The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released its concluding observations on the fifth periodic report on Georgia on July 27 which examines Georgia’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a human rights treaty. This report was preceded by the concluding observations of the fourth periodic report published in 2017.
To start, the report welcomed the adopted amendments to the Civil, Criminal, and Administrative Codes aimed at aligning the country’s legislation with the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies.
It also positively assessed the adoption of the Juvenile Justice Code in 2015, the Code on the Rights of the Child in 2019, the Law on Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2020, the National Action Plan for the Protection of Human Rights for 2018-2020, and amendments made to the Law of Georgia on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination in 2019.
While noting the implementation of the National Human Rights Strategy for the period 2014-2020, it expressed concern over the delay in finalizing the Strategy for 2021-2030 and about the “lack of assessment conducted based on human rights indicators.”
Public Defender’s Office of Georgia
In reference to the Public Defender’s Office, while the Committee approved of the increased budget provided to the agency and the progress made in implementing its recommendations, it was disappointed in the “low rates of implementation of such recommendations by public and private actors.”
The report emphasized the government must “ensure the implementation of the Public Defender’s recommendations both by public and private actors” while providing the Public Defender with the necessary resources to carry out its mandate effectively and independently.
Independence of the Judiciary
Regarding the judiciary, the Committee noted that despite some reforms being undertaken there is a “persistent lack of independence and impartiality in the judiciary…”
It was particularly concerned about the lack of transparency in the selection and appointment of judges, including to the Supreme Court, as well as the concentration of powers in the High Council of Justice (HCoJ), the body overseeing Georgia’s judiciary.
It also disapproved of the “allegations of politically motivated arrests and trials” particularly in the case of opposition United National Movement Chairperson Nika Melia, former members of the Georgian-Azerbaijani state commission on delimitation-demarcation, and the case of imprisoned ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili.
While the report acknowledged that the nation adopted the Law on Conflict of Interest and Corruption in Public Service in 2015 and created the Anti-Corruption Council, it expressed disquiet regarding the “continuing reports of corruption and bribery with impunity.”
Furthermore, it emphasized authorities’ failure to investigate and prosecute all cases of corruption, including with high-ranking officials, in a timely and effective manner which the report noted is “reportedly due to the lack of sufficient independence among law enforcement bodies and the judiciary.”
Along this line, the report took note of the weak nature of whistleblowing laws and allegations of the ineffectiveness of the asset declarations monitoring system, as well as the lack of transparency in the land privatization process.
Regarding privacy, the Committee was disquieted by the “lack of sufficient safeguards against arbitrary interference with the right to privacy in the form of surveillance, interception activities, and access to personal data.”
It was particularly concerned that the Operative Technical Agency, which conducts electronic surveillance, is granted both regulatory and monitoring powers and lacks independence from the State Security Service of Georgia. It also said the existing oversight mechanism over its activities is “not effective.”
While noting Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili’s recent veto of proposed amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure, it “regrets this legislative attempt to extend the scope and duration of covert investigative actions, which may seriously infringe the right to privacy.”
Torture and Inhuman Treatment
In this section, the Committee was concerned about the abolition of the State Inspector’s Service in an expedited manner and without consultation and the “chilling effects” this has had on other institutions protecting human rights.
It also disapproved of the frequent application of articles of the Criminal Code referring to exceeding official powers rather than those envisaging torture and inhuman treatment when investigating allegations of ill-treatment or torture by law enforcement officials.
It further noted the “failure” of authorities to effectively investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Temirlan Machalikashvili, who was shot by State Security officers in 2017.
Media and Freedom of Expression
The Committee expressed concern about the “intensified polarization of media, and undue government pressure on media through administrative, financial, and judicial means, including the change of ownership or management of critical media outlets and the initiation of criminal proceedings against media outlets and workers.”
It also noted with disquiet increased threats, intimidation, harassment, and attacks against journalists but also human rights defenders and government critics.
Furthermore, it expressed unease regarding the political influence on the National Communications Commission and possible restrictions on media freedom under the amended Law on Electronic Communications in July 2020.
Regarding concerning cases towards media workers, the Committee made note of the kidnapping of Afgan Mukhtarli in 2017 and the July 5-6 2021 homophobic pogroms in which over 50 journalists were brutally attacked by far-right mobs whilst trying to cover Tbilisi Pride.
Gender/LGBTQ Equality, and Violence Against Women
Regarding gender equality, the report noted the establishment of the Inter-agency Commission on Gender Equality, Violence against Women, and Domestic Violence, as well as increased representation of women in Parliament but remained worried about the continued underrepresentation of women, particularly from vulnerable groups, in “decision-making roles at all levels of public life.”
Regarding violence against women, the report highlighted the unfortunate circumstances of “underreporting of cases… particularly cases of sexual violence, low rates of prosecution and conviction for these crimes, and insufficient protection and support services for victims, including psychological services.”
It found concerning that legislation does not include lack of consent as the core element of the definition of rape and does not define “honor crimes.”
Regarding the LGBTQ community, the report expressed unease at the “reported prevalence of discrimination, harassment, intimidation, and attacks” against the community, as well as its advocates and journalists, particularly during the July 5-6 homophobic pogroms.
The report also highlighted the homophobic and transphobic rhetoric spread by politicians, public officials, and religious figures.
- PM Says Pride March ‘Unreasonable,’ Organized by ‘Radical Opposition’
- Orthodox Church Speaks Out Against Pride Week
It underlined that the government must protect against all forms of discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity both in law and practice partly by ensuring “that such violations are promptly and effectively investigated, that perpetrators are held accountable…”
Religious and Ethnic Minorities
In reference to religious minorities, the report was concerned with the “structural discrimination against religious minorities” and the disproportionately small amount of funding provided to such communities for rehabilitating their places of worship. It emphasized the discriminatory practice of tax exemptions for certain religious organizations but not others.
The denial of the Muslim community’s desire to build a new mosque in the coastal city of Batumi was also of concern. Along this line, it denoted the continued issue of “stigmatization, pressure to convert, and harassment” against members of religious minorities, particularly Muslim students in state schools.
In reference to ethnic minorities, the Committee remained concerned about the low level of social integration and representation of minorities in political and public bodies at all levels. It noted that despite the Law on State Language in 2015 and the increased accessibility of Georgian language education, “language barriers continue to infringe the enjoyment of Covenant rights by minorities, especially groups with lesser-used languages.”
Occupied Regions and Internally Displaced Persons
Regarding the occupied regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali/S. Ossetia, the report positively noted Georgian authorities’ efforts to ensure the respect of human rights in the areas even though they are not under the effective control of the Georgian government. They expressed worry, however, that residents in these areas “do not enjoy the same level of protection under the Covenant as those of their counterparts in the rest of Georgia.”
While highlighting the peace initiative put forth by the Georgian government titled “A Step Toward a Better Future,” the Committee remained concerned with the difficulties encountered by individuals living in the occupied regions including “violations of their right to life, liberty, and security, freedom of movement, and further challenges in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Regarding those internally displaced from the occupied regions, the Committee commended measures taken by the Georgian government to improve housing, financial assistance, and professional training opportunities but remained “deeply concerned” about reports that 52% of IDP families are still waiting to be accommodated in permanent housing.
“It regrets reports of the high levels of poverty among these individuals, an insufficient amount of monthly allowance, and their inadequate access to social services,” the report concluded.
Read the full report and its recommendations here.