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International NGOs have harsh words for Georgian government

By Nino Mumladze
Friday, December 21
International NGOs have highlighted Georgia’s “shaky” human rights record and “troublingly authoritarian” government actions as cause for concern in two reports on the November 7 crisis, released this week.

Both Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group condemned the authorities’ excessive use in dispersing anti-government protests on November 7 and shutting down the opposition-friendly television station Imedi TV.

The public unrest in October and November was a result of the government’s failure to engage in a constructive dialogue with the political opposition and society at large, the Human Rights Watch report, “Crossing the Line,” states.

“Our research clearly shows that the Georgian government crossed the line when police chased and beat peaceful demonstrators, and threatened and intimidated journalists. The November 7 police operations were not legitimate means of policing. They have done serious damage to Georgia’s reputation as a champion of human rights,” stated Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Meanwhile the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said the government’s handling of the November 7 crisis has affected the up-to-then “unwavering support” of Western governments.

“The government’s repressive and disproportionate response to peaceful demonstrations shocked Western capitals because they had seen Georgia as a beacon of democracy…But it shouldn’t have. Sadly the Saakashvili administration has become increasingly authoritarian over the years,” said the International Crisis Group’s Caucasus Project Director Magdalena Frichova.

Both reports noted “serious signs” that the government was undermining the rule of law and violating human rights well before November 7. In contrast to the very principles that the 2003 Rose Revolution—which swept United National Democrat leader Mikheil Saakashvili to power—represented, the administration has become “increasingly intolerant of dissent” since then, the NGOs said.

International Crisis Group says the concentration of power in a small, like-minded elite, arbitrary application of justice, a high number of human rights violations and the restriction of free speech have all contributed to undermining the democratic standing of Saakashvili’s government.

Discussing the upcoming snap presidential election slated for January 5, the NGO says that even if “expected” winner Saakashvili is elected through free and fair elections it is not enough to say “Georgia will be back on track…Georgia does not face a choice between genuine reform or democratic openness, it must embrace both.”

International Crisis Group also said that the government’s behavior remains authoritarian, pointing specifically to the apparent targeting of opposition activists in the run-up to the snap presidential election. With Saakashvili using state resources in his election campaign, the NGO continues, the line between the governing party and the state is becoming blurred.

Human Rights Watch called on the next government to address the issues of November 7. “No matter who wins the upcoming presidential elections, Georgia has a lot of work to do to ensure accountability for the serious abuses that took place on November 7,” Cartner of Human Rights Watch said.

The International Crisis Group called on the West to do more: “It’s high time for the US and EU to confront Georgia on its shaky human rights record and insist on accountability for the November 7 events.”