was going to be implemented. 

After the parliamentary election of 2012, the process of de-politicization of the police and transformation of the Ministry of Internal Affairs into a community-oriented organization had been among the main Government priorities.  In October 2013, a new Law on Police had been adopted, setting high human rights protection standards in line with international standards.  Since November 2012, not a single incident of human rights violations had been reported.  Overcrowding of prisons had been effectively addressed, with the number of prisoners reduced by 60 per cent, and living conditions for prisoners had been significantly improved.  Mortality among prisoners had been reduced six times.  Since 2014, the main focus was on psycho-social rehabilitation and re-socialization of prisoners.

The Law on Personal Data Protection had entered into force in May 2012, while the Personal Data Protection Inspector of Georgia had been selected through competition and appointed by the Prime Minister in July 2013.  Further strengthening of the institution was underway. 

During the reporting period, Georgia had ratified a number of international treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, and the Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.

In meeting its human rights obligations in the occupied regions of Georgia, the Government was faced with major challenges, which had been made worse by the installation of barbwire fences along the occupation line.  Up to half a million internally displaced persons and refugees continued to be deprived of their fundamental right to safe and dignified return.  The Government provided medical treatment to any patients from the occupied regions.  The Government, together with its international partners, had intensified efforts to assist the population living close to the barbed wires. 

In May 2014, the Prime Minister had founded a special agency to help and finance religious communities and ethnic minorities other than Orthodox Georgians.  A special strategy and action plan to support tolerance and national integration were in place.  The responsibility to implement the components within the Action Plan was allocated to various State agencies. 

Questions by Experts

An Expert asked for examples of the application of the Covenant in domestic courts.  In what context did Georgian courts refer to the Covenant?

Could the delegation explain in more detail how the views and recommendations of the Committee might be implemented domestically?

While Georgia had an energetic and capable Ombudsman, it seemed that the budget provided to that office was very limited.  Could more information be provided on that?

The Expert wanted to know more about practical experiences with the implementation of the engagement strategy in the occupied territories.  Humanitarian access could be authorized through entry points not recognized by the Government, but how did that work in practice?  Were children born in the occupied territories registered legally?

Did the Ombudsman have the possibility to monitor laws and the right to seek remedy in courts?  What kind of measures were implemented against offenders, and were they strict enough to ensure prevention of repeated discrimination?

A question was asked on the Criminal Code and whether it covered the issue of political discourse and media when they included hate speech.

The Expert raised the issue of the maltreatment of prisoners in several prisons, and the remedies provided to the victims.  How about remedies provided to victims of torture?

How was Georgia going to address the issue of the under-representation of women in Parliament?  How would Georgia mitigate gender gaps when it came to economic employment?

Abortion seemed to be a major birth control method in Georgia.  How was Georgia going to promote sexual and reproductive health in rural areas?

An Expert asked how Georgia would work on the integration of its ethnic minority women.  Proper legislation on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons was lacking – what was the Government planning to do to prevent that population from being marginalized?

The issue of sexual crimes in the armed conflict in 2008 was raised by another Expert.  What had been done to investigate such crimes, and why had the perpetrators not been brought to justice?

Domestic violence often took the form of psychological violence.  Were such offences and conjugal rape defined and legally prohibited?

Was child marriage prohibited, the Expert asked.  A number of young girls had reportedly dropped out of school due to marriage. 

Had any progress been made on investigating war crimes committed during the 2008 conflict?  Had there been any prosecutions?

The role of judges in combatting torture in line with new criminal procedures was brought up by another Expert.  Judges were under the obligation to act if an allegation of torture was brought up.  Could more information be provided on sentences issued for those convicted of torture?  Were plea agreements allowed when prosecuting cases of torture? 

The Government of Georgia ought to be praised for promoting conditions in prisons.  Had disciplinary measures been taken against those responsible for ill-treatment or torture in prisons?  The Ombudsman had suggested setting up a special group for dealing with such cases – could more information be provided on that?

