Georgian PM Bidzina Ivanishvili (left) and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at a joint news conference after a meeting in NATO headquarters in Brussels, November 14. Photo: NATO
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after meeting with PM Bidzina Ivanishvili in Brussels on November 14, that Georgia’s new PM had assured him that ongoing criminal proceedings against some of the former officials would be transparent and live up to highest democratic standards.
While praising how parliamentary elections were held in Georgia, Rasmussen also said that Georgia’s NATO membership “will take more work and more reforms” and added that “the true test of democracy” would be to make cohabitation between the President and government “work in full respect for the constitution in the months to come.”
‘It may be damaging if cases against ex-officials are perceived to be political’
On November 12 Rasmussen told the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Prague that he was “extremely concerned about the development we have seen since then [the elections], not least related to recent arrests of political opponents in Georgia.”
Former defense and interior minister Bacho Akhalaia, as well as chief of army staff Brig. Gen. Giorgi Kalandadze and former commander of 4th army brigade Zurab Shamatava were arrested and charged with abuse of soldiers. Kalandadze and Shamatava were released on bail and Akhalaia, who also faces other charges too involving illegal confinement, was remanded in pre-trial custody pending investigation. Brig. Gen. Kalandadze was suspended from office through court’s ruling. President Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) condemned the arrests as launch of “political retributions” by the new authorities against the representatives of previous administration.
The issue dominated a joint press conference of PM Ivanishvili and Secretary General Rasmussen after their meeting.
“Indeed I raised this issue with the Prime Minister and I made my position clear,” Rasmussen said. “I am concerned if these trials are perceived to be politically motivated; that would be damaging for the image of the country and the government even if it’s not true – that’s my concern.”
“This is the reason why it is of utmost importance to stress that such trials must take place in accordance with basic principles of rule of law, ensure full transparency, ensure due process; that’s what I have made clear. The Prime Minister has ensured me that will be the case,” Rasmussen said. “Based on that I have to say and really stress that we are not going to interfere with ongoing trials. We have confidence that they will be conducted without political interference and live up to fundamental principles of rule of law.”
The NATO Secretary General said that his remarks on November 12 were made “out of positive interest in seeing progress in Georgia’s relationship with NATO.”
“My concern is that it may be damaging if prosecutions, if trials are perceived to be politically motivated and I think the Prime Minister shares my concern. That’s why we have mutual interest in stressing the need for full compliance with the fundamental principles of rule of law to ensure that possible trials are conducted in transparent manner without political interference,” Rasmussen said.
PM Ivanishvili told journalists: “Don’t try to find differences in our views” about this issue. He said that his and the NATO Secretary General’s views that ongoing criminal proceedings against several former officials should not be politically motivated “are fully in concurrence”.
“We share concerns about what has happened. We also regret that the new authorities had to carry out these arrests,” PM Ivanishvili said. “We assure the Secretary General and the society that it’s not a political persecution. I also agree with him that if it has a sign of political persecution, of course, it will not be positive and it will of course damage our country very much.”
Ivanishvili said that attempts by the previous authorities to portray these cases as political persecution would not work as all the alleged “crimes will be proven” and proceedings would be transparent.
“There should be no political persecution,” the Georgian PM said. “I gave this pledge and I reiterate that there will be no selective justice in Georgia, but there will be justice. Those, who commit a wrongdoing, will definitely be punished.”
PM Ivanishvili said that for the purpose of securing more transparency he had offered the Secretary General NATO’s monitoring “in any form” over ongoing criminal proceedings against several former officials.
“To our pleasure, Mr. Rasmussen expressed clear confidence towards us and he did not deem it necessary,” PM Ivanishvili said.
Rasmussen said that the Georgian PM had offered him to establish “a certain specific mechanism to actually follow these processes.”
“I think the Prime Minister wanted to assure me of his clear commitment to principles of rule of law,” Rasmussen said. “Prime Minister I really appreciate your commitment to these fundamental principles, but let me ensure you that we don’t need new mechanism, new institutions; we have NATO-Georgia Commission, I have a special representative, who is in a constant dialogue with the Georgian authorities.”
“Based on the Prime Minister’s clear assurances, I do not see a need for new institutions to follow the development. I have confidence that the government will live up to these high principles,” the NATO Secretary General said.
‘Make cohabitation work’
In his opening remarks at a news conference, the NATO Secretary General said that Georgia’s October 1 parliamentary election lived up to democratic standards and called on all parties in Georgia “to keep up that momentum and consolidate democratic progress.”
“But the true test of democracy is the ability of the different actors to work together for the good of the country,” Rasmussen said.
He said that he told it President Saakashvili during a meeting on November 12 in Prague and reiterated it to PM Ivanishvili “to cooperate and make cohabitation work in full respect for the constitution in the months to come.”
“This is vital for the Georgian people and for Georgia’s future,” Rasmussen said.
He reiterated that NATO was committed to its decision that Georgia would join the Alliance.
“But membership will take more work and more reforms and it will take constructive cooperation between all branches of government. So, I encourage all parties in Georgia to keep consensus on Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic policies and work together to pursue the necessary reforms and meet the highest democratic standards. And I am confident that Georgia’s democracy will pass that test,” Rasmussen said.
PM Ivanishvili expressed regret that NATO Military Committee postponed its visit to Georgia after the arrest of army chief of staff. Ivanishvili said that the NATO Secretary General “assured” him that the issue would be discussed in “the near future” and this visit would take place.
He also said that he was looking forward to NATO-Georgia Commission meeting on the level of foreign ministers in early December in Brussels.