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Human Rights Watch reports flaws in administrative offences code

By Ernest Petrosyan
Thursday, January 5
“Georgia’s system for handling administrative offenses is “flawed” and “lacks full due process and fair trial rights” for defendants,” Human Rights Watch said in a report released on January 4. “The Georgian Government is reforming the system, but should take urgent measures to ensure defendants’ rights,” reads the report.

According to the 41-page report “Administrative Error: Georgia’s Flawed System for Administrative Detention”, documents show Georgia’s Code of Administrative Offenses, which governs misdemeanours, lacks full due process and fair trial rights for those accused of offenses under the code.

The code, adopted in 1984, provides for prison sentences of up to 90 days for violations, but does not require police to inform defendants of their rights promptly or to provide reasons for their detention. Detainees are often not allowed to contact their families. Lawyers have difficulty finding detainees in custody. Trials are often perfunctory. Detainees often serve their sentences in facilities that were not intended for stays longer than 72 hours and where conditions do not meet international standards.

According to the Interior Ministry it renovated 12 isolators and built three new ones last year; it says providing acceptable standards is a work in progress, which is supposed to be accomplished by the end of 2012.

6,511 individuals were tried for administrative offenses in 2009; the number increased to 8,657 in 2010 of which 3,097 were sentenced to imprisonment. The administrative imprisonment rate for 2011 up to October was 2,550, according to the Interior Ministry.

The administrative offenses code, which the report says, “the authorities have used in recent years to lock up protestors and activists at times of political tension”, does not require police to inform defendants of their rights promptly or to provide reasons for their detention.

“People who are arrested should not have to wait for a reform process to be finished to have their basic rights respected,” said Giorgi Gogia, Senior Europe and Central Asia Researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “It is encouraging that the authorities are reforming the outdated code, but more urgent steps are needed to address the gaps in the law.”

“Georgian authorities have used the Code of Administrative Offenses in recent years to lock up protesters and activists at times of political tensions,” Human Rights Watch said.

The ruling party’s MPs agreed however to the HRW assessment of the code.

“It is often amended, we are trying to make the code more optimal, but it’s obvious that such constant changes reveal mistakes, and at the same time it’s obvious that the code is old and a new approach is needed. Despite the positive changes carried out, a new Code of Administrative Offenses has been initiated and discussed by the first hearing in parliament. This is the issue we are working on and we are preparing a new act and not amendments to the code. It will be a new act that will regulate many issues. We hope to end this during the sessions and adopt a new Code of Administrative Offenses,” Chairman of the Legal Issues Committee of the Georgian Parliament Kakha Andzhaparidze told Interpressnews.

On whether the new code will solve specific problems named by Human Rights Watch regarding the acting Code of Administrative Offenses, Andzhaparidze said that he is not familiar with the problems described in the report and said it will be difficult for him to discuss the issue.