Public Defender’s Statement on International Human Rights Day

December 10, 2023, marks the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The document approved by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, in response to the evils of the Second World War, has become a tool for the protection of universal rights, but unfortunately, even after so many years, Georgia, like other countries of the international community, faces daily challenge to ensure that the fundamental human rights and freedoms are equally protected and accessible to each individual, on the basis of the principles of equality.

Traditionally, the Public Defender celebrates this most important day and, with a statement specially dedicated to this day, emphasizes all the main challenges that exist in the country in terms of protection of human rights and freedoms.

In 2023, the protection of human rights was stained by the killing of Georgian citizen Tamaz Ginturi by the occupation forces. This grave fact is an echo of the impunity of the murderers of four Georgian citizens: Davit Basharuli, Giga Otkhozoria, Archil Tatunashvili and Irakli Kvaratskhelia, for which the Russian Federation bears responsibility. Along with the violation of the right to life, unfortunately, the practice of illegal detentions and ill-treatment of citizens continues in the occupied territories; The ethnically Georgian population is not given the opportunity to receive education in their native language; The process of illegal "borderization" has become a daily occurrence. Coping with the consequences of the occupation has been the daily routine of the displaced population in Georgia for years. Despite the multi-year process of long-term resettlement of IDPs and the gradually improved procedures, the Public Defender considers that the relevant rules remain somewhat flawed and, at the same time, part of the negative decisions on resettlement are unfounded. It is also a challenge that some of the facilities transferred to IDPs in the past years are dilapidated.

Poverty remains one of the main challenges in the country, which in turn has a negative impact on the realization of all human rights and further aggravates the situation of vulnerable groups. In this regard, the challenges of child poverty should be especially noted. The existing central and local targeted public support services to prevent and combat child poverty are not sufficiently flexible or effective, including those aimed at developing the skills of parents and caregivers and achieving independent living of the families. Unfortunately, this also becomes the basis for placing children in state care. It is problematic for the families of minors that they do not have safe, proper housing, food or basic necessities for personal use, which is why children still have to perform various hard jobs that are dangerous to their life and health.

Along with child poverty, the prevention of child abuse remains an important challenge, which requires the effective implementation of coordinated work by various agencies. It is necessary to respond to the cases of violence with a timely and child-friendly approach. In this regard, the approval of the 2023-2026 strategy for the protection of children living and/or working on the street from all kinds of violence, including trafficking, should be positively noted.

Poverty also has a negative impact on the realization of the rights of older persons. The percentage of older persons in the population is increasing year by year, and more than 36% of them are registered in the unified data base of socially vulnerable families. Under these circumstances, unfortunately, the country still does not have an enforceable or effective action plan, and no appropriate measures are being taken, which would create guarantees for the dignified and healthy aging of the elderly population.

It should be noted with regret that, like previous years, there is still no full legal definition of a homeless person or the necessary framework legislation for the realization of the right to adequate housing, which would give each municipality the opportunity to pursue a different policy towards homeless people.

There is still a lot of work to be done to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The quality and continuity of inclusive education for persons with disabilities is especially important. In addition, no national accessibility plan or standards for ensuring access of persons with disabilities to information, means of communication, websites, mobile applications have been approved to date. The essential participation of persons with disabilities and their organizations in the decision-making process at different levels is also problematic.

Unfortunately, a number of issues of the protection and civil integration of national minorities remained relevant this year. In terms of access to education, the introduction of a bilingual teaching model, development of textbooks and training/retraining of bilingual teachers remain problematic. It is also a problem to provide the Armenian and Azerbaijani schools with native language and literature textbooks published in Georgia.

Full participation of national minorities in the process of various decision-making continues to be a difficulty; In addition, promoting and restoring the activities of culture houses/culture centers in the regions densely inhabited by national minorities is problematic; the measures specifically implemented to promote the culture of national minorities are insufficient.

In 2023, issues related to the realization of civil-political rights and the rule of law were no less relevant.

