Public Defender’s Statement on Necessity of Holding Talks to Resolve Political Crisis
The Public Defender of Georgia calls on both the ruling party and the opposition parties participating in the elections to immediately launch negotiations in order to find a way out of the political crisis caused by the election violations.
The Public Defender, as a constitutional body supervising the protection of the right to vote in the country, considers that apart from the violent incidents that took place during the October 31 elections, use of administrative resources, control of the will of voters on the election day, and attacks on observers and representatives of the media, serious problems were observed in the process of counting votes and summing up the results. Unfortunately, the election commissions did not respond properly to the substantive violations detected in the summary protocols during consideration of complaints, which deepened public outcry and distrust in the election process.
The shortcomings identified during the October 31 elections have created a political crisis in the country. The situation is further aggravated by the severe epidemiological situation and economic crisis caused by the global pandemic. Therefore, it is important to hold negotiations with all election entities in order to agree on a common legal and political solution. It is necessary to find ways to recount the results of disputed polling stations in a transparent manner and to ensure the fair conduct of the second round.
In view of the above, we call on the ruling and opposition parties to start negotiations as soon as possible and agree on an appropriate format in order to find a way out of the crisis. At the same time, the involvement of Georgia's strategic partners as well as independent monitoring organizations should be ensured to monitor and facilitate the process.
Public Defender Visits Mikheil Saakashvili
On March 19, 2023, Public Defender Levan Ioseliani visited third president of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili and 13 other prisoners who are also being treated at the VivaMedi clinic.
"The former president and I talked for almost an hour on various topics.
Since I am not a doctor and do not have the relevant qualifications, I will not go into the details of his medical condition, which is the competence of specialists.
However, I confirmed to him that all the monitoring mechanisms that the Public Defender has, including the medical council, would be maintained and that I would not hamper the process. I also told him that the Public Defender would continue to supervise his health within the scope of his mandate.
Of course, the condition of other prisoners being treated in this clinic is also important. They also have specific needs, which will be studied in more detail by the Public Defender's representatives in the future.
I wish all the prisoners to have good health and to be released soon", said the Public Defender.
Public Defender of Georgia Echoes March 7-9 Developments on Rustaveli Avenue
The Public Defender of Georgia Levan Ioseliani and his authorized persons were continuously monitoring the rallies held on March 7-9 against the draft laws initiated by People's Power in the Parliament of Georgia. The Public Defender and employees of the Public Defender’s Office made visits to various divisions, departments and temporary detention centers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia to meet the persons detained during the rallies.
The Public Defender of Georgia emphasizes that freedom of peaceful assembly is enshrined in the Constitution of Georgia. According to the definition of the UN Human Rights Committee, "violence" implies the use of physical force by participants against others that is likely to result in injury or death, or serious damage to property. Accordingly, according to the Committee, mere pushing and shoving do not amount to “violence”. At the same time, it is important that verbal or physical acts of aggression or violence by an individual or a small number of people does not remove the right of those who continue to act in a peaceful manner. In similar cases, any intervention should aim to deal with the particular individuals involved rather than dispersing the entire event.
Based on the mentioned international standards, continuous monitoring and the information and video recordings released by the media, the Public Defender of Georgia is presenting his evaluations to the public:
On the evening of March 7, the situation became tense after some of the participants in the assembly tried to approach one of the entrances to the Parliament building, the road to which was blocked by the law enforcement officers. This was followed by a statement from the Ministry of Internal Affairs that the assembly became violent, that there was an attempt to block one of the Parliament entrances and that there were incidents of violence against the employees of the Ministry. Soon, a small part of citizens moved towards the second entrance. Clashes occurred at both locations.
According to the Public Defender's assessment, at the time of the warning made by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia in the evening hours of March 7, 2023, the assembly had a peaceful character and there was no reason to terminate it or use force against it. As for the cases of violence by individual participants in the rally, if there were any, individual - necessary and proportionate measures should have been taken against them. Contrary to this, the law enforcement officers started using special equipment against the participants in the assembly, including peaceful demonstrators, which contradicts the standard of necessary and proportionate interference with the right.
The violent actions started by individual participants in the assembly at the Parliament’s back entrance became the basis for the unjustified termination of the assembly with the use of force by the law enforcement officers on March 8. After some of the participants started breaking the windows and damaging the Parliament building at the back entrance, the police took appropriate actions, although the said use of force continued in a completely illegitimate manner against the peaceful participants in the assembly standing in front of the Parliament of Georgia.
It should also be noted that, in both cases, and especially after the first use of force in the night hours of March 8, the situation became tense several times and special equipment were repeatedly used against the participants in the assembly, including when there was no such necessity. According to the Public Defender's assessment, unjustified cases of the use of force in a similar situation always contribute to the artificial escalation of the situation, which law enforcement officers are obliged to prevent.
The media footage shows cases when special equipment was used against the participants in the rally without any reason, including by targeting their faces, when they just approached police officers peacefully. This clearly represents a criminal act. Several video materials released by the media clearly show gross physical violence against citizens.
As a result of the measures used by the law enforcement officers in order to manage the rallies, media representatives were also injured. Information was spread about interference with their activities, whereas, legislation puts them under special protection during assemblies.
At the same time, before and during the termination of the assembly, the law enforcement officers actively resorted to the practice of mass detention of demonstrators in an administrative manner. The relevant footage makes it clear that in some cases, the above was not a measure against the existing offence, therefore, it failed to meet the requirement of necessity and had the form of an unjustified interference with the right.
On March 7-9, the Public Defender and his authorized persons visited various divisions, departments and temporary detention centers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and met 96 detainees. The authorized persons worked intensively not only in Tbilisi, but also in the regions in order to visit the detainees. At the same time, several detained persons appealed to the Office with a request to study the legality of their detention.
