Report on Impact of Covid 19 on Health and Other Rights of Prisoners and Staff of Penitentiary System

Published in Society
Friday, 13 May 2022 16:51

On May 11, 2022, the Public Defender of Georgia and Prevention for Progress, a non-governmental organization, presented a joint report “Impact of Covid 19 on the Health and Other Rights of Prisoners and Staff of the Penitentiary System." The study assesses the impact of special measures taken by the Special Penitentiary Service from March 2020 through 2021 on the rights situation of prisoners.

According to the study, the measures taken to stop the spread of the virus had a positive impact on the prevention of Covid 19. The above was also contributed by the allocation of quarantine spaces and isolation of suspicious patients. The importance of mass and regular PCR and rapid antigen testing of the staff and inmates played a key role in the early detection of the disease. According to the interviews with the medical personnel and prisoners, the vaccination process was proceeding at a good pace in the penitentiaries. In addition, compared to a similar study conducted in 2017, the percentage of respondents, who think that food quantity is inadequate, decreased in 2021.

The results of the study show that restrictions were overused during the pandemic period and no appropriate efforts were made to find possible alternative solutions. No appropriate steps were taken by the state institution to reduce the number of prisoners. During the evaluation process, special attention was paid to the medical issues. The study showed that the number of medical personnel decreased, which led to delays in the provision of medical care. Due to delays and reductions in outpatient services, the number of transfers of prisoners to civil sector hospitals increased, as well as the number of cases of emergency transfers to medical facilities. The reduction in the provision of outpatient psychiatric care also had a negative impact on the mental health of inmates, increasing the need for treatment in psychiatric facilities.

The pandemic and the measures taken negatively affected prisoners' contact with the outside world. The study made it clear that the free phone minutes added as compensation during the period of restrictions were not sufficient to counterbalance the restrictions. Prisoners were restricted from contacting lawyers, psychologists and social workers, and they were unable to receive the relevant services. The number of rehabilitation programmes also significantly reduced. The study also showed that the living and working conditions of the employees, who were not allowed to leave the facilities, were difficult.

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  • Performance Report of Irakli Garibashvili, Prime Minister of Georgia for 2022