In 2023, a number of assemblies, rallies and counter rallies were held. Unfortunately, when interfering with the freedom of assembly, the police used disproportionate force in some cases. For example, the dispersal of the rally held on March 7-9, 2023 and the unjustified termination of the entire assembly by law enforcement officers with the use of force were based on the violent actions of only part of the participants in the assembly, which, according to the Public Defender's assessment, required the implementation of individual - necessary and proportionate measures against specific offenders. Detention of participants in assemblies and demonstrations is based on the Administrative Offences Code adopted in 1984, which is incompatible with the current constitutional order. For years, the Public Defender has been talking about the need to develop a new code, as the current one of the Soviet period does not even meet the minimum standard of compatibility with human rights and basic freedoms. A clear example of this was the arrest of civil society representatives by the police on the basis of this outdated legislation on June 2-3, 2023. In this regard, the Public Defender's Office submitted an amicus curiae brief to the court in relation to five cases. Unfortunately, these cases also confirm that often the freedom of expression or the right to assembly is interfered with only because of the chosen style of the protest, which is completely contrary to the relevant standards of human rights.

In this regard, the amendments planned to be made to the Law of Georgia on Assemblies and Demonstrations in 2023 were particularly problematic. According to the Public Defender's assessment, the draft amendments represented an intense interference with freedom of expression/assembly, by restricting the expression of opinion by using temporary constructions (for example, a tent). This initiative, based on the request of the Public Defender, was negatively evaluated by the OSCEOffice forDemocratic Institutions and HumanRights (ODIHR) as well. According to their opinion, the proposed amendments could be used to discriminately suppress political dissent. The manner of speedy adoption of the draft law was also negatively evaluated.

The provision of an appropriate environment for media freedom and journalists' activities remains a challenge. In order to ensure the aforementioned, it is important to properly realize the right of access to information, which is mainly hindered by the outdated legislation that cannot respond to the needs existing at this stage.

The tendency to create obstacles for the activities of human rights defenders continued in 2023, which has been manifested in the campaigns aimed at discrediting and stigmatizing them over the years. In terms of the situation of human rights defenders, the submission of the so-called foreign agents draft laws in 2023, which did not meet the standards of freedom of association or expression, as well as the right to privacy, was particularly alarming.

As in previous years, it remains problematic to protect the rights of persons detained and deprived of their freedom under the control of the state. In this regard, the lack of the obligation to use body cameras and to make audio and video recordings remains a challenge. Unfortunately, the police premises, where detainees are kept, are still not fully covered by video surveillance systems. It should be noted that in 2023, obtaining information about the whereabouts of the detainees before their placement in temporary detention facilities has been difficult for their lawyers, family members and the Public Defender's Office, which needs to be remedied.

There are challenges in the penitentiary system as well. The Public Defender has been emphasizing for years that the main problem is informal governance, which aims to silence prisoners, prohibit them from talking about problems, and maintain an illusionary order in the institutions.

The vicious practice of lengthy placement of prisoners of closed institutions in de-escalation rooms and solitary confinement (secure) cells without the grounds provided for by the law, for the purpose of punishment, which the Public Defender assesses as ill-treatment, remains a serious challenge.

In relation to ill-treatment, the problems existing in terms of legislation are also worth noting. In particular, it is important for the legislation to clearly, without ambiguity, and comprehensively criminalize ill-treatment only with special norms and exclude the possibility of classifying these crimes on the basis of other articles in practice.

For years, the Public Defender has been talking about the importance of solving the problems related to the mechanism of early release of prisoners. In particular, local councils, which work on issues relating to the parole of prisoners, often make different decisions in cases with similar circumstances. The motivational part of the decisions is formal in nature and does not contain proper substantiation.

The main challenge of psychiatric institutions is the process of deinstitutionalization of large institutions. Long-term hospitalization of patients placed in psychiatric institutions is also problematic. Patients who do not require active treatment cannot leave the institution due to the scarcity of community services and because they have nowhere to go.

