“As the anti-government rally continues in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, the authorities must restrain from using unnecessary force against peaceful protesters,” according to the Amnesty International, London-based international human rights organization.
The two-page statement released on November 27, draws on the dispersal of two anti-government protests on November 18 and November 26 in central Tbilisi, during which riot police used water cannons and dozens of protesters were detained for allegedly unlawfully resisting police orders.
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According to Amnesty International, “force must only be used if non-violent means are unlikely to be effective and law enforcement officials must seek to minimize harm and injury.”
The statement reads that “in the dispersal of peaceful assemblies which are unlawful under domestic legislation law enforcement officials must exercise utmost restraint and if force has to be used, it needs to be proportionate to the level of resistance by the demonstrators”, adding that “force that is likely to cause harm should be directed only at those individuals who are engaged in violence.”
“In the current context, the assemblies that are blocking the entrances to the Georgian parliament can only be dispersed if the authorities can demonstrate a clear pressing social need for a dispersal, and only if the demonstration has caused substantial disruption for a significant period of time,” Amnesty International says, adding that “this was not the case on 18 and 26 November, when entrances to the parliament building were blocked by protesters for a few hours.”
The watchdog also touched upon the case of using water cannons “in cold temperatures” during dispersal, saying that “use of water cannons was neither proportionate nor necessary”. The statement also underlines that “any decision to use [water cannons] must also take into account contextual factors, such as extremely cold weather, which may exacerbate the harm they may cause.”
Amnesty International noted that “they may only be used in those situations in which it is strictly necessary to contain or disperse individuals or a group participating in a public assembly and when the level of violence has reached such a degree that law enforcement officials cannot contain the threat by directly focusing on violent persons only.”
Citing the United Nations Human Rights Guidance on Less Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement, the Amnesty International reminds the Georgian authorities that “[i]n general, water cannon should only be used in situations of serious public disorder where there is a significant likelihood of loss of life, serious injury, or widespread destruction of property” and that “[w]ater cannon shall not target a jet of water at an individual or group of individuals at short range owing to risk of causing permanent blindness or secondary injuries due to the individual being energetically propelled by the water jet.”
“International human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Georgia is a state party, guarantee the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly can only be placed when absolutely necessary, proportionate and provided by law in order to achieve one of a limited number of proscribed goals,” the watchdog noted.
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The watchdog also calls on the Georgian authorities to “cease the practice of so-called administrative detention of up to 15 days of peaceful protesters for merely resisting the police’s instructions to unblock the public building entrances.” “Doing so violates the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, the right to liberty and the right to a fair trial,” Amnesty International states.
“Such practices risk having a significant ‘chilling effect’ on the perception of people in Georgia of their freedom to assemble,” statement concluded.