    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    Let me greet you all! First of all, I wish to thank you all for being here today. I wanted to report back to our society and you. Once again, it is a great honor to be here. We have all been through a very challenging time and the Government, along with Parliament and society at large were engaged in the management of this process. Ultimately, our country has exited victoriously at this point in time.
    Initially, I wish to start with an overview of the region. Unprecedented challenge and crisis is faced on the continent of Europe. War in Ukraine is, of course, a huge challenge to us all. It has made a voluminous impact on the continent of Europe itself and our region and our country – everyone and global politics.
    It may be said that the entire world is experiencing a huge challenge, which has not been witnessed since WWII. We understand it well and it is a tremendous challenge. Therefore, it requires very prudent management. We pursue our policies accordingly. From day one, we are following the right policy and have been implementing it since then. I have said it many times and it is a shared approach of our team that we should be predominantly guided by the best interests of our country. We have been acting with this key motivation and idea, by pursuing the policy needed for our people in the first place and our national interests.
    Once again, I wish to state that we are very concerned with this war. I wish to once again demonstrate my support to the Ukrainian people, wishing them peace and quick ending of this war. We reiterate our support for the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine. I once again wish to note that this war needs to end as soon as possible.
    Meanwhile, I wish to once again remind our public that during the pandemic, as well as in the post-pandemic phase, our country combatted a number of challenges. You may well remember that our country was not yet out of the pandemic, when the devastating war started, which gave rise to major problems of course. Nevertheless, with our joint efforts, we – together with our team, Parliament and authorities at large – managed to achieve a 10% economic growth for the second year in a row. This achievement and abundance is, of course, translated into the benefit of our people and reflected on our country, people and society.
    I wish to touch upon the main development of the year, which is a decision made by the EU on granting the European Perspective to Georgia, which was hard to imagine before. This war has accelerated the process. We understand it well. I wish to note that we were expecting the candidacy status, but we understand that it was only a political decision, rather than being a merit-based one. Georgia thus did not receive the candidacy status, though we believe that it will be granted to our country very soon. Reasons for thinking this way are the developments and successful reforms that we have all implemented, along with 12 recommendations defined for our country, implemented with high precision with engagement of us all – government, parliament, all of us. We are now expecting a decision to be made by our European colleagues. I wish to remind our society hereby that every achievement, every progress made in the past 10 years on the path of European integration is great merits to our team only – be that the EU-Georgia Association Agreement, DCFTA, Visa-Free Travel Arrangement and now an official application for EU membership with European Perspective granted to our country – all of these are great merits to the Georgian Dream!
    Now as for the economy, I wish to report on several specific results. First of all, let me repeat again that we are thrilled that economic growth will be 10% this year again. Last year it was 10.5%. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Per Capita in 2020 – for comparison – was around 4200 USD. It grew in 2021 and this year is expected to be about 6700 USD. Our forecast for 2023 will reach 8000 USD.
    Economy of our country in 2020 was around 50 BLN GEL, while it will be 80 BLN GEL in 2023, i.e. we have achieved a growth of 30 billion in 3 years. You may agree that it is quite significant progress. However, we understand that this pace should not stop and more needs to be done with greater responsibility, higher speed. We should continue with our progress and reforms.
    External Debt – for your information – was increased to 60% of GDP in 2020, while we succeeded in reducing it to 39% in 2022 and it will further decline next year and reach 38%. External Debt volume has been reduced by over 22% within 2 years. During the pandemic – you may recall – the budget deficit was very high at 9.3%. When I was appointed as the Prime Minister of Georgia last year, it was reduced to 6.1% and later – this year – to under 3%. Next year it will be 2.8%, which is also a considerable progress. I wish to thank everyone [engaged in this process].
    Now, as for the export indicators: you may be aware that in the past 2 years we substantially increased exports from the country. Jan-Nov (11 months of 2022) data evidence that it has been increased by 32%, amounting to over 5 BLN USD. Domestic exports increased by 21%, amounting to 3.4 BLN USD. Trade volumes in Jan-Nov (11 months of 2022) reached 17 BLN USD, which – compared to the previous year – evidenced a 32% increase. I wish to hereby note that trade volume in the first 10 months of the year exceeds the annual indicator of the previous one.
    Tourism has recovered at a high speed. It could be said that it recovered completely. We have more room to increase it further next year. Proceeds from tourism amount to 3.2 BLN USD.
    I wish to note herewith that transportation of cargo by road, rail and other means is record-high amounting 25 billion tons, which is almost 20% higher than the respective indicator of the previous year.
    Dear Friends, it was a positive year for the foreign direct investments (FDI) as well. Indicator for 2022 increased by 100%, amounting to about 1.7 BLN USD during the first 10 months of the year. If we compare this indicator with that of 2021, the increase will be 100%, as I told you already, and 72% in contrast with 2019. I wish to note that the share of the EU in the FDI is 47%.
    Poverty and unemployment, naturally, is our main challenge for our government in the country. Our declared policy is to overcome poverty and reduction of unemployment in the most efficient manner. Q3 of the year stood out in this context as well. Unemployment level dropped to the historic minimum and amounted 15.6%. I also wish to tell you that 229 000 new jobs were created within 2 years – from Q2 of 2021 through Q3 of 2022. Thus, 229 000 people got employed within almost 2 years, out of which 209 000 jobs were created in the private sector and you may be aware that several months ago we launched a program of public works, which envisaged the employment of socially vulnerable, but otherwise capable individuals. Over 30 000 socially vulnerable people got employed in the past 6-7 months. Resources are wide-ranging as you may well be aware that 200 000 individuals in the country are regarded as socially vulnerable, but otherwise capable individuals. Our aim is to get them all employed both in the public and private sectors.
    Very briefly, I also wish to say that – as I told you – we expect a 10% economic growth this year and according to the medium-term forecast Georgia will have one of the highest economic growth indicators in the region and throughout Europe. These are projections of our partners – IMF and World Bank.
    Now, as for the energy sector: it is one of the key sectors, which should be developed further and with greater effort. We need to attract more investments. Past 5 years were almost idle in terms of investments to the sector. Under my instructions, active work was pursued with the IMF and we agreed to introduce a new scheme. It has already been approved at the Executive Government Meeting. Tenders will be announced for 1500 megawatts in total. Apart from this, there are the 800 megawatts already committed under the PPA (Power Purchase Agreement). That will be commissioned as well. So, overall, we are referring to at least 2300 megawatts of energy capacity a year that will be generated at hydro power plants (HPP). It translates into an investment of almost 3 BLN USD. It includes hydro, wind and solar energy, which is so important for our energy security and energy independence.
    I wish to clarify for our society once again that development of energy generation has a tremendous importance for the energy security and energy independence of Georgia, especially against the background of what is happening now in Europe – energy crisis, price increase, when an average price per kilowatt of power energy is 20 cents in European countries. It even went up to 80 cents in Germany in summer. Other countries had 50 and 60, but the average price is 20 cents. Price on energy is very cheap in Georgia. That is why I highlight that more efforts need to be taken towards this end. For that very purpose, we approved a new scheme, as I told you. Besides, we made a successful step forward within this domain. You may well be aware that I was visiting Bucharest a few weeks ago and we launched a historic project. It is an entirely Georgian initiative.  We brought it to the EU, to our partners, to our friendly Azerbaijan and Romania. We started to implement it together with Romania, which was joined by Azerbaijan, Hungary and acquired full support of the EU. You have seen that Mrs. Von der Leyen was with us in Bucharest and we celebrated the launch of the project. Feasibility Study will be completed and made readily available in a few months. We will then move to active work towards this end. What will it bring to the country? One may ask. It may be said that it is similar by scale and magnitude to Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC). It is a means of guaranteed sales of power directly linking our grid to the EU grid and market. It is a project of truly historic significance! It will cost about 2-3 BLN USD and we will implement it together with all those countries who signed the Memorandum. That is why, I once again wish to note that it is essential for Georgia to have the relevant energy generation capacity and that is why we need the power energy generation facilities to be built in terms of wind, solar and hydro, as well as thermal power plants to make sure that we sell our share of power energy to the EU, which will generate hundreds of millions in revenues for our country and be ultimately reflected on our people as an overwhelming benefit. I wish to note herewith that when economic growth is ahead of energy generation, it is essential to change the proportion and correlation. Energy generation should be ahead of economic growth in the country. It is believed to be the right sequence.
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    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

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

    Public Defender (Ombudsman) of Georgia

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