On January 13, the Human Rights Watch, an international human rights monitoring organization, issued its annual World Report, a country-by-country analysis on the state of human rights in more than 100 countries and territories worldwide, covering developments of 2020.
The report section on Georgia raises several concerns, among them lack of accountability for law enforcement abuses, threats to media freedom, disproportionately harsh drug policy and discrimination against LGBT people.
It highlights that “political tensions rose in Georgia following the October 31 parliamentary elections,” noting the ruling Georgian Dream party maintained a legislative majority “amid allegations of fraud, prompting the opposition to boycott the new Parliament.” The report reads that international observers concluded the elections, despite being held in a competitive environment, were marred by “widespread allegations of voter pressure.”
The report also notes the Parliament adopted “much-needed labor reform, restoring some protections to labor rights.”
- Georgia Passes Sweeping Labor Code Package
- Parliament Extends Law Allowing Gov’t to Restrict Rights Without Emergency
- Parliament Passes Bill Granting Gov’t Emergency-Like Powers
The HRW says to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic’s “devastating impact on the economy,” the Georgian government enacted a USD 1.5 billion anti-crisis plan in April and additional measures of USD 132 million three months before the October 31 parliamentary elections, steps which opposition and some civil society groups saw as “manipulation to attract voters.”
The watchdog also points to the Parliament-endorsed law allowing the Government to restrict rights without declaring a state of emergency. “Human rights groups in Georgia noted that the manner of this granting of extensive government power without parliamentary oversight was incompatible with the Constitution,” it stresses.
Noting local election watchdogs assessed the October 31 parliamentary elections as “the least democratic and free” under GD rule, the HRW cites election-day incidents, verbal and physical confrontations against journalists and observers, breaches of voting secrecy and alleged cases of vote-buying as some key concerns.
It further notes that police used water cannons without warning against “dozens of peaceful protesters” outside the Central Election Commission building on November 8.
The report stresses that lack of accountability for law enforcement abuses persisted through the year, noting the investigation into police dispersal of June 20 protests “continued to be largely one-sided.”
- 19 Detained As Police Used Water Cannons Against Election Rally in Tbilisi
- GNCC Appoints ‘Special Manager’ to Major Telecommunications Company
- Media Coalition Slams Proposed Changes to Broadcasting, E- communications Laws
Assessing media freedom in Georgia, the HRW notes the new management of Adjara TV, the Batumi-based regional public broadcaster, fired journalists critical of the “alleged interference” with the media outlet’s editorial policy, including news anchor Teona Bakuridze and talk show host Malkhaz Rekhviashvili.
It also stresses that local human rights groups regarded as an interference with freedom of expression the State Security Service-initiated probe into “alleged act of sabotage” by the pro-opposition Mtavari Arkhi TV.
Another issue the international watchdog highlights are the controversial amendments to the Law on Electronic Communications, giving the Communications Commission, state regulatory body, the authority to appoint a “special manager” to supervise any electronic communications company that fails to enforce its decisions.
The watchdog notes that despite the labor reforms of 2020, workplace safety remains a “persistent problem” in the country, as “22 workers died and 110 were injured in work-related accidents through September.”
The HRW stresses that authorities “continue to refuse transgender people to obtain legal gender recognition without sex-altering surgery,” while the COVID-19-related economic downturn exacerbated their “poor living arrangements.” It adds that a 19-year-old transgender woman attempted suicide in an effort to “draw attention to the lack of government social support” at a protest in April.
Referring to drug policy, the report notes that although the Constitutional Court ruled as unconstitutional the imprisonment for possession of drugs in quantities that are too small to cause intoxication, legislative reform that would have largely overhauled punitive practices against drug use remains stalled in the Georgian legislature.