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Public Defender's report discussed

By Salome Modebadze
Thursday, April 22
On April 21 the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee began discussing the report on the Human Rights Situation in Georgia during the second half of 2009 presented to Parliament by Giorgi Tugushi, the Public Defender, on March 31. “My report on the Human Rights Situation in Georgia refers to a variety of issues we encountered in different state institutions and gave recommendations to the authorities on the basis of the analysis of these. The engagement and opinion of MPs is necessary in order to establish a control mechanism for addressing each issue,” Tugushi told the media.

In his report Tugushi outlined the situation in prisons, psychiatric clinics, orphanages, the courts and the various structures of the Ministry of Interior Affairs, which he felt was unacceptable. He highlighted the problem of having a huge number of prisoners and the lack of an appropriate infrastructure for them. Tugushi said that the number of complaints about violations of prisoners' human rights by prison administrations due to lack of professional experience among the staff is also high. The report said that the inadequacy of the penitentiary system remains among the most burning issues for the country.

“The fact that new prisons are being built doesn’t at all lessen this problem. The Public Defender’s Office has advised the Government to change its zero tolerance policy towards particular types of crime,” Tugushi said. He added that he had recommended to Murtaz Zodelava, the General Prosecutor, that he takes investigations into violence in the penitentiary system under his personal control and work out alternative forms of sentence for those conviced of minor crimes. He also spoke about the inappropriateness of sentences being passed by the judicial system without any basis.

Tugushi also recommended that Khatuna Kalmakhelidze, Minister of Corections and Legal Assistance, deal with the problem of particular prisons running a very strict punishment regime and encouraged Parliament to make relevant changes to the Criminal Code. In respoinse to this Paata Sulaberidze, the Deputy Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance, said that the Ministry would follow its existing workplan and eradicate all the shortcomings in the system.

The Georgian Young Laywers Assosiation (GYLA) said that Tugushi could have been stricter with his recommendations. Tamar Khidasheli, Chair of GYLA, approved of Tugushi’s approach to the prison issue and said that unfortunately nothing will change in our country until the problems of overcrowded prisons and lack of social support for prisoners are resolved. Davit Asatiani, head of the Department of Medical Aid of the Ministry of Corrections and Legal Assistance, stated that the penitentiary system's medical services will be managed by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Protection from 2013. He added however that more financial support is needed in order to efficiently deal with all the problems in the prison medical services.

Gia Arsenishvili, Chairman of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee, called the report alarming as no such large scale monitoring had been undertaken in either the penitentiary system or the orphanages in the last two years. Arsenishvili said he had particular comments to make to the Public Defender, though he did not specify these, and stressed the importance of Government bodies participating in discussions about the issue. He further expressed his annoyance at the way the media presented the issue of underaged detainees and appealed to media outlets to eradicate this problem through self-regulation.

Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee members also debated the issues of homeless people, IDPs and freedom of the media and discussed ways of addressing violations of children's rights in orphanages. At the end of the session Tugushi said he may prepare reports once a year in future rather than twice in order to prevent the Public Defender’s Office getting bogged down with compiling reports and allow it to concentrate more on addressing the complaints it receives.