In Dialogue with Georgia, Experts of Human Rights Committee Welcome New Mechanism for Responding to Views

OHCHR

The Human Rights Committee this morning concluded its consideration of the fifth periodic report of Georgia on how it implements the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, with Committee Experts welcoming a new mechanism for responding to treaty bodies’ Views on individual complaints, and raising issues concerning elections.

A Committee Expert welcomed 2016 amendments to the Civil, Criminal and Administrative Procedure Codes, which facilitated the implementation of the Views adopted by the Committee and other United Nations human rights treaty bodies. In the case of a finding of a violation by the Committee, could a national court reopen the case and ensure the adequate implementation of the View? Which national institution was entrusted with the follow-up to concluding observations?

An Expert also noted that the Georgian Dream party had held power since its founding in 2012. Transparency International had reported that the identity of voters was recorded during elections and votes were frequently bought. How was the State party ensuring the secrecy and security of the voting process?

Beka Dzamashvili, Deputy Minister of Justice of Georgia, and head of the delegation, introducing the report, said that Georgia had elaborated its second Human Rights Strategy for the period of 2022-2030 with the active involvement of all stakeholders. Georgia had established solid oversight mechanisms over its Government. Judicial reforms implemented since 2013 had created institutional safeguards for the independence and accountability of individual judges and the judiciary. The number of cases before domestic courts had increased 110 per cent between 2013 and 2021. That demonstrated that trust in local institutions and the judiciary at the national level had improved significantly.

On elections, the delegation said that, as part of recent reforms to the electoral system, a platform for voicing complaints about election proceedings had been established; punishments for vote-buying had been increased; and punishments had been introduced for violating the secrecy of ballots. The incumbent party had collaborated with the opposition in development of those changes. The State had also simplified procedures for identifying voters using an electronic system.

In concluding remarks, Mr. Dzamashvili expressed gratitude to all Committee Experts for the dialogue. Georgia had made great progress in promoting human rights, he said, as indicated by the State party’s latest report. The State party would take all recommendations from the Committee on board, and translate them into national action plans and strategies.

Photini Pazartzis, Committee Chairperson, in concluding remarks, acknowledged the State Party’s commitment to human rights and its national strategies promoting those rights. Ms. Pazartzis called on the State party to implement all of the Committee’s recommendations, which would address many of the issues discussed during the dialogue.

The delegation of Georgia was made up of representatives of the Ministry of Justice; Committee of Parliament; Advisor on Human Rights to the Prime Minister; Ministry of Internal Affairs; Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labour, Health and Social Affairs; Office of the State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality; General Prosecutor’s Office; State Security Service; Special Investigation Service; Personal Data Protection Service; High Council of Justice; Tbilisi City Court; Georgian National Communications Commission; Central Election Commission; and the Permanent Mission of Georgia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Human Rights Committee’s one hundred and thirty-fifth session is being held from 27 June to 27 July. All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. Meeting summary releases can be found here. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed via the UN Web TV webpage.

The Committee is next scheduled to meet in public at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 7 July, to consider the fourth periodic report of Hong Kong (Special Administrative Region of China) (CCPR/C/CHN-HKG/4).

Presentation of the Report

BEKA DZAMASHVILI, Deputy Minister of Justice of Georgia, and head of the delegation, said that in 2014, Georgia had adopted its first National Human Rights Strategy and accompanying action plans. The Strategy aimed at consolidating institutional democracy, introduced a human rights-based approach for State authorities and required the State to respect, protect and promote human rights. Georgia had elaborated its second Human Rights Strategy for the period of 2022-2030 with the active involvement of all stakeholders.

Georgia had established solid oversight mechanisms over its Government. The Government submitted reports to Parliament regarding the implementation of the Human Rights Strategy; the Public Defender reported to Parliament every year; Government institutions were obligated to implement and report on recommendations of the Ombudsman to the Parliament; and all reports of international human rights bodies were now subject to parliamentary scrutiny. The Government was working to strengthen the Office of the Public Defender, whose approved budget this year was double its level in 2017.

