Public Defender Presents the 2018 Report on the Situation of Human Rights at the Parliament’s Plenary Session

On 19 September 2019, the Public Defender of Georgia, Nino Lomjaria, assessed the situation of human rights and freedoms in the country in 2018 at the plenary session of the Parliament of Georgia, spoke about the main human rights trends in the country and deficiencies identified in the legislation and practice.

The Public Defender of Georgia submitted the report to the Parliament of Georgia in March 2019 and since many new issues have emerged since then, she partially spoke about the important developments of 2019.

The first topic in the Public Defender’s speech was the protection of the right to life. The Public Defender spoke about the shortcomings in the investigations of the murder of Temirlan Machalikashvili, Khorava Street murder, murder of Georgia’s first President Zviad Gamsakhurdia and the disproportionately light sentences applied against the persons convicted of deprivation of Levan Kortava’s life.

The Public Defender called on the Parliament of Georgia to evaluate the performance of the Prosecutor's Office of Georgia and the situation of investigation of the right to life, and to develop relevant recommendations.

In addition, given frequent delays in investigations, according to the Public Defender, it is necessary that the mandate of her institution be extended in order to gain access to pending criminal cases for the purpose of assessing the effectiveness of investigations into deprivation of life and ill-treatment.

The efforts aimed at effectively combating ill-treatment made it possible to identify gaps in investigations, namely relating to incorrect categorization of cases, involvement of victims, timely investigation, and thorough and objective investigation.

The Public Defender of Georgia, as the National Preventive Mechanism, assesses the situation in closed facilities every year and submits recommendations to the state for the purpose of improving the measures aimed at preventing ill-treatment. The 2018 Report of the National Committee for the Prevention of Torture has been published this year, and almost with regard to each issue, the Committee agrees with the Public Defender’s recommendations, which is a good proof of the trust towards the Public Defender’s Office. The same report mentions the problem of criminal subculture in the penitentiary institutions, which has been underlined by the Public Defender for years.

Despite changes, many systemic problems remain in the field of mental health care, inlcuding the lack of community-based and outpatient services, continuity of mental health services, neglect by families and absence of a network of supporters.

The Public Defender spoke about the protection of the right to liberty and security and illegal detentions, as well as the rights situation of drug addicts. In the context of the right to a fair trial, she spoke about the process of election of Supreme Court judges and the shortcomings identified in the process.

In terms of the realization of freedom of expression, the unhealthy and highly polarized media environment remained a challenge, including during the election period; the developments around Rustavi 2 endangered media pluralism.

The problem of realization of freedom of assembly was clearly seen in the illegal restriction of installation of temporary constructions during demonstrations by law enforcers and ineffective management of counter-demonstrations. However, realization of this right reached different scale in 2019 and the events of June 20-21 showed the need for a special examination of the case by the Public Defender.

Environmental issues remain one of the major challenges in the country. The large-scale data on the environmental damage and ineffective legislative regulations are alarming. Problems relating to air pollution are particularly concerning. Maintenance of recreational areas is vital during the urban development process. Environmental, socio-economic issues arising from the decisions related to the construction of hydropower plants remain unresolved.

The situation of safety at work and the statistics on casualties in the workplace are alarming.

The 2018 report focuses on the ineffective protection of patients' rights and the lack of access to quality services, especially the grave situation of oncologic patients. The number of cancer diagnoses in adolescents has increased six-fold over the last 5 years and 14% of total deaths has been caused by this disease. Unfortunately, there is no unified state program and patients have to undergo a very expensive course of treatment and buy medicines within the framework of a number of programs, in a very complicated way.

A profile state program would facilitate the overall implementation of preventive measures and timely detection of new cases of oncological diseases, as well as the reduction in the spread of cancer, and would make treatment more affordable for cancer patients.

The situation of older persons, who make up 16% of beneficiaries getting social allowances together with pensions and more than half of whom leave a large part of their pensions in banks each month due to quite high pension loan rates, should also been underlined. It is important for the state to effectively improve the situation of older persons in this area through effective intervention. The problem of invisible domestic violence against older persons, which unfortunately is not fully reflected in statistics, is also noteworthy.

Like in previous years, no effective legislative safeguards have been put in place to protect cultural heritage sites.

The 2018 presidential elections were characterized with particularly negative campaign, heavy accusations and politically polarized environment; a number of violent incidents and increased use of hate speech were observed in the election period.

The human rights situation in the occupied territories is grave. The murder of Archil Tatunashvili should be emphasized in this regard. The situation of the right to life, security, access to health care and education, child’s rights, restrictions on freedom of movement and ethnic discrimination of Georgian citizens living in the occupied territories and along the occupation lines, is grave. Their socio-economic situation is unbearable.

The Public Defender also spoke about the situation of IDPs living in damaged facilities, as well as the legal issues related to aliens and stateless persons.

The lack of social workers and psychologists, inadequate resources, ineffective protection and rehabilitation of abused children make the state childcare system ineffective. Poverty and inadequate living standards remain one of the main causes of placing children in the state care system. In many cases, schools do not report of children dropping out of school and promote the spread of harmful practices, such as child marriage and engagement.

Five years after the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, no national agency responsible for the implementation of the convention has been determined at the national level. Only 99 out of 6073 persons with disabilities registered for employment were employed in 2018.

Only 120 out of 2084 public schools are fully adapted and 690 are partially adapted. Only 350 public schools have resource rooms. The state does not register children with disabilities left outside school. Out of 524,000 students registered in the 2018-2019 school year, only 750 students with disabilities were identified by schools, which is 0.14% of the total number of students.

The Public Defender examined 158 cases of alleged equality-related discrimination in 2018. 69% of them were related to the public sector. The Public Defender issued 16 recommendations and 6 general proposals.

According to the Global Gender Gap Index 2018, Georgia ranked 119th out of 149 countries in terms of women's political participation and women's representation in Parliament, and 139th out of 193 countries, according to inter-parliamentary links. The gender pay gap is quite high in Georgia and amounts to 36%.

7 murders and 11 attempted murders containing signs of domestic crime were reported in 2018. 3 murders and 5 attempted murders containing signs of domestic crime were reported from January 1 to June 30, 2019. The lack of programs for social and economic empowerment of victims of domestic violence, provision of housing and promotion of independent living led to cases of repeated violence.

Religious minorities mostly cannot enjoy public space or the media. It is still difficult for national minorities to participate in the processes of education, learning the state language, cultural heritage protection and decision-making.

The Public Defender particularly emphasized the issue of protection of human rights in the field of defense, the rights situation of military servicemen and their working conditions. Particular emphasis was placed on the need to promote socio-economic empowerment of veterans and increase tax allowances for them.

The Public Defender's Office received and responded to 8480 applications in 2018. The Public Defender's hotline received 6063 calls. 107 recommendations/proposals, 11 amicus curiae briefs, 2 constitutional lawsuits were prepared on the basis of individual applications; 11 special reports were prepared.

In her closing remarks, the Public Defender welcomed the MPs’ increased interest in the report and spoke about the future plans, including attempts to avoid past mistakes, especially in view of the coming election year.

In conclusion, the Public Defender noted that the main challenge facing the country was the election of Supreme Court judges, which would decide the standard of a fair trial in the country and therefore the country's course of democratic development for the next 20-30 years.

Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and Civil Integration, Sophio Kiladze, talked about the draft resolution on the implementation of the Public Defender's report and said that 259 out of Public Defender’s 308 recommendations would be reflected in the resolution to be adopted by the Parliament.

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