Public Defender’s Statement on International Human Rights Day

Published in Society
Friday, 10 December 2021 17:23

Every year, on December 9, the Public Defender of Georgia traditionally joins the celebration of the International Human Rights Day.

On December 9, 2021, the Tbilisi Human Rights House held an event on the occasion of the International Human Rights Day, where Public Defender Nino Lomjaria once again emphasized the special role of human rights defenders in promoting human rights and the rule of law in a democratic society.

The Public Defender spoke about the challenges facing human rights defenders, reviewed the Human Rights Manual developed by the Public Defender’s Office, which aims to refine the definition of a human rights defender and to outline the obligations of the State to protect and promote the activities of human rights defenders.

"Our monitoring has revealed a number of unfortunate trends of attacks on human rights defenders. Among them, statements made by high officials aimed at discrediting NGOs working on issues of crucial importance for democratic development still need to be emphasized. We have criticized a number of similar cases in the past,[1] and we reiterate that, by international standards, officials are obliged to refrain from being engaged in negative campaigns against human rights defenders and their activities, to publicly acknowledge the need to protect them and to emphasize the importance of their activities even when critical towards the authorities", - said Nino Lomjaria.

The Public Defender called the physical attacks by the violent groups on human rights defenders and the offices of Tbilisi Pride and Shame Movement on July 5, the day of the March of Dignity, which could not be prevented by the law enforcers, especially alarming. She spoke about the criminal acts committed against media representatives and the need for their timely and effective investigation.[2] The scale of the problem was made even clearer by the events of July 5, during which more than 40 representatives of the media were injured. Reports of alleged criminal acts against media representatives were also spread during both rounds of the self-government elections.

According to the Public Defender, the cynical attitude of politicians towards journalists, especially representatives of critical media, and the discrediting campaign[3] against the background of the existing hostile environment, further exacerbate violence against them.

At the end of her speech, the Public Defender addressed the Prosecutor's Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia with a recommendation to ensure the timely investigation of crimes committed against representatives of the media, to identify those responsible and to take measures against them in accordance with law, as well as to inform the public about the ongoing investigation.

She also called on political officials to follow internationally recognized democratic standards and to refrain from being engaged in campaigns aimed at discrediting human rights defenders, including journalists, in order to facilitate their work as much as possible.


[1] Parliamentary Report of the Public Defender of Georgia 2019, p. 251, available at: <https://bit.ly/3CJscy1> [09.12.2021]; See also the statement of the Public Defender of Georgia of October 24, 2018 on the International obligations of the Government to support the activities of human rights defenders, available at: <https://bit.ly/3kBAySa> [09.12.2021]

[2] Statements of the Public Defender of Georgia are available on the website: <https://bit.ly/3CDI58Z>, <https://bit.ly/3AAGtMN>, <https://bit.ly/3lLqiWG>, , <https://bit.ly/2W3IlOX> [23.09.2021].

[3] Information is available on the website: <https://bit.ly/3yajvM8>, <https://bit.ly/3EwXSHX>, <https://bit.ly/3lCyQzZ>, <https://netgazeti.ge/news / 555767 />, <https://bit.ly/3oy0qQw> [09.12.2021].

 

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  • Public opinion polls are not a substitute for opinion

    Zaal Anjaparidze, political analyst (Tbilisi, Georgia)

    Political actors are increasingly and proactively trying to manipulate public opinion polls. Georgia is not an exception in this respect.

    In this regard, a truly unique situation has been created in our country. Public opinion surveys in Georgia have been practically monopolized for years by American organizations (NDI, IRI) and their local contractors, which are financed by international donors. Sociological surveys are practically not financed by the state from the local budget. Therefore, we should not be surprised that the existing polls, in addition to sociology, also serve the interests of their sponsors to create the appropriate political and social conjuncture in the country.

    Today, the one of the central topics in the country is to obtain the status of a candidate for EU membership and to fulfill the 12 recommendations of the European Commission. Although, based on polls, the narrative that European integration is the solid choice of the majority of the Georgian population has been firmly established in Georgia. However, how true this is, especially in the light of recent events in the country?!.

    In July-August 2022, NDI's public opinion poll shows that the support of the European Union by the population of Georgia is 75%. Although this is 5-7% less than the results of previous months (80-80%), it is still an impressive majority. However, let's not rush to final conclusions.

