Public Defender Meets with Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights in Strasbourg
On 25 January 2022, during her official visit to Strasbourg, Nino Lomjaria, Public Defender of Georgia, met with Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Public Defender briefed the Human Rights Commissioner on the human rights situation in Georgia. Media environment, situation of equality and the need for monitoring human rights in the occupied territories were also topics of discussion.
Nino Lomjaria stressed the importance of the Commissioner’s support to human rights defenders and media representatives, who have been particularly pressured and attacked in recent years.
Talks also focused on the abolition of the State Inspector’s institution. The Public Defender informed the Council of Europe Commissioner of the constitutional complaint filed by her to request the declaration of the legislative changes adopted by the Parliament of Georgia on December 30, 2021 as unconstitutional.
Public Defender of Georgia
Prime Minister of Georgia meets Co-Rapporteurs for the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
The key directions of cooperation between Georgia and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the agenda of Georgia’s ongoing and implemented democratic reforms were the main topics discussed at today’s meeting between Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and Co-Rapporteurs for the Monitoring Committee of PACE.In the meeting held at the Government Administration, special emphasis was placed on the constructive work of the PACE Monitoring Committee’s Co-Rapporteurs for the monitoring of Georgia. The Head of Government thanked the Parliamentary Assembly’s delegation for productive cooperation.The conversation also touched on the security environment and challenges in the region and worldwide.The topics discussed included the situation in Georgia’s occupied territories. The role of support from the Council of Europe for peaceful conflict resolution was underlined. Irakli Garibashvili thanked PACE for firmly supporting Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.The meeting was attended by Co-Rapporteurs for the PACE Monitoring Committee Claude Kern and Edite Estrela, also by Head of the Council of Europe Office in Georgia Natalia Voutova, Georgia’s Foreign Minister Ilia Darchiashvili, and Head of the Government Administration Revaz Javelidze.
THE PARLIAMENT HEARD THE ACTIVITY REPORT FOR 2022 OF THE PARLIAMENTARY DELEGATION TO PACE
At the plenary session, MPs heard the Activity Report for 2022 of the Parliamentary Delegation to PACE, introduced by the Head of the Delegation, Irakli Chikovani.
“One of the acute issues for the PACE and for us was the devastation in Ukraine entailed by the Russian aggression and the decision made on the exclusion of Russia from the Coe and the preparation for a new Summit that is scheduled in May 2023 and that shall be dedicated to the planning of the further steps of the organization”, - he stated.
According to him, the Georgian Delegation was one of the main Delegations that approved the exclusion of Russia at the emergency session convened by the CoE. As noted, sundry resolutions have been adopted in 2022 related to the situation in Ukraine, where the Georgian Delegation in full composition, including the Majority and the Opposition MPs, unanimously approved the documents except one resolution providing the record about the third President of Georgia.
“This Resolution was connected neither to Georgia nor the situation in Georgia or the democratic reforms; it was an attempt, which by the way was quite successfully conducted by the EPP members and the rapporteur of the Resolution”, - he noted and added that the Resolution on Georgia initiated by the Monitoring Committee and adopted by the PACE reflects the immense progress achieved by Georgia in the democracy, rule of law and human rights protection directions.
“This progress is clearly underlined and which is unambiguously confirmed by the CoE as a whole, though it also provides the challenges in Georgia being addressed by the Government”, - the reporter ended his speech.
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.
Georgian draft law on de-oligarchisation: Supporting the goal of limiting excessive influence of oligarchs, Venice Commission calls for systemic reforms
Strasbourg, 14.03.2023 – In its interim opinion on the draft law of Georgia on de-oligarchisation published today, the Council of Europe’s body of constitutional experts, the Venice Commission, called on the Georgian authorities to adopt systemic reforms rather than targeting specific individuals, in order to achieve “de-oligarchisation”.
“Oligarchisation” is the result of a combination of non-transparent exercise of political power without a political mandate, influence on parliaments, governments, political parties, judiciary and law enforcement bodies; ownership or influence on the media; decisive, if not monopolistic, influence on a number of areas, such as energy, mining, oil and gas, metallurgy, real estate. Eliminating such excessive influence of vested interests in economic, political and public life is a novel and very complex issue.
The Venice Commission noted that while Ukraine was the first country to adopt specific de-oligarchisation legislation, the commitment to eliminate the excessive influence of vested interests in economic, political and public life was also the object of a specific European Commission recommendation to Georgia and the Republic of Moldova. Georgia has since prepared a draft law which is very closely modelled on Ukrainian Law. Each country, however, presents specificities.
The Venice Commission supported the goal of eliminating or at least limiting the influence of oligarchs in political, economic and public life. It highlighted, however, that the choice of the means to achieve such a legitimate goal is of decisive importance if the system is to be effective while respecting democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights. Any such measures should be commensurate to the goal pursued of achieving a level playing field for all actors in society.
The Commission stressed that de-oligarchisation should be ensured through a systemic approach, which has a preventative effect and targets numerous fields, such as legislation relating to media, anti-monopoly, political parties, elections, taxation, anti-corruption and anti-money laundering, etc.
The Georgian draft law instead focuses on a so-called “personal” (punitive) approach, seeking to identify so-called “oligarchs” through specific criteria, such as wealth and media ownership, to publicly label them as “oligarchs” and to subject them to series of blanket limitations that include exclusion from the financing of political parties or activities, exclusion from privatisations of public property, etc. This approach, in the opinion of the Venice Commission, carries high risks of human rights violations and arbitrary application, potentially harming political pluralism. At the very least, the Commission recommended transferring the power to designate a person as an “oligarch” to another body than the Government, removing the broad discretion of the Government in interpreting and applying these criteria and providing strong guarantees for human rights, due process and effective remedies.
The Venice Commission has prepared the current opinion as an interim one, with a view of pursuing its analysis of possible solutions to this matter and taking into account further legislative developments when they are available.
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.