Int’l Human Rights Bodies Concerned Over Georgia’s Treatment of Public Defender’s Office

On February 21, the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI), in collaboration with a number of human rights institutions, published a statement to support the Public Defender’s Office of Georgia, following “the [Georgian] state’s breach of the confidentiality of the Public Defender’s prison visits, and subsequent attacks on the institution.”

The ENNHRI raised concerns about the recent actions by the Georgian government, relating to the confidentiality of a prison visit, which, according to the statement, “are in contradiction with international standards” and “could negatively impact on the ability of the Public Defender to carry out its mandate in an effective and independent manner.”

On January 21, Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria presented a special report of the National Preventive Mechanism at the session of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and reviewed the results of the monitoring carried out in the establishments N2, N8, N14 and N15.

The Public Defender talked about the scales of informal governance in the penitentiary institutions, as well as health care, overcrowding, staff shortage and rehabilitation-resocialization problems. According to the ENNHRI, Public Defender’s findings are in line with a report from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), which had been accepted by the Georgian Ministry of Justice.

Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, who also attended the committee hearing, slammed the Ombudsperson’s representative involved in the monitoring, saying that “this is the Public Defender’s representative, who asks a prisoner to make coffee for him twice, then eats his chocolate, smokes his cigarette and even uses a toilet in a cell, remaining in the regime of monitoring for four hours.” Later the Justice Ministry’s Special Penitentiary Service released a video footage of the visit.

The statement stressed that the Georgian Constitution overtly prohibits “impediments to the activities of the Public Defender.” The ENNHRI further noted that the Organic Law on the Public Defender forbids any kind of surveillance of a meeting between the said institution and persons deprived of their liberty.

The ENNHRI referred to the UN Paris Principles document, which grants National Human Rights Institutions [in Georgia’s case: Public Defender’s Office] the mandate to submit opinions on “any situation of violation of human rights which it decides to take up.”

The organizations expressed concern that Georgian government’s actions risked “deteriorating a conducive environment” for the Ombudsperson to carry out work effectively and independently. “In particular, the disclosure of confidential information jeopardized the safety of Public Defender’s staff,” noted the ENNHRI. As specified in the statement, “this is in violation of regional and international standard, which affirm that NHRIs [here: Public Defender’s Office] and their staff should not face any form of reprisal or intimidation as a result of activities undertaken in accordance with their respective mandates.”

The joint statement called on the Georgian Parliament to uphold the international principles requiring to protect institutions, such as the Public Defender’s Office, against intimidation, threats or any actions by government that may “negatively impact on their independence and effectiveness.” The ENNHRI also appealed to the state institutions (Prosecutor’s Office, State Inspector’s Office of Georgia) to promptly and thoroughly investigate raised cases.

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