Ongoing occupation of regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia by the Russian Federation remained a key challenge in terms of protection of human rights. Brutal killings of ethnic Georgians including Davit Basharuli, Giga Otkhozoria and Archil Tatunashvili, as well as the death of Irakli Kvaratskhelia in illegal detention at the Russian military base in Abkhazia region, were examples of ethnically driven violence and growing impunity. Hundreds of thousands had been expelled from the occupied regions and were unable to return to their homes. The Russian Federation was also blocking international human rights bodies from entering the territories. In 2021, the European Court of Human Rights confirmed Russia’s responsibility for killing, torture, ill-treatment, and arbitrary detention of Georgian civilians and military personnel, looting and burning of houses of Georgians and inhumane treatment of the Georgian population. The Government of Georgia was using all available instruments to address the human rights abuses in the occupied regions. It was implementing programmes aiming at improving the humanitarian and socio-economic conditions of people in the occupied territories.

Judicial reforms implemented since 2013 had created institutional safeguards for the independence and accountability of individual judges and the judiciary. 10 years ago, about 4,000 applications were pending against Georgia in the European Court of Human Rights. By March 31, 2022, the Court was considering only 154 applications, the lowest historic number for Georgia. The number of cases before domestic courts had increased 110 per cent between 2013 and 2021. That demonstrated that trust in local institutions and the judiciary at the national level had improved significantly. Prosecutorial powers vested previously in the Minister of Justice had been transferred to the Chief Prosecutor of Georgia. In 2018, the prosecution service became fully independent. In 2019, the independent State Inspector’s Service was created to investigate specific crimes committed by law enforcement officers and civil servants. In 2021, two independent State agencies were established: the State Investigative Service and Personal Data Protection Service.

Georgian authorities continued to implement the 2014 Anti-Discrimination Law, which banned all forms of discrimination both in the public and the private sector. Both the Ombudsperson’s Office and domestic courts examined discrimination cases on the basis of that law.

Regarding protection of children, in 2015 the Juvenile Justice Code had been adopted. It defined criminal procedures involving minors, prioritised the best interests of minors, and imposed detention as a last-resort measure. The implementation of that code had led to a large decrease in juvenile prisoners. In 2019, a stand-alone Code on the Rights of the Child was also adopted. In 2017, Georgia had ratified the Istanbul Convention and harmonised Georgian legislation with the standards of that Convention.

To improve safeguards for the protection of people with disabilities, Georgia had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its optional protocol respectively in 2014 and 2021.

Questions from Committee Experts

A Committee Expert welcomed 2016 amendments to the Civil, Criminal and Administrative Procedure Codes, which facilitated the implementation of the Views adopted by the Committee and other United Nations human rights treaty bodies in cases of individual complaints about human rights violations. In the case of a finding of a violation by the Committee, could a national court re-open the case and ensure the adequate implementation of the View? Which national institution was entrusted with the follow-up to concluding observations?

There were several national action plans in place-plans for protecting human rights, combating violence against women, and implementing the United Nations Security Council resolution on women, peace and security. What had been achieved by those action plans? Had assessments of their implementation been carried out? When would the second National Human Rights Strategy for 2021-2030 be adopted, and was it accompanied by an action plan?

In January 2021, the Public Defender’s Office, for security purposes, had suspended monitoring by its national preventive mechanism, until appropriate assurances of safety were provided. Has that work resumed? What had the State authorities done to ensure the safety of officials from the Public Defender’s Office, and implement the Office’s recommendations?

What had the State party done to support the individuals subjected to human rights violations in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and to ensure some degree of accountability where possible, especially concerning potential violations of the right to life? What progress had been made in the search for missing persons? What support had been provided to the families of the missing? What were the results of the peace initiative entitled “A Step towards a Better Future” launched by the Georgian Government in April 2018? What was the State’s progress in allowing international and local organizations to access the regions?

Georgia had prolonged COVID-19 pandemic restrictions until January 1, 2022, according to the State report. Were those restrictions, such as a curfew from 9pm to 5am, still in place? Had pandemic mitigation measures led to any backlog of cases pending before Georgian courts? Georgia had a two-dose vaccination rate of about 47-50 per cent for the population over age 18. What measures had the State party taken to ensure that vaccination of the population was conducted as efficiently as possible? What types of vaccines were available? What measures had the State party taken to support persons who were not in Tbilisi-controlled areas in accessing health services? Had health information been translated into minority languages?

