U.S. Ambassador Talks Saakashvili, Georgians in Ukraine, Public Defender

While attending an event at the Kutaisi State University on 9 December, U.S. Ambassador Kelly Degnan spoke with journalists about the ailing health of imprisoned ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgians fighting in Ukraine, and the ongoing Public Defender selection process.

Saakashvili’s Condition

Asked about Saakashvili’s current health status, Amb. Degnan underscored that the U.S. “is following Mr. Saakashvili’s case very closely.”

“We commend the work of the Public Defender’s Office, which has done an exemplary job of monitoring his situation and ensuring that his rights are protected, visiting him twice in the last week,” she stressed.

The Ambassador also emphasized that “ultimately” it is the Georgian government’s responsibility to “ensure that Mr. Saakashvili’s physical and mental health is protected, that his medical needs are met, and that his rights are protected, including a fair trial.” “So, we would be looking to see that that obligation, that responsibility under the constitution is protected,” she added.

Georgians Fighting in Ukraine

Responding to a question regarding Georgian volunteers fighting in Ukraine, the Ambassador remarked, “I think it’s clear the side the people of Georgia have taken, and that is in solidarity with the Ukrainian people.”

Pointing out that Ukraine is fighting for its sovereignty, territorial integrity, as well as its identity and “existence as a country,” Amb. Degnan said, “these are all things that Georgians know deeply from your own experience with Russian aggression, from your own experience with Russia trying to take your identity away, taking your territory away, trying to take your sovereignty away.”

“So, when the people of Georgia extend their generous humanitarian assistance to support the people of Ukraine, who are fighting for their country and their identity, I think we know clearly which side the people of Georgia are on,” she underlined.

In response to a follow-up, the Amb. reiterated, “I think Georgians feel deeply the struggle that Ukrainians are facing to preserve their identity and their homeland and their sovereignty.”

Adding that Georgia continues to experience Russian occupation, and resulting “harassment and kidnappings,” the Ambassador remarked, “I think that that probably inspires some Georgians to want to do what they can to help, whether it’s humanitarian assistance or anything else.”

Public Defender Selection Process

Asked about the ongoing Public Defender selection process, the Ambassador underscored, “As we’ve seen from the outstanding work of Nino Lomjaria and her professional team at the Public Defender’s office, this is a very important position.” “It’s important because it’s one of the few independent agencies that has the obligation under your Constitution to protect the human rights of every citizen in Georgia,” she noted.

In that context, Amb. Degnan stressed the importance of having an “inclusive” selection process for choosing the new Public Defender.

“It needs to be done in a transparent way to ensure that whoever is the next Public Defender is someone who’s qualified, who’s independent, who’s courageous, and who is prepared to take on this tremendous responsibility, mandated by the Constitution to protect the human rights of every Georgian citizen,” she emphasized.

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