Another Expert raised the issue of corporal punishment, which seemed not to be perceived as domestic violence in Georgia.  Which measures had been taken to eradicate corporal punishment in all settings, including at home?

Response by the Delegation

A delegate said that the provisions of the Covenant had been applied in numerous court cases.  The Covenant had been specifically and directly referred to in 10 cases.  The Constitutional Court of Georgia had applied the Covenant in five cases, including conscientious objection to military service and prisoners’ rights.  The High School of Justice of Georgia, the main training body for judges, had included a course on the Covenant in its curriculum.

A department within the Ministry of Justice was dealing with violations of different international instruments.  Once the European Court of Human Rights gave a decision on the merits of the case, domestic courts of general jurisdiction had a duty to reopen the case and review its circumstances.  The Ministry of Justice was working on including other international bodies, whose views and opinions would be implemented as well along the same procedures as for the European Court.

The budget for the office of the Ombudsman of Georgia had more than doubled over the previous six years.  It should continue to further increase over time. 

Any acts passed by the de facto authorities in the occupied territories were invalid.  Any elections held there and any authorities in those areas were considered as illegitimate, both by Georgia and the wider international community.  Regarding births, a certificate from the hospital was the only required document, and children born in the occupied territories would not be discriminated against in that regard.  The health system covered all citizens of Georgia, including those living in the occupied territories.  Agricultural programmes were applicable to any interested farmers, regardless of where they were living.  Free education was also provided for students from the entire territory of the country.

The Anti-Discrimination Law had been drafted in a wide consultative process, and had overcome opposition by patriarchal and conservative circles.  It was a revolutionary legislation prohibiting direct and indirect discrimination in public and private sectors.  The next step would be the establishment of a separate inspectorate which would give mandatory opinions leading to fines for those who breached the law.

The law on media against racial discrimination prohibited hate speech in the media.

The Ministry of Social Care was shifting from medical to social model, expanding services for people with disabilities.  The universal health care programme provided a broad package of protection measures for disabled persons.  The first adopted unit for disabled prisoners had recently been opened. 

A delegate informed that in 2013, 48 staff members of different penitentiary institutions had been prosecuted for criminal offences, including a former head of one prison.  In 2014, eight persons had been prosecuted for inhumane treatment. 

Complaint books existed in penitentiary institutions, and procedures were in place to review complaints of prisoners.  The number of complaints over the previous three years had tripled, which was a sign that the fear to submit complaints had dwindled.  Prisoners were mostly asking for improved conditions.  Prisoners had the right to go on hunger strike, which was what one prisoner sent to life in prison had done recently.

In December 2012, Georgia had for the first time initiated a reinsertion programme for former prisoners.  Those former prisoners received additional training and were helped with employment. 

Approximately 4,000 students with special needs had access to special education, a delegate said.  Since 2013, integrated classes for children with special education needs had been created, including autistic children and those with impaired hearing.  

The percentage of women in the Parliament was 11 per cent, and there were four women Ministers out of 19.  Both numbers were an improvement compared to previous tenures.  More and more women were being promoted to the position of heads of departments.  In 2012, 45 per cent of workers in the public sector had been women, and the judiciary was quite gender balanced.  Single mothers were one of the categories subject to positive discrimination. 

On the access of ethnic minorities to education, a delegate said that the State language – Georgian – and the acquisition and protection of the minority’s peculiarity were simultaneously promoted.  Currently, 280 teachers were deployed in minority schools.  Teaching materials had been delivered to those schools for free.  An introduction of a quota system was to be introduced in higher education institutions. 

In the scope of the universal health care system, every woman was provided with a broad range of prenatal and other services across the country.  Abortion rates had dramatically decreased, but still remained high, while access to contraception had improved.  Unmet needs for family planning had decreased at the same time.  Some nine per cent of women who had had abortions were suspected of having performed a sex-selective abortion. 

Three State-funded shelters for victims of human trafficking existed across Georgia, each able to accommodate some 120 victims and provide a wide range of support services. 

