Prayers in Batumi pray outside as the only mosque is crowded (DF Watch)

TBILISI, DFWatch–On December 10, the International Human Rights Day, the Public Defender as usual published a brief report about the situation in Georgia in terms of human rights.

DF Watch compiled an overview of the most important issues discussed in the report.

Situation in penitentiary facilities

The 2015 amendments to the Imprisonment Code improved the management of the penitentiary system and the system of internal inspection. On the other hand, the short time of storing prison surveillance footage and the lack of access of the Public Defender to this footage prevents the office from addressing the issues related to ill-treatment of prisoners. The practice of unreasoned and disproportionate use of force in penitentiary facilities remains a problem. The scarcity of rehabilitation and resocialisation programmes for prisoners is an obstacle at tackling prison violence and development of criminal subcultures.

Police and situation in temporary detention isolators

Excessive use of force during arrests and sporadic use of violence after the arrest remain a problem, as is conduct of independent and impartial investigation in such cases. There are instances of occasional use of force against detainees combined with flaws in the reporting mechanism of physical injuries and lack of surveillance cameras in police department buildings.

Ill-treatment and necessity of creating an independent investigation mechanism

Due to flawed reporting on ill-treatment in police stations and penitentiary facilities, the Public Defender calls for creation of an independent investigation mechanism. The current mechanism often results in delayed in ineffective investigations. There is a positive shift in legal practice of increasingly evaluating cases of ill-treatment under Article 1443 of the Criminal Code of Georgia (degrading or inhuman treatment) instead of Article 333 (exceeding the official powers).

Situation in mental institutions

The challenges faced by mental institutions still include ensuring physical security of patients and prevention of violence and self-injuries among patients. In some facilities there is a problem of excessive use of physical restraints towards patients. Adequate psychiatric care remains a challenge due to its focus on pharmacotherapy instead of following the biopsychosocial model. In some cases, patients were deprived of their liberty to leave the hospital after initiating medical treatment.

Right to liberty and security

Although the rate of application of pre-trial detention has been reduced, it is still applied rather frequently and without full legal reasoning. As the Criminal Procedure Code of Georgia doesn’t provide explicit regulations on repeated use of pre-trial detention, common courts tend to apply this measure multiple times to a defendant for different criminal changes, allowing them to significantly extend the pre-trial detention time.

Right to respect of private and family life

Violations of the right to private life of individuals are related to the spreading of videos depicting torture and inhuman and degrading treatment and audio recordings of private telephone conversations. Although the video records allowed to identify the victim of the torture, they were screened publically multiple times by television company Obiektivi in Tbilisi and Zugdidi. As of 31 March 2015, the Operative-Technical Department of the State Security Service at the Ministry of Internal Affairs has been authorised to acquire real-time information as a part of establishing of the electronic system of secret surveillance. According to the current legislation, there is no oversight mechanism for such activities and secret investigation can be carried out independently of the Criminal Procedure Code of Georgia, leaving the institution with unrestricted power to interfere in privacy without defining the public interest which would justify the interference.

Freedom of religion

No improvement in terms of freedom of religion for non–Christian Orthodox minorities has been noted. Issues related to investigation and response to religiously-motivated hate crimes remain unaddressed. Notably, individuals who participated in acts violating the rights of Muslims in 2012–2014 have not been prosecuted. Another notable issue is the verbal and physical violence towards the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

National minorities

No improvement in terms of protection of national minorities and fostering civil integration has been noted. However, in 2015 the Government approved new State Strategy of Civil Equality and Integration and the Action Plan for 2015–2020 as well as the Plan of Teaching of Languages of National Minorities. There has been improvement in terms of teaching Georgian in Kvemo Kartli and Samtskhe–Javakheti, although the measures are still insufficient. Thanks to the One Plus Four system, representatives of national minorities can become enrolled in higher education, although Ossetian-speaking applicants haven’t had so far an opportunity to take Ossetian-language admission tests which are guaranteed by law. The protection of rights of Roma people, their integration, education, health care, access to social security, and other numerous issues still pose the important challenge in Georgia, with no effective programme adopted by the State so far. The Public Broadcaster allocates only 15 minutes for news programmes in minority languages, which isn’t enough to provide full information on the ongoing events in the country, impeding civil integration efforts.

Freedom of expression

The legal dispute related to TV company Rustavi 2 raised the issue of unjustified interference in the freedom of expression by the judiciary. Importantly, the court has no right to adjudicate, evaluate, and to build the reasoning of the judgement based on the editorial policy of the company. There were cases of unjustified restriction of freedom of expression on behalf of the law enforcement, most notably in the case of three individuals, one of them being a representative of a media outlet, who were arrested for putting up posters. The legislation still doesn’t provide penalties for unlawful denial of provision of the public information and there is no appropriate oversight mechanism to ensure access to information.

