While speaking to journalists about the selection of the new Public Defender at the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Robakidze University and Texas A and M University on 31 August, U.S. Ambassador Kelly Degnan emphasized that “now is the time to include as many relevant voices as possible, not to have a closed and exclusive kind of process.”
Ambassador Degnan denoted that selecting the Public Defender is “extremely important” and a “tremendous opportunity for the Parliament to have a very inclusive process.”
The Ambassador emphasized that the selection of the current Public Defender, Nino Lomjaria, “was very well-regarded by international agencies that regulate how Public Defenders are selected.”
“In fact, Georgia received a high ranking the last time the Public Defender was selected because the process was inclusive. It included NGOs. It included many voices,” she said.
Amb. Degnan noted that if Georgia wants to retain the ranking that it received from the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, it must follow the principles laid out by international best practices, the Paris Principles, and the Council of Europe’s recommendations on this subject.
The U.S. Ambassador highlighted that there “are many guidelines for Georgia to follow, to do this well and come up with a Public Defender that will really be a consensus candidate recognized by all of the stakeholders.”
“Remember that the Public Defender’s main job is to defend the human rights of every Georgian citizen,” she urged. “It’s an extremely important job, and it needs to be someone who’s impartial and qualified, and accepted by everyone, not just by one party.”
Venice Commission’s Urgent Opinion on Surveillance Law
Amb. Degnan also addressed the Venice Commission’s Urgent Opinion on the controversial surveillance law adopted by the Georgian Dream Parliament on June 7 and consequently vetoed by President Salome Zurabishvili. In its Opinion, the Venice Commission criticized the law’s adoption in a “hasty procedure” and urged authorities to re-examine the legislation.
The Ambassador underlined that the Commission’s opinion is an “opportunity” and that it “was strong and clear that a more inclusive approach is important.”
She noted that the Commission found that the need for the amendments, which would significantly extend the reasons allowed for wiretapping Georgians, are not sufficiently justified or explained.
Amb. Degnan underscored that the Opinion and the amendments themselves are particularly significant in light of the massive leak of illegal wiretapping and surveillance on church officials, diplomats, journalists, and politicians, which emerged in September 2021.
In line with that, the Ambassador said, “… the idea of doing an inclusive parliamentary process, where all voices have the chance to weigh in and to develop a better law is so important.” “These are not criticisms of Georgia,” she emphasized.
“The Venice Commission opinions and other examples like this are the opportunity to help Georgia improve its legislation, to ensure that there are legal safeguards to avoid abuses of citizens’ rights…,” the Ambassador concluded.