Both women and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community constituted vulnerable groups of the society, a delegate noted.  Sexual orientation and gender identity were listed as protective grounds in the Anti-Discrimination Law.  Special measures were not regarded as discrimination.  The Constitutional Court had recently decided to repeal several health care acts banning blood donation by homosexuals.  State shelters were open to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons as well.  These persons were still facing problems in daily life due to predominant cultural attitudes, but the Government was adamant about the promotion and protection of their rights.

While sexual harassment was not yet criminalized, by virtue of signing the Istanbul Convention, the Government had committed to eliminating that problem in all contexts.

Two investigations had taken place into war crimes, crimes against humanity and other offences committed in the 2008 war.  The investigations had not been finished, as it was difficult to collect evidence or conduct interviews on the other side of the administrative border.  Possible perpetrators included Russian, Georgian and local paramilitary soldiers, and a comprehensive investigation would need to cover all three sides. 

Physical violence, even if it did not cause injuries, was criminalized.  The Criminal Code of Georgia considered rape as a grave crime, and the relationship of the perpetrator and the victim had no impact on the crime, which meant that it was applicable to marital rape.  Coercion to sexual intercourse or any sexual interaction with a minor under 16 were also criminalized.

Resorting to any violence against pupils in schools was impermissible.  Teachers were prohibited from physically punishing pupils or exerting mental pressure on them.  Psychological assistance was provided to victims of bullying, while interviewing techniques were used to identify juveniles susceptible to committing crimes.

The head of delegation said that plea bargaining had been introduced to the Georgian system in 2004.  Plea bargaining could be concluded between the prosecutor and the suspect if the latter was particularly cooperative with the investigation.  In such cases, the cooperative suspect might be found guilty, but not sentenced.   Plea bargaining was not possible in any alleged cases of torture. 

The establishment of an institution to investigate crimes committed by police officers or law enforcement officials was among the State party’s human rights challenges.  An inter-ministerial committee and a task force bringing together a number of institutions were all brought together to discuss the establishment of such a body.
Investigations into the death of two persons in the course of the protests on 26 May 2011 were underway. 

Questions by Experts

An Expert asked what kind of distinction was made between the abuse of power in office and torture.  Why were some of the officials suspected of the abuse of power still in leading positions?  Was psychological rehabilitation provided to former victims of torture?

Another Expert returned to the issue of abortion.  Why had the waiting period been prolonged from three to five days, which was contrary to the recommendations of the World Health Organization?  How were conscientious objections by medical staff dealt with, and how could the State guarantee that women still had unrestricted access to abortion?

Response by the Delegation

It was explained that if the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg made a judgment on a case, the Ministry of Justice would arrange that the case went anew before a criminal court, which was obliged to reopen the case.  The Strasbourg court and other international bodies’ decisions would be able to be directly executed once the law was amended.

In 2013, 48 employers of penitentiaries had been convicted, most for inhuman treatment and torture.

Regarding abortion, the delegation explained that Georgia was facing a huge demographic problem and its population was declining.  It was noted that the first reaction of many unmarried pregnant women was often to abort, especially in rural, conservative areas.  The decision to extend the waiting period from three to five days had been adopted so that such women would have more time for reflection.  After five days of reflection, they would have free access to abortion if they still wanted to do it, and there had been no reported cases of doctors refusing to perform it. 

Answering the question on rehabilitation of victims of torture, it was explained that the penitentiary health care system’s budget had recently increased by 100 per cent, while the number of prisoners had decreased by 60 per cent.  More psychiatrists had been hired, and the focus on suicide prevention had increased.  The universal health care system in Georgia fully covered the needs of the medical rehabilitation of victims. 

Questions by Experts

An Expert expressed concern over administrative detention, which was limited to the maximum of 90 days, while councillors seemed not to be present at preliminary hearings, and the access to evidence and witnesses was limited. 

The issue of low acquittal rates was also raised.  The power to review seemed to be very limited when it came to jury trials. 