Another Committee Expert asked how the State party ensured that public offices combatted corruption. What were the results of the 2019 National Risk Assessment on public sector corruption? Did the State party plan to create an independent investigative agency on corruption? 2,978 corruption cases had been investigated by the Prosecution Service from 2016 to 2020. How many of those cases related to high-ranking officials? How had the “Anti-Corruption Interagency Coordination Council” worked to counter corruption? How were officials who regularly failed to file asset declarations monitored? What proportion of public officials required to file asset declarations actually did so? What steps were taken to investigate Piran Gogichaishvili, a former Borjomi City Councillor whose company had been granted 50 public procurement contracts, and Otar Partskhaladze, a former Chief Prosecutor to whom property was unlawfully transferred? What steps would be taken to ensure transparent management of the National Agency of State Property?

Killings and torture were rampant during and after the 2008 armed conflict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The Expert expressed concern about the lack of progress in investigations of those incidents. What was the status of investigations? What redress or compensation had been provided to victims?

Former President Mr. Mikheil Saakashvili was to be tried for an illegal border crossing. The Public Defender’s office had criticised the conduct of his detention and trial. How would the State party guarantee that Mr. Saakashvili’s trial would be fair?

What punishment did law enforcement officers who used excessive force during the 2006 prison riots in Tblisi prison number 5 receive? Had compensation been provided to the victims of excessive force during the riots? The use of excessive force by prison guards was routine. How would the State party ensure effective investigations of such incidents, and suitable training for officers to prevent the use of excessive force in the future? Why had there been an unreasonable delay in investigations of cases of violent dispersals of peaceful assemblies? How would the State party compensate those who were injured?

In January 2022, the Georgian President signed a law abolishing the State Inspector’s Service. Why was that effective service abolished? Would the State consult with civil society to ensure the functional independence of the bodies that replaced the State Inspector’s Service in March 2022, the Special Investigation Service and the Personal Data Protection Service? What oversight existed for those bodies? Why were cases brought against public officials for torture tried for the lesser offence of “exceeding official power”? A State Security Service operation had resulted in the brutal killing of 19-year-old Temirlan Machalikashvili. How would the State party ensure that law enforcement officials were held accountable for the violation of Mr. Machalikashvili’s human rights?

Another Committee Expert called for information on the enforcement of recommendations issued by the Office of the Public Defender. Did the Office have any input into legislation preventing crimes against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community, or monitor the implementation of similar laws? What measures had been taken to provide the Office with sufficient resources? How would the Human Rights Protection and Quality Monitoring Department improve the quality of its investigations on hate crimes? How many such investigations were carried out?

What measures were in place to address social stigmatisation of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community by politicians, public officials, and religious figures, in public and in the media? What was the number of reported cases of hate crimes on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, and how many of those had led to an investigation?

Another Committee Expert commended the State Party on efforts taken to raise human rights awareness, reduce human rights violations and provide a better legal framework for the protection of human rights.

20 per cent of Members of Parliament were women, a commendable improvement for the State. However, no local self-government elections had been held to allow women in Georgia to occupy positions of leadership. When would local self-government elections take place, and what measures would be implemented to encourage the participation of women? What other such measures were in place in legislative and executive bodies at the national, regional and local levels?

Had the Human Rights Protection and Quality Monitoring Department identified any sexual harassment offences, and had sanctions been issued to offenders? What was the number of complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace received during the reporting period, and their outcomes? What steps had been taken to address the high level of tolerance and acceptance of intimate partner violence; to strengthen law enforcement officers’ response to cases of violence against women; and to provide appropriate support to victims and their families? What role had the Ministry of Internal Affairs played in that regard? What was the State party doing to encourage victims of gender-based violence to report it and seek justice?

What steps had been taken to prevent and eradicate sex-selective abortion; to improve access to safe and affordable abortion services, contraceptives and other reproductive health care; to implement programmes on sexual and reproductive health education; and to reduce the high maternal mortality rate?

Another Expert said that administrative detention was still regulated by a 1984 Code. How was the duration of detention regulated by the State? Did detainees have the right to appeal their detention? Detainees had reportedly been advised by police officers to not call a lawyer. In 2019, 1,802 persons were arrested for an administrative offense. What was the number of administrative detentions in 2020 and 2021?

How many complaints of ill-treatment of detainees and prisoners had effectively been processed recently, and how many had led to a formal indictment? What actions had been taken in order or reduce inter-prisoner violence?