Freedom of assembly and manifestation

In individual cases the freedom of assembly and manifestation was violated, e.g. ineffective steps taken by the law enforcement in the case of Georgian Dream activists who invaded the office of NGO Centre of Freedom and Support in Zugdidi, interference in the rights of individuals who planned to gather in the Heydər Əliyev Park in Tbilisi, or the arrest of one of organisers of ‘Stop Russia’ rally in Tbilisi, arrest of 10 individuals on the rally against ‘Panorama Tbilisi’. On the other hand, the rally of United National Movement on 21 March and the rally on the Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on 17 May were carried out in a peaceful manner and without incidents.

Prohibition of discrimination

Although the Law on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination was adopted, the gaps in the law remain a challenge. Most complainants (15%) report discrimination in labour relations on the ground of political opinions; 11% report discrimination on the ground of religion and faith. Each discrimination based on disability, gender, or belonging to the national or ethnic minority is claimed by 10% of complainants. Other complainants offer report discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and its expression.

Right to work

The main issue remains the absence of an official body responsible for labour rights and occupational safety. There is a suspicion that competitions announced for public offices were only formal and preselected candidates were appointed at respective positions.

Rights of children

Although the government demonstrated efforts at improving the situation related to children’s rights (adoption of the Juvenile Justice Code by the Parliament, preparation of the draft law on the pre-school education, initiation of the amendments to the Law on Adoption and Foster Care, and preparation of standards of foster care), the existing legislation doesn’t protect the children enough from all forms of violence, with the rate of violence against children in Georgia remaining high. Child poverty and mortality remains an acute problem, as well as the protection of children who live and work on the streets. There are flaws in the process of rehabilitation and resocialisation of former juvenile convicts.

Rights of women and gender equality in Georgia

The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence still hasn’t been signed. There is an extremely alarming situation related to violence against women and domestic violence with a high number of murders of women. Although a positive development can be observed, there are still cases of inadequate response by the police. Early marriages present a grave problem; in 2015, 265 weddings of juveniles (aged 16–18) were registered, while the number of informal weddings at an early age is much higher and unaccountable for statistically. No effective measures were taken for the refinement of the legislation related to the protection of women’s labour rights.

Rights of LGBT people

The needs of transgender people are inadequately considered, which in some cases leads to violation of their fundamental rights. Transgender people encounter problems when they want to change their sex marker in the civil records and no effective steps have been taken so far. Although the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia was marked peacefully on 17 May 2015, the individuals who engaged in violent acts on 17 May 2013 were not held accountable. The situation of LGBT prisoners poses challenges due to deeply rooted stereotypes and lack of awareness on behalf of employees of penitentiary facilities.

Rights of disabled persons

Implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities still poses a challenge. Disabled persons still encounter problems with access to the physical environment, structure, transportation, and information. In the process of implementation of the various infrastructural projects by the state and local government bodies, needs of the disabled persons are often ignored. Social security for disabled persons and right to housing and employment remains an issue.

Rights of elderly people

The majority of elderly people have no access to adequate housing, social services, and safeguards, putting them at risk of poverty, homelessness, and isolation. The state still has no effective policy for older people and no strategy to protect their rights and social welfare. The majority of the older people live below the poverty line, while the state offers them the survival minimum assistance and placement in the specialised facilities, which is in practice problematic.

Right to adequate housing

Dysfunctional legislative basis, lack of centralised or regional databases of homeless persons, lack of necessary infrastructural resources for homeless persons, and scarcity of funds remain main challenges.

Right to social security

The demand for inclusion in the programme for protection of socially vulnerable families who live below the poverty line is high. Adoption of the Law on Development of the Highland Regions is a positive development, as it was drafter with taking into consideration numerous recommendations by the Public Defender.

Rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs)

The new programme of long-term accommodation of IDPs in Tbilisi and Zugdidi, which provides for co-financing of the IDP’s mortgage by the state, is a positive development. The main challenged faced by the state is the accommodation of IDPs, as many families continue to live in environments which insult human dignity.

Rights of the conflict-affected population

The situation of the population living close to the occupation lines in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is grave due to detentions, also on Georgia-controlled territory. 148 persons were detained at the South Ossetian ABL, while 272 persons were detailed close to Abkhazia. As of September 2015, Russian has been the sole language of instruction in schools in the Gali district, violating the right of local population to receive education in their native language.

Repatriation of persons forcibly deported by the Soviet government from the Georgian SSR in the 1940s

So far no action plan was adopted based on the official strategy of repatriating Meskhetians. Only a small number of Meskhetians acquired Georgian citizenship due to legislation-specific issues.

Rights of asylum-seekers, refugees, and persons with humanitarian status

Despite positive developments, the explanation of the denial of refugee or humanitarian statuses based on the national security grounds for asylum-seekers remains to be the main problem. Such cases practically eliminate the possibility to present proof in the court, as the reasons for denial of residence permit are unknown to the applicant.

Reported by Dominik K. Cagara