The detainees indicated harsh forms of detention and in some cases, injuries. In relating to several detainees, with their own wish and consent, the Public Defender’s Office immediately applied to the Special Investigation Service with a request to start an investigation.
The case of Zurab Japaridze is particularly noteworthy. According to him and one of the witnesses, several representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs physically assaulted him. He was beaten with hands, feet and batons, as a result of which he sustained multiple injuries in the head and neck area, as well as in the wrist area.
In addition, according to the reports, in a number of cases, family members and lawyers of the detained persons, could not get information about the whereabouts of the detainees, as the Ministry of Internal Affairs did not provide the relevant information. Several Persons applied to the Public Defender’s Office for help. The above violates the detainees' right of defence, as they were not given the opportunity to meet with lawyers on time or develop a defence strategy.
The Public Defender’s Office will continue to study the cases of persons detained at the rallies. In addition, he will monitor the investigation launched by the Special Investigation Service into the ill-treatment of persons. The Public Defender calls on the investigative agencies to conduct an effective investigation into the use of disproportionate force, as well as the damages suffered by representatives of the media.
PARLIAMENT ELECTING LEVAN IOSELIANI AS PUBLIC DEFENDER OF GEORGIA
The Parliament endorsed the candidacy of Levan Ioseliani for the post of the Public Defender of Georgia with 96 votes.
According to the Rules of Procedure, the voting was held without discussion. The Speaker, H.E. Shalva Papuashvili congratulated Levan Ioseliani on his election as Public Defender and wished him fruitful work.
Levan Ioseliani addressed the MPs.
"It is a significant day in my life because, at this time of great difficulty for our country, I was given a great duty. I want to convey my gratitude to everyone who placed their trust in me for this opportunity", - Levan Ioseliani noted.
Information Meetings on Issues of Persons with Disabilities
In June-August 2022, representatives of the Public Defender of Georgia held 28 informational meetings in 22 municipalities, the purpose of which was to raise public awareness of the rights of persons with disabilities.
The meetings were attended by persons with disabilities, parents of children with disabilities and representatives of their organizations, as well as members of the councils working on the rights of persons with disabilities; officials of local self-government bodies, persons employed in the territorial services of state care and social service agencies, providers of services under the state programme of social rehabilitation and child care, employees of kindergartens, preschool institutions and educational resource centers, doctors of primary health care institutions - outpatient clinics (308 persons in total).
Employees of the Department of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and regional divisions of the Public Defender’s Office introduced the mandate of the Public Defender and the challenges identified within the scope of their activities to the participants in the meetings. They also discussed issues stipulated by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and national legislation, including problems related to the realization of accessibility and inclusive education, identification of violence, implementation of programmes operating at the central/local level, peculiarities of the functioning of councils of persons with disabilities at the local level, importance of the involvement of persons with disabilities in the decision-making process and existing guarantees in this regard.
With the support of the European Union Delegation to Georgia and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), meetings were held in Kvareli, Akhmeta, Sagarejo, Kutaisi, Tskaltubo, Khoni, Lanchkhuti, Ozurgeti, Chokhatauri, Keda, Khulo, Shuakhevi, Batumi, Tetritskaro, Tsalka, Ambrolauri, Oni, Akhaltsikhe, Adigeni, Borjomi, Kazbegi and Gardabani municipalities.
Public Defender Appeals to Constitutional Court against Temporary Exceptional Construction Rules in Batumi
The Public Defender of Georgia has applied to the Constitutional Court and demanded to suspend the temporary exceptional rule approved for constructions planned in Batumi and to declare it unconstitutional. The mentioned temporary regulation allows construction companies to conduct the construction process without observing safety norms, basic construction requirements, as well as strength, sustainability, fire safety and evacuation rules.
On June 23, 2022, in the last week of the spring session, the Parliament made changes to the Spatial Planning, Architecture and Construction Code of Georgia in an accelerated manner. The changes make it possible for a wide range of constructions planned in Batumi not to follow the construction obligations that ensure the safety of buildings and structures, safe environment for health and accessibility for persons with disabilities.
The disputed regulation, until the approval of the general development plan for Batumi in 2027, in violation of the building safety norms and functional zone requirements, allows to exceed the maximum construction intensity coefficient (k-2) and maximum height of buildings by any volume, as well as to disregard all other regulations established by legislation, except for the regulations relating to the protection of cultural heritage.
Particularly alarming is the possibility of implementing construction projects without observing the strength, stability, fire safety and evacuation norms of buildings, which poses a great risk to people's lives and health and violates the positive obligation of the State under Article 10 of the Constitution to take appropriate measures to protect the right to life.
The disputed norms also suspend the requirement of ensuring accessibility for persons with disabilities. Thus, the State violates the obligation under paragraph 4 of Article 11 of the Constitution to provide an accessible environment for persons with disabilities for full, equal and independent participation in public life.
The disputed rule allows the implementation of the kind of construction projects in Batumi, which can have a serious negative impact on healthy living environment, bring irreparable consequences for correct urban planning and maintenance of recreational and public spaces.
It is necessary to plan and implement measures in Batumi in order to alleviate, and not on the contrary, aggravate the difficult situation of spatial arrangement, created as a result of active, chaotic and spontaneous constructions over the years, something indicated by the Public Defender for many years. The implementation of massive constructions without the general urban planning and the requirements established by the Code may cause irreparable damage to the realization of the right to environmental protection.
In order to prevent the expected irreparable damage, we also request with the constitutional lawsuit to suspend the operation of the disputed norms until the final decision is made by the court.
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