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Public Defender presents human rights report to the MPs

By Mzia Kupunia
Thursday, June 16
Georgian Public Defender Giorgi Tugushi presented a 2010 human rights record report to the Parliament on Monday. When speaking in front of the Georgian lawmakers, the Ombudsman focused on the situation in the penitentiary system, the conditions of the IDPs and cases of assault against journalists.

Tugushi called on the Parliament to react to the recommendations of the Ombudsman’s Office and expressed hope that the cases of misdemeanor presented in the human rights report will be followed by an “objective and transparent” investigation.

Speaking about the situation in Georgia’s penitentiary system, the Ombudsman said “active steps” are needed to be taken in order to eradicate the problems revealed by the inspection of the Public Defender’s Office in the prisons and pre-trial detention isolators. According to Tugushi, the Ombudsman’s Office representatives interviewed 1200 prisoners, as a result of which the cases of prisoners physical and verbal assaults, lack of hygiene norms and the problem of overcrowded prison cells were revealed. The Ombudsman stressed on the prisoners’ mortality rate growth, saying that 142 inmates died in prisons last year, which is 56 percent more than the mortality rate in 2009.

According to Tugushi the reason for the prisoners’ death in many cases was physical assault, as well as lack of adequate medical treatment. The Ombudsman said his office had sent “repeated notes” to the Ministry of Penitentiary and Probation over the problems in the system, however, Tugushi said no effective actions were taken by the Ministry.

Following the Ombudsman’s criticism of the penitentiary system of Georgia, lawmakers from the opposition group Christian-Democratic Movement, Giorgi Akhvlediani called on the MPs to take “specific decision” over the problem. He suggested the Justice Ministry and General Prosecutor’s Office to start an investigation and launch a criminal case on the violations named by the Ombudsman. Another proposal by Akhvlediani was demanding sacking of the Minister of Penitentiary and Probation, Khatuna Kalmakhelidze. The opposition MP handed a draft resolution on this issue to the Parliament Speaker. The Speaker put the demand of the CDM on voting, however the lawmakers turned down the draft resolution project by 22 votes against and 7 for the draft document.

In defence of the Penitentiary Ministry, ruling party MP and Chairman of the Human Rights Parliamentary Committee, Lasha Tordia said that despite the cases of wrongdoing mentioned in the human rights report, the situation in terms of human rights in Georgia has improved compared to the previous years. Speaking about “positive tendencies” in the Penitentiary system, Tordia said that the mechanism of long-term meetings at the prisons will help reconciliation of the inmates. MP Pavle Kublashvili of the National Movement Party hailed the reforms carried out in the Penitentiary system in the last several years, saying that “in the previous years the system was absolutely failed, and step by step the institute is getting close to the modern standards.”

Tugushi highlighted the facts of limiting the freedom of assembly and violating the rights of the journalists as well. Opposition MPs slammed the authorities for mistreating journalists during the May 26 police crackdown on demonstrators at the Georgian Parliament. CDM’s Giorgi Targamadze said the cases of assault on journalism on May 26 “should not remain mishandled.” “Despite the fact that the journalist were wearing distinguishing signs to show that they represented media outlets, law enforcers assaulted them anyway,” Targamadze stated “This should not remain unpunished. This is an assault on democracy and on the free society,” he added. Opposition MPs reiterated their criticism of the officials for using excessive force to disperse the demonstrators.

However, the ruling party MPs again downplayed the criticism, saying that “even in European states when the national security or public order is threatened” law enforcers are taking “adequate measures.” “When speaking about May 26 events, they are stressing the issue of disproportionate use of force, but they do not speak about what kind of threat those ‘actions’ were bearing and where all of those events were directed to,” MP from the National Movement Party Davit Darchiashvili said “if you look at other countries members of the EU, you can look at the actions of their law enforcers when the national security or the public order is endangered,” he added.

The Georgian Parliament will vote for the resolution on the Public Defender’s 2010 human rights report on June 17.