There were also examples of pressure on people to enter into plea bargaining, especially in cases of drug trafficking, where there should be a zero tolerance policy.  How was the Government planning to address past cases, when people claimed to have been victims of coercion?

There had been allegations that some high level cases, such as against the former Mayor of Tbilisi, had been politically motivated – could the delegation comment on that?

What were the release criteria for inmates, another Expert asked.  Was there infrastructure in place for disabled inmates?  Was it true that there were many drug-addicted inmates?

Was the reform of the juvenile justice system being implemented throughout the country, and what was its impact? 

An Expert wanted to know if internally displaced persons had access to appeal procedures when their right to housing was not respected.  Did Georgia pay compensation if the access to the land and property left behind was not possible?

The issue of return of property confiscated from religious communities was raised and an explanation sought.  Did the Georgian Orthodox Church enjoy a preferential tax treatment and direct payments from the State?  How about cases of harassment of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Catholic Church? 

The question of minorities was raised by another Expert.  Were the minorities allowed to communicate with the bureaucracy in their own languages?  Were there any textbooks printed for the use of minority educators?  Moldovan and Armenian minorities were particularly mentioned.

On the right to life and health of Roma, the Expert asked if there were any premises where Roma could find shelter?  Had Roma men been subjected to illegal detention and subsequently released without justification? 

Response by the Delegation

It was explained that the previous Government had increased the time of administrative detention to

90 days.   There was a proposal in place to decrease the period to 15 days, which should soon be adopted.  Civil society was asking that administrative detention be abolished altogether.  From 2012 to 2014, the length of the administrative custody had significantly decreased in practice, to around 20 days.  Very small numbers of people were detained during mass demonstrations nowadays.

The reform of the judiciary was taking place in stages.  Individual judges continued to be strengthened.  The juvenile justice code was a draft law prepared by the Ministry of Justice with UNICEF and European Union help.  Georgian judges today still dealt with both juvenile and adult offenders.  There was a need for a new method of sending judges to missions to remote areas of Georgia, which would be dealt with in the third wave of judicial reform. 

A delegate stated that the current acquittal rates stood at some 600 out of 30,000 cases.  Liberalization of the Criminal Code had taken place and the dynamic of the acquittal rates was gradually changing.  In the past, such rates had been 0.01 per cent, which was catastrophic. 

The jury system was quite new to Georgia, as it had not been part of the State’s legal culture.  The expert circles were divided over the issue of the jury system, which some saw as totally alien to Georgia.  Right now there was only one level of jurisdiction, which meant that cases could not be reviewed on merits.

The plea bargaining system in Georgia would not be abolished, but reformed.  It would need to stop being the system of gathering money from citizens.  Official minutes of the negotiations would need to be kept, which would leave no room for arbitrariness.  When a judge disapproved of the plea bargaining agreement, justification should be provided to the prosecution.

The delegation explained that the zero tolerance approach had ended in all other cases in 2012,  except for the drug policy.  Those who used drugs without being dealers needed special medical care.  The notion of commercial amount would be introduced, and harsher measures against them would be implemented.  Additional services in the penitentiary system would also be provided.  Information was given that Georgia had not updated its drug regulations since the 1990s, and now was the time to work on that.  The Ministry of Health had doubled its drug-related budget in 2014. 

Reasons of arrest were explained to the detained person.  In detention facilities, posters on procedural rights were posted in five different languages.  A detainee had the right to contact a lawyer at any given time; confidentiality of their meetings was always ensured. 

Since October 2012, the Prosecutor’s Office had received 52,000 complaints on injustice or unfair treatment by the judiciary during the 10 years of the previous regime.  In 12,000 cases people were demanding re-investigation of their cases on different grounds, while 1,400 were asking for the review of their court judgment.  By the end of the summer, a full picture should be known about all the alleged injustices.  Potential compensation might amount to multiple billions of lari.

Violence-based crimes and corruption-based crimes were the two categories investigated against previous officials.  The 26 May 2011 demonstrations  had led to several deaths and severe torture of dozens of imprisoned citizens, for which the then Minister of the Interior had been charged.  The former Mayor of Tbilisi  and the former Minister of Defence were facing corruption charges, including extortion of property and using the illegal money for political financing and personal gains. 

There was a constitutional agreement – concordat  – between the State and the Orthodox Church of Georgia, which had the same value as the Constitution of Georgia.  It did not give any privileges to the Orthodox Church, but defined the historical role of the Church.  Non-interference of either party into each other’s affairs was also stressed. 

A commission  was in place charged with the cases of terminally ill, elderly or disabled prisoners.  More than 2,400 had been released under the “early conditional release” system in 2013. 

The delegation explained that a new hospital with a dedicated floor for disabled persons had been recently opened in a penitentiary.  Conditions were provided for independent living, with continuing care for prisoners with both mental and physical disabilities. 

There were only 60 juvenile offenders in prisons nowadays, compared to 300 two years ago.  Ensuring the proper treatment of juveniles was among the priorities of the Prosecutor’s Office; efforts were underway through the diversion and mediation programme.  In 2012, 20 per cent of the juveniles subject to diversion had been diverted, while the percentage in 2014 so far stood at 40 per cent.  The number of detained juveniles had also decreased significantly over the previous two years.

A delegate said that each internally displaced family was evaluated based on a number of criteria, after which a ranking list was created for receiving housing units.  All the information, including the list, was available on the internet, giving applicants a chance to submit complaints.  Vulnerable families were given a priority.  Internally displaced persons also had the right to complain about the quality of housing, after which construction companies were asked to rectify the identified disadvantages. 

Access to micro-grant, vocational training and other kinds of support were provided to internally displaced persons.  On the land issue, Georgia was cooperating with the World Bank to identify free land around settlements for internally displaced persons, with a view of finding ways to provide long-term solutions for them.  The budget for the housing was continuously increasing, and the new law envisaged that they could own their hitherto temporary housing, and keep ownership rights even when they returned to their previous habitats.

Religious organizations, while registered as legal entities under public law, enjoyed full autonomy. 

Their religious nature was now explicitly acknowledged.  A number of Armenian churches, synagogues and mosques  had been restored and protected.  The exact scope of damage done to various religious communities under the Soviet regime was not fully known, which was why reparations provided to them by the State were largely symbolic.  The authorities would always carry out the demolition of illegally built religious structures, which had been a case with a minaret that was constructed overnight in a local village. 

It was stated that there was a parliamentary committee in place to monitor the protection of human rights by various State bodies.  After the adoption of the amnesty act, more than 60 per cent of Georgian prisoners had been released.  Political prisoners had all been released, in line with the regulations of the Council of Europe.

Questions by Experts

An Expert referred to selective justice, saying that the timing for bringing some of the former officials
to justice had coincided with former election cycles.  Had the State party considered that those cases could affect  the degree of trust that the judiciary enjoyed.

Response by the Delegation

A delegate said that one of the arrests had taken place now because the suspect was about to leave the country.  Some of the charges were indeed open-ended, as the investigations were not yet over.  The image of the judiciary might be an issue, but the Government and the Parliament were taking necessary steps to improve it.  The delegation would be happy to provide any additional information on charges and evidence.


Concluding Remarks

TEA TSULUKIANI, Minister of Justice of Georgia, thanked the Committee and said that the presence of the broad-based delegation was a sign that human rights were at the centre of the current Government’s reforms, which had, unfortunately, not been the case with previous Governments.  Reports of Georgia would only become better with time.  Many members of the delegation  were former human rights lawyers and defenders, and were committed to correcting the wrongs of the past and ensuring better conditions for the future. 


NIGEL RODLEY, Chairman of the Committee, said that a lot had been achieved under the current Minister of Justice over the previous two years.  Work remained to be done, which was acknowledged by the delegation, especially when it came to balancing impartiality with impunity.  Very serious ill-treatment problems ought not to be repeated, sometimes in response to political dissent.  The Committee was optimistic about the application of the Covenant by Georgia.


For use of the information media; not an official record

CT14/020E