Unfortunately, the implementation process of the 2022-2024 Action Plan of the 2022-2030 Mental Health Protection Strategy is being delayed. It is welcome that the budget of the state mental health programme has increased in 2023, however, a number of problems remain unresolved. Among them, no package of legislative changes related to the protection of the rights of persons with mental health problems and promotion of employment has been prepared, there is still no standard relating to the shelters for persons with mental health problems, etc.

As for the challenges in the country in the direction of the right to equality and the fight against discrimination, it is a pity that no strategy needed to ensure equality has been approved, while the National Human Rights Strategy for 2022-2030 approved by the Parliament of Georgia does not mention LGBT+ people along with other social groups at all. The LGBT+ community was not mentioned in the first draft action plan developed in relation to the strategy either. The spread of sexist expressions towards women involved in public and political life is also a problem, which strengthens discriminatory attitudes and is often used as a tool of political struggle against women and to silence them.

In terms of equality and freedom of religion, the issue of returning the religious buildings confiscated during the Soviet period to their historical owners is worth noting.

In the direction of gender equality, it is significant that, unfortunately, the challenges in terms of gender-based killings of women (femicide) remain relevant. According to the official statistical data available to the Public Defender, 13 cases of killings of women were reported in Georgia in the 6 months of 2023, of which the element of domestic crime was identified in 7 cases. It is significant that, unlike last year, when the number of attempted killings of women exceeded the number of killings, the data of the 6 months of 2023 make it clear that the number of killings of women exceeds the number of attempted killings by almost 54%.

In 2023, the gravest murder of a 14-year-old girl, which was preceded by various forms of gender-based violence, was alarming. The mentioned fact once again highlighted the need for the State to implement a strict policy and pay special attention to the cases of non-reporting of crimes.

Access to sexual and reproductive health services is a significant challenge for rural women. Legislation of Georgia is also problematic. In particular, legislation of Georgia still does not fully comply with the standards provided for by the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combatingviolence against womenanddomestic violence. A clear example of this is the problematic passage related to the crime of rape in the Criminal Code. Coordinated work among agencies and effective response to violence against women and domestic violence still remain problematic.

As a rule, the protection of human rights in the country largely depends on the effective functioning of the institutions responsible for the protection of human rights. In this regard, the Public Defender has been underlining the importance of an independent investigative mechanism with investigative and criminal prosecution functions for years. In order to achieve the mentioned goal, it is necessary to provide important guarantees aimed at the institutional strengthening of the Special Investigative Service of Georgia. Inter alia, it is important that the investigation mandate of the Special Investigation Service be extended to the crimes committed by the Prosecutor General, the Minister of Internal Affairs, and the Head of the Security Service. In addition, it is necessary to review the list of crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of the Special Investigation Service and to limit the authority of the Special Investigation Service to the investigation of crimes corresponding to the main mandate of the Service.

Taking into account the current role of the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia in terms of preventing and responding to human rights violations, the Public Defender has been focusing on the need for the reform of the Prosecutor's Office for years, the aim of which should be to improve the institutional arrangement and mechanism.

The most important event of 2023 was the positive recommendation issued by the European Commission on November 8 to grant Georgia the status of a candidate country for EU membership, which defined 9 conditions for Georgia on the path to EU membership. The mentioned conditions still include the reform of the justice system. Despite some positive legislative changes initiated by the judicial reform working group, such as, inter alia, improving the accessibility of judicial acts, new regulation of certain procedures related to the disciplinary responsibility of judges and their removal from the consideration of cases, a number of recommendations remain unfulfilled, such as the election of a court chairperson by the judges of the same court, improving the case allocation system in the court and other issues, about which the Public Defender has been talking about for many years.

The Public Defender’s Office of Georgia once again congratulates everyone on the international Human Rights Day and expresses full readiness to cooperate with state agencies to address the challenges reviewed in the present statement. Hopefully, the problems identified over the years in the direction of the protection of human rights and freedoms will be eliminated by the State as a result of taking effective steps, which will lead to an improvement in the