U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett, Democrat of Texas, paid a five-day visit to Georgia on August 13-18. During the visit, he met with President Shevardnadze, Environment Minister, National Security Council Secretary, and other Georgian leaders. Discussions focused on human rights, environmental issues, and bilateral security cooperation. The Civil Georgia spoke with Congressman Doggett on situation in region, human rights record in Georgia and Russo-Georgian relations.
Q: Mr. Doggett, what is the main aim of your visit to Georgia?
A: To gain greater understanding about the realities here in Georgia, to raise concerns about human rights and the environment and see your lovely country.
Q: Currently, relations are very strained between Georgia and Russia. Tensions escalated both in Pankisi and Kodori gorge. What steps might international society, the United States make in order to prevent such incidents in the future?
A: The preserving of territorial integrity of Georgia is very important. I believe that the United States can provide support as it is doing, technical assistance to help the Georgian government to protect the borders, but I do not think that the United States should seek broader military involvement in this area. We can provide the support.
I believe that Georgia should be looking for solutions, usually, when there is a conflict, not all the wrong is on one side. I hope there will be continuous discussions between these regions that have broken away and the government of Georgia defines ways to accommodate with general complaints and retain them within the country.
I am greatly troubled by the Russian presence in Chechnya, human rights violation that has occurred in Chechnya. I understand the desire of Russia not to see Chechen rebels escape in Georgia and I hope that Georgia can protect its borders instead of giving the Russians the excuse that Georgia is a heaven for rebels.
Q: Against the background of possible US-Iraqi war, many say that Russia will demand the approval of the United States to conduct the anti-terrorist operation in the Pankisi gorge for Moscow’s support in the upcoming US operation in the Gulf. How would you comment this kind of development?
A: There was a recent column that made this argument in the Wall Street Journal, European edition. I do not believe, Russians would seek the approval of the United States, but in no way do I think there should be such approval.
I have a great question about the wisdom of the United States invading Iraq, but it would be outrageous for the United States to approve the Russian incursion in Georgia in reaction to Russian support for such invasion.
Q: In recent years, human rights record has worsened in Georgia. Many think that it is necessary to increase international pressure on Georgian government and at the same time increase funds and expand scope of assistance of democracy development programs. What is your opinion about human rights situation in Georgia?
A: I am greatly troubled by the human rights situation in Georgia. It is an issue that I am raising with every official, including President Shevardnadze. I am a member of the Human Rights Caucus, a group made up of both Republicans and Democrats. We are very troubled, for example, by the prosecution of religious minorities. It is critical that all religious minorities be treated with fairness.
The attack on the Liberty Institute (NGO) troubled us. I believe that NGOs like UN Association of Georgia, like Liberty Institute are central to the development for democracy. I know that democracy is relatively young in Georgia compared to the United States. So, it is not surprising that there are still many problems, but I believe that one should never hold back in demanding democratic reforms, an independent judiciary, reforms in law enforcement agencies, protection of free press are very important as well as the fair treatment of prisoners. In terms of long-term democratic reform, dealing with corruption is central.
Q: How do you see the future of our region?
A: This region has always been crossroad of the world. What happens here could have very positive or very negative affect on world peace. I think it is vital to try to resolve conflicts. And conflict resolution must look not only at the immediate political concerns, but how to deal with economic future that can provide good jobs and economic security for the families. I see so many shattered industries, so many people unemployed. I recognize that you need not only a political solution, but also an economic one.
It is always a chicken and egg situation: if the politics is very bad, corruption is overwhelming, if there is violence and danger for the people who visit the region, then foreign investments would be discouraged. You need more foreign investments to stimulate the economy and help build the future that would be good for Georgians as well as for the world.