Georgian Public Defender's Nino Lomjaria Special Statement on Situation in Penitentiary Establishments:
In 2020, the Public Defender of Georgia published a special report, in which we talked about the fact that the management model of semi-open establishments was based on informal hierarchy of prisoners, where the so-called "prison watchers" provide fictitious order, which aims to silence prisoners and prevent them from talking about their problems.
The publication of this report was followed by public attacks on the Public Defender and illegal actions by the Minister of Justice and the Penitentiary Service, as a result of which, it has become not only difficult but also dangerous for the representatives of the Public Defender's Office to carry out visits and monitoring at the penitentiary establishments. In particular, in recent months, a certain group of prisoners managed by the administration of the establishments and the so-called ‘prison watchers’ have been systematically carrying out verbal attacks, threats and aggression against representatives of the Public Defender's Office.
The purpose of these illegal actions was to hamper our communication with prisoners and monitoring of the prison area. Similar cases occurred:
- On October 31, 2020, and then again, on January 14, 2021, in Ksani Establishment No. 15, when a specific group of prisoners did not allow representatives of the Public Defender to observe the realization of the right to vote or to interview the doctor of the facility. This is particularly troubling in the light of the fact that one of the inmates of Establishment No. 15 died of complications of COVID-19 a few days ago and family members of several inmates have asked us to visit inmates.
- On December 4, 2020 and January 13, 2021, in Gldani Establishment No. 8, when one and the same prisoner threatened representatives of the Public Defender's Office and requested that they stop their visit. Establishment No. 8 is a closed facility and it is noteworthy that the above-mentioned prisoner always moves around a specific area of the prison when our representatives visit the facility.
- On January 13, 2021, in Rustavi Establishment No. 17, when a specific group of prisoners behaved aggressively towards representatives of the Public Defender and requested that they stop the visit as "everything was fine" in prison.
Given the fact that representatives of the Public Defender, during their visits to prisons, face real threats from “informal governors” supported by prison administrations, the Public Defender is considering the possibility of conducting preventive monitoring visits only under additional security measures, which would naturally impede the protection of prisoners' rights effectively. Naturally, the Office will continue to hold individual meetings with prisoners.
It is the result of the influence of the so-called criminal subculture that even though about half of prisoners serve their sentences in semi-open facilities (Nos. 14, 15 and 17), unfortunately, the number of applications received from these facilities decreases year by year. In particular, out of a total of 1 384 applications received in 2020, only 57 were sent by inmates of these three prisons. The above proves the fact that, unfortunately, a number of problems encountered by prisoners cannot reach us and remain unheard due to the so-called prison subculture. Therefore, it is important for us to work proactively in semi-open facilities:
Given the existing situation, we call on:
- The Government of Georgia to take immediate measures to change the model of managing the criminal subculture in prisons;
- The Minister of Justice of Georgia to immediately raise the issue of liability of the Director General of the Penitentiary Service, as well as directors of the relevant penitentiary establishments;
- The Parliament of Georgia to study the illegal model of management of semi-open establishments, by using parliamentary oversight mechanisms, in order to enable all prisoners to address the relevant agency or organization relating to their problems and rights violations;
- The Prosecutor's Office of Georgia to launch an investigation into the cases of obstruction and threats against the Public Defender, in connection with which a proposal has already been submitted to the Prosecutor's Office.
In addition to the above, the Public Defender will provide information to the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) to visit Georgia to protect the prisoners’ rights.
At the same time, we would like to address Georgia's international partner countries and donor organizations that provide financial assistance to the Special Penitentiary Service - given the scale of the influence of the criminal subculture, involvement of the administration in this process and human rights abuses, it is important that the donor support be spent on substantially improving and rehabilitating this system rather than strengthening the existing vicious management model.
An inter-continental online peace conference will be held on January 24th, 2021, in attendance with about 2,000 participants from 17 countries, including the Philippines, India, Australia, and South Korea.
The host of this conference is a Korea-based international peace NGO, Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL) affiliated with the UN DGC and the UN ECOSOC.
This virtual peace conference is organized in commemoration of the 7th Anniversary of the January 24th HWPL Peace Day which was designated by the Province of Maguindanao in the Philippines to celebrate the peace agreement in Mindanao on January 24th in 2014.
The agreement was suggested by Chairman Man Hee Lee of HWPL and signed by government, religious and civil society leaders to engage in collaboration of peacebuilding efforts to end the decades-long conflict.
Since then, the annual commemorative event such as a grand peace festival, international peace walks, exhibitions of peace in local museums, and inter-faith conferences has taken place to celebrate the peace agreement and raise awareness of peace among citizens in the region.
The event has discussed the history, current issues, and plans for long-term peace in Mindanao as a set of peacebuilding models based on the cooperation of actors in different fields with events that raised awareness of the need for securing sustainable peace.
With the theme of "The Role of Peace Education in Building a Peaceful World”, this year’s celebration, in line with the International Day of Education, aims to establish a global platform for peace educators to implement peace education in the educational system of each country.
Although the event is open online this year due to the COVID-19, more than 2,000 participants, including politicians, religious leaders, social figures, and educators are expected to attend.
The inter-continental conference will include the graduation of peace education students, the peace pledge ceremony, and various addresses regarding the value of peace education.
An official of HWPL said, “Through the 7th Anniversary of the January 24th HWPL Peace Day, we aim to raise awareness of the importance of peace education and culture of peace. It will be an opportunity to revitalize people around the world who are currently experiencing various violence and conflicts, especially since the onset of COVID 19, with a hope and spirit of peace.”
Anyone interested in the event can join by signing up at https://tinyurl.com/HWPLPeaceDayZoomReg until the 23rd of January. The event will be live-streamed through https://www.facebook.com/hwplph/ from 16:00 (KST) on the day of the event.