The Expert welcomed amendments to the Law of Georgia on Narcotic Drugs, which recently defined eight substances under special control. Were people charged with drug offenses provided with appropriate legal protections?

Responses by the Delegation

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the public defender’s office had been allowed to continue carrying out its mandate, the delegation said.

Several strategies and action plans were in place, including the National Human Rights Strategy. The process of updating that strategy was ongoing. It included indicators to assess its implementation. The Government hoped that the strategy would be approved by Parliament soon. International stakeholders had been consulted in drafting that plan, and civil society had been invited to provide comments.

Action plans on violence against women and domestic violence had been shared with civil society and the Public Defender’s Office. Stand-alone budgets had been earmarked for those strategies.

A process for deliberating the recommendations of the Public Defender’s Office in Parliament had been implemented in 2013. Only 10 per cent of recommendations were considered by Parliament as acceptable in 2015, but that increased to 91 per cent in 2020. The number of recommendations issued by the Office had increased significantly over the past few years, and that was why there was a delay in responding to some recommendations.

The Government was using all legal mechanisms to address human rights violations occurring in occupied territories. Georgia was working with the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide support to internally displaced persons. The delegation called on the Committee to appeal to the Russian Federation to allow international organizations to access the occupied territories.

The Government’s strategy on the occupied territories focused on dialogue with people living there. A peace fund had been established which funded programmes that facilitated trade and business operations with the occupied territories.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, necessary restrictions had been imposed. A state of emergency had been declared for a short period of time. Georgia had reported all derogations of human rights to the United Nations. Currently, there were no restrictions of human rights in place in the State.

Courts had adjudicated cases without oral hearings when possible during the COVID-19 pandemic, and an electronic case registration system had been opened for free use. Thanks to those measures, the backlog of cases in courts did not increase significantly during the pandemic.

Medications had been provided via mail to persons who were not able to visit medical institutions during the pandemic. Financial support for receiving medical care was also provided to vulnerable groups. Georgia had mobilised about 2.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, and had received donations of vaccines from other States. During the pandemic, ethnic minorities had been provided with access to printed and digital information in Armenian and Azerbaijani languages. Awareness-raising campaigns on COVID-19 had been conducted in villages with high populations of ethnic minorities.

The Prime Minister chaired an inter-agency council on combatting corruption. Georgia had also organised a convention on combatting corruption. Georgia was among the top 20 countries in Europe in terms of the transparency of public institutions, according to the Global Corruption Barometer. The Anti-Corruption Council and Secretariat had developed anti-corruption strategies and national action plans. The quality and transparency of public institutions had been improved, and Georgia had implemented an electronic procurement platform to allow for monitoring of procurement. There was also an electronic system for monitoring the application of the national budget.

The main agency which investigated corruption cases was the Chief Prosecutor’s Office. The Office worked with the Anti-Corruption Council and Secretariat. 2,978 cases of corruption had been investigated, and 1,800 persons had been convicted in those cases. In 2022, around 270 cases of corruption had been investigated. The rate of investigation had increased by over 20 per cent this year. Investigations had been brought against heads of municipalities and other high-level officials. Charges had been brought against those persons. The Anti-Corruption Agency had investigated the mayor of Borjomi municipality for accepting bribes. The mayor had been tried and convicted for that. Other public officials had been imprisoned for 12 years for accepting large bribes. Investigations into the 2008 armed conflict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia were ongoing at the International Criminal Court. Lawyers and the Ukrainian consulate had unimpeded access to former President Mikheil Saakashvili, and the Government was protecting his right to a free trial.

Three prison officials had been tried and convicted for torture and degrading treatment committed in 2012. Since 2012, similar cases had been brought against several prison officials, and many officials had been convicted. Two cases of ill-treatment in penitentiaries had been investigated in 2021. Cases of ill-treatment by police officers related to June 2021 events were under investigation.

The State Inspector’s Office had been reformed rather than abolished. Its successor institutions had broader mandates and mechanisms to expedite investigations. Non-Governmental organizations had called for the separation of those institutions. Both agencies were required to report annually to the Parliament.