    If you aspire to be a member of any union, you should have a very positive attitude towards it. At this time, in the sociological research conducted by the European Foundation in 2021, we read: "Overall, 46 percent of Georgians have either very positive (16%) or rather positive (30%) attitudes towards the European Union. About 43% have a neutral outlook, while a minority (7%) has either a rather negative or very negative attitude." It turns out that only 46% of our population, or less than half(!), consciously supports the European Union.

    The point is that in the polls sponsored by Western donors, it is clear that the attempt is not to question the pro-European orientation of the population of Georgia, in which they have invested. That's why, even if they receive an unwanted image, they try to model this image so as not to violate professional standards too much. Political messages can also be read in the titles of individual blocks. For example, to reinforce a pro-European message, NDI says, "Most people are convinced that Georgia would benefit more from European and Euro-Atlantic integration than from close relations with Russia." How did NDI measure and determine the degree of "certainty" of respondents when its survey only has one question on European integration? posed and it does not attempt to determine what is really behind the respondent's “YES” or “NO”.

    It is very interesting, in a survey by the European Foundation, how only 46% of those who love the European Union agree with 77% of those who are in favor of joining the European Union? One of the most realistic options for the answer is consumerism with the EU, not value unity. In the presence of this unity, there would be neither the problem of holding an LGBT-march in the center of Tbilisi, nor such intense unacceptability of same-sex marriage that a relevant entry in the constitution became necessary. Examples can be continued.

    In addition, the survey data is seriously distorted by the so-called respondents themselves. A "self-selection" or "self-censoring" effect, where a certain percentage of respondents consistently refuse to participate in a survey or do not provide a response. It is even more problematic, the so-called "Falsification of preferences" - a situation where instead of giving an honest answer to a directly asked question, the respondent gives an answer that is expected from him by an imaginary majority. Therefore, we should not be surprised by the many "YES" answers to the direct question of support for European integration during the said surveys. In addition to the above-mentioned reasons, this can also be explained by the respondent's desire for psychological comfort, as well as conformist behavior and fear of social condemnation. If we take into account the information-psychological environment and pressure created with us, a different view from the mainstream opinion is considered a betrayal of the state and a crime. It turns out that the conducted surveys actually measure not the respondent's true attitude towards a specific issue, but only his socially and politically acceptable attitude.

    Considering all the above-mentioned circumstances, it is not difficult to guess how the 81-83% rate of support for European integration, or the unusually high rating of some faceless but acceptable person for the client, is established. These are all tools of political and psychological manipulation, and it seems that our political class and society have come to terms with this modeled reality.

    The situation will not change until the state changes its attitude towards this issue and creates national public opinion research institutions in the country. The situation will also not change if trust in the polls themselves, their commissions, operators and results is not measured. Episodic studies on this issue are not enough and cannot change the weather.

    In general, the importance of polls was probably best summed up by Margaret Thatcher: "If you are guided by opinion polls, you are not practicing leadership -- you are practicing followership.”

  • 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.[1] 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.

  • USAID and Public Defender’s Office Sign Intergovernmental Agreement

    On June 28, 2022, a Government-to-Government Agreement was signed between the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Public Defender’s Office.

    The aim of the new partnership is to promote human rights in Georgia and to strengthen the activities of the Public Defender's Office, especially in the regions.

    In his opening remarks, Peter Wiebler, Mission Director of USAID/Georgia, briefly reviewed the Government-to-Government Agreement, cooperation and importance of Georgia's democratic development.

    The Ambassador of the United States of America spoke about progress in the direction of the protection of human rights in Georgia and underlined the activities of the Public Defender’s Office, great efforts that the staff of the Office make every day to establish equality and tolerance in the country; She also thanked representatives of the Office for their professionalism and dedication and said that the direct grant provided for by the USAID project was a sign of great confidence and support to the Public Defender's Office.

    Public Defender Nino Lomjaria thanked the US Government and the American people for the vital assistance they have been providing to independent Georgia in areas of economic development, implementation of democratic reforms, strengthening of state institutions and development of the private sector for decades.

    "Today we especially need such support, as the Government, the State and public institutions, each of us, must work tirelessly in these 6 months to get the status of an EU candidate country. These 6 months are a crucial period for our future.

