On June 23, Public Defender of Georgia Nino Lomjaria presented to the Parliament an annual report on human rights and freedoms in 2020 in Georgia. The report covers a vast array of human rights issues in Georgia, highlighting major shortcomings that emerged or persisted during the reporting period.
Right to Life
In 2020, the Public Defender’s Office (PDO) 17 cases of prisoner death that occurred in 2015-2018, concluding that the inmates had significant health problems that were not treated in the penitentiary institutions. “Unfortunately, the investigation was only aimed at establishing the final cause of deaths and did not try to find out whether or not prisoners had received appropriate medical care,” the Ombudsman’s report stated.
The report particularly touched upon the 19 year-old footballer Giorgi Shakarashvili murder case, noting that the police activities at the initial stage of the investigation were incomplete. “Some of the shortcomings were later remedied by the investigation,” the PDO said, adding that nevertheless, the rights of persons involved in the case “were allegedly violated by the police.”
In the report, the Ombudsman’s Office also raises concerns about the case of Temirlan Machalikashvili, who was shot dead during an anti-terror operation by special police forces in December 2017, and the case of murder of minors on Khorava street in December 2017. The report says that a number of issues remained unanswered by the investigation in the Machalikashvili case, while the inquiry into the Khorava street case is pending.
Ill-treatment by Authorities, Penitentiary System
The Ombudsman’s Office registered 154 applications in 2020, in which citizens referred to ill-treatment by the authorities, including employees of penitentiary establishments in 77 cases and police officers – in 60 cases. In this context, the report revealed the worsening trend of treatment of citizens by police during administrative detentions. “In 34.3% of the cases examined by us (463 suspicious cases), bodily injuries were reported during or after detention. The respective figures were 26.8% in 2018 and 31.8% in 2019,” the Ombudsman reported.
“A number of detainees indicated ill-treatment, including beatings by police officers in a police vehicle (either while parked or driven). The vehicle is mentioned as a place of alleged ill-treatment in the report of the State Inspector as well,” the report found out.
As for the penitentiary system, the Ombudsman’s Office reported that informal governance remains the main problem. Stating that it creates a violent environment, the PDO examined cases in which prisoners provided detailed information to the investigative bodies about the informal criminal governance scheme.
“Although both prisoners and witnesses, including representatives of the prison administrations, confirmed the existence of a similar scheme, the internal monitoring bodies of the Penitentiary Service or the Prosecutor’s Office did not respond effectively to these cases,” the report concluded. The frequent practice of placing prisoners (including juvenile defendants) in the de-escalation and solitary confinement cells, as well as absence of quality physical health care also were named as fierce challenges, among others.
The Ombudsman’s report also described the severe human rights situation in the occupied territories of Georgia, particularly the restrictions on freedom of movement, resulting in the death of Georgian citizens due to the lack of access to medical services. The report highlighted the attempts to swim across the Enguri River to reach Georgia proper, which resulted in the death of several people.
The report also underlined illegal arrests of Georgian citizens in the occupied territories, including the cases of Zaza Gakheladze, Vazha Gaprindashvili, Genadi Bestaev, Irakli Bebua, Ramaz Begheluri, Mirian Taziashvili, and Khvicha Mghebrishvili.
The restrictions on receiving education in the mother tongue, the decrease in the number of first-graders, inhumane treatment of prisoners, were also named among other most stressing human rights violations in the occupied territories.
The report reviewed the new labor law adopted by the Georgian Parliament on September 30, 2020, stating that discrimination in labor relations still remains a problem. The Ombudsman’s Office particularly outlined the dire working rights situation of medical personnel in the health care sector.
“The rights situation of medical personnel is the gravest. According to the 2019 studies, support medical staff work more than 40 hours and 84.6% of them receive a salary of less than GEL 500, while 100% of them do not receive overtime pay either on working or non-working days,” the report concluded.