Recommendations of the Public Defender’s Office were not legally binding, but were required to be examined by Parliament. The Office’s budget was increasing each year, and the Office was also eligible to receive donations. The rate of discrimination cases examined by the courts was increasing. Most cases related to alleged discrimination in the private sector.

Human rights education was prioritised in the national curriculum, and non-Governmental organizations and civil society contributed to the development of that curriculum.

Special investigators had been assigned to investigate cases of discrimination. The State was working on improving statistics on hate crimes. 24 persons had been prosecuted for crimes committed on the grounds of sexual identity.

Pride week was celebrated peacefully this year in Georgia, thanks to cooperation between the police and event organisers. Criminal actions had been initiated in regard to the violent events occurring at pride marches on 5 and 6 July 2021.

There were 30 women represented in Parliament currently, an increase from 19 members in 2018. There had also been a large increase in the number of female representatives in local government.

Sexual harassment in the workplace had been prohibited in labour legislation. In 2020 and 2021, sexual harassment mechanisms had been implemented in nine State institutions. Comprehensive training against sexual harassment had been carried out in State institutions and for police officers.

The Government was considering changing its definition of rape within legislation. The national statistics office was conducting a time use survey to identify how men and women spent paid and unpaid time. That survey would inform future mechanisms to support women’s access to labour markets and childcare.

A new code on administrative detention was being developed. From 1 November 2019 to the present, seven cases related to administrative detention had been investigated. Those cases included alleged violence against detainees. Victims in those cases had full access to information about their cases and judicial safeguards. Prisoner violence was an issue that the Government was addressing. Access to a lawyer for administrative detainees was fully guaranteed. The total number of such detainees was currently around 4,000. The average term of imprisonment was five days.

Questions from Committee Experts

A Committee Expert asked how many internally displaced persons had been provided with State-sponsored accommodation. What measures were in place to ensure their right to housing? Reportedly, internally displaced persons were lodged by the State in schools that did not have running water or electricity. Monthly stipends provided to those individuals were also insufficient. In 2016, ten objectives had been set to improve the situation of internally displaced persons. What were these objectives? Which current measures were in place to guarantee the proper processing of applications for international protection?

There had been allegations of police authorities committing violent acts against children deprived of their liberty. Many children were also victims of violence within the home. Child marriage was also a major problem for the State. At least 17 per cent of girls married before age 18. Many families waited several years before declaring marriages in order to get around the law banning child marriage. Male partners were almost always considerably older than female partners. 92 per cent of births were officially declared, but registration rates differed among ethnic groups, with disadvantaged groups having lower rates. What measures were in place to address those issues? Were awareness-raising campaigns about child marriages and birth registration being conducted?

Another Committee Expert asked whether it was possible to appeal against a jury’s guilty verdict. Were there are any instances where sentences issued by the jury had been reversed? Which criteria were used for determining eligibility for free legal aid? A database of socially vulnerable households was used to identify beneficiaries of legal aid. What happened to vulnerable people who were not registered in that database?

What training had been provided to judicial officers working with juveniles? How successful had rehabilitation programmes been for juveniles in the justice system? Could children be interrogated without the presence of their guardians or defence lawyers? Was the level of participation by social workers and psychologists in juvenile court proceedings sufficient?

Another Committee Expert said that the Public Defender’s Office had criticised trials of Government opponents and critics, such as that of Nika Melia, the opposition party Chair, and of members of the governmental Commission on Delimitation and Demarcation, as being “politically motivated.” What concrete steps would the State party take to end politically motivated trials?

Judges did not always recuse themselves in situations of conflict of interest, such as in the 2019 trial of Nika Gvaramia, director of a TV channel critical of the Government. How would the State party ensure that judges followed guidelines on recusal and were held accountable if they did not? How many cases had been sent to mediation under the “Court Mediation Program” instead of going to court?

There was ongoing judicial reform in Georgia to increase accountability. However, the authority to select new judges remained with influential judges. How would the State party ensure that this power was not abused? What measures were being taken to increase the transparency of the judicial appointment process? The Independent Inspector investigated judicial disciplinary proceedings, but the High Council of Justice elected and dismissed the Independent Inspector. How would the State reduce the concentration of power in the High Council?

The “Georgian Dream” party had held power since its founding in 2012. Transparency International had reported that the identity of voters was recorded during elections and votes were frequently bought. How was the State party ensuring the secrecy and security of the voting process?

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