    Until the end of my term of office, we, the entire Office, will be working to use this trust and support to monitor and support protection of human rights, democracy and human rights reforms in the country. However, I would also like to point out that the achievement of results under this agreement depends not only on our efforts. I think the willingness of other state agencies is also necessary and a lot depends on coordination and joint efforts in such a historic period," said the Public Defender.

    Giorgi Burjanadze, Deputy Public Defender, reviewed the details of the agreement between USAID and the Public Defender’s Office. According to the agreement, with the support of USAID, the Public Defender’s Office will work: 1) to strengthen internal capacities to conduct more effective monitoring of the protection of human rights in Georgia; 2) to strengthen internal management processes and institutional capacities; and 3) to improve strategic communication with the audience.

    "The project will help us make our Office more efficient in tackling the challenges we face. Protection of human rights is a constant process that needs constant upgrading," said Giorgi Burjanadze.

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  • Findings and Recommendations of CPT Report on Ad Hoc Monitoring Carried out in Georgian Penitentiary Establishments

    On July 11, 2022, the Public Defender of Georgia organized a public discussion of the findings and recommendations of the report on the ad hoc monitoring carried out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) in the penitentiary establishments of Georgia.

    The ad hoc visit was conditioned by specific circumstances, including and primarily by the report published by the Public Defender in 2020, which referred to informal governance in the penitentiary system and frequent cases of inter-prisoner violence.

    In her opening remarks, the Public Defender of Georgia spoke about the importance of the recommendations of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and thanked the organization for its activities in Georgia. She also noted that the findings of the Committee's report were actually identical to the problems indicated in the Public Defender's reports. The findings include the prison criminal subculture reflected in the annual reports of the Public Defender, shortage of staff and their low qualifications, lack of rehabilitation services and the need to establish a fair and transparent parole mechanism.

    The Public Defender emphasized that violence against prisoners by prison staff no longer has a systematic character in Georgia. However, unfortunately, the repressive methods of the management of prisoners by prison staff has been replaced by the repressive management of prisoners by a small group of prisoners privileged by the prison administrations (the so-called prison watchers).

    According to Shalva Papuashvili, Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia, the reports and recommendations of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the Public Defender of Georgia will help the penitentiary system improve its work; He expressed satisfaction with the fact that violence in prisons no longer has a systemic character and spoke about the supervision of the reforms in the penitentiary system by the Parliament.

    Deputy Minister of Justice Tornike Cheishvili emphasized the challenges in the penitentiary system and the readiness to solve them; He reviewed the planned legislative changes and spoke about the importance of focusing on the recommendations of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the Public Defender of Georgia.

    The monitoring report was presented by Borys Wodz, head of the CPT division responsible for visits. According to him, it is difficult to control large prisons, especially given that more than a thousand prisoners are controlled by 20-30 employees in some of the institutions. He noted that Georgian prisons do not ensure reasonable differentiation of inmates based on their criminal record and the possibility of correction (recidivists and first-time offenders are placed together).

    He also spoke about improper living conditions, saying that some prisoners repair their cells, buy furniture and equipment, but other cells are in a very bad condition. Nor is the quantitative distribution equal - different numbers of prisoners live in cells of the same size.

    Borys Wodz emphasized the lack of opportunities for engagement in activities. The vast majority of prisoners have nothing to do nor the opportunity to get an education that would have helped them avoid criminal subculture. The inadequate level of treatment of persons with mental health problems is also clearly visible.

    Deputy Public Defender Giorgi Burjanadze reviewed the activities of the National Preventive Mechanism of Georgia and noted that the main task of the Office was to find ways to solve problems. He spoke about the necessary changes, including the common issues referred to both by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the Public Defender of Georgia, such as dividing the penitentiary system into relatively small institutions and creating a balanced infrastructure, reducing the number of prisoners, shortage of staff, their working conditions, operational capabilities and accountability.

    He singled out the issue of rehabilitation, noting that prisoners do not see the importance of engaging in activities, since the most important thing for them - parole mechanism is flawed and constant unjustified decisions cause their just dissatisfaction. The Public Defender thinks that improving the parole mechanism and focusing more on individual characteristics when making decisions would be a simple and quick method of encouraging prisoners to engage in rehabilitation activities. At the same time, this change would also reduce the influence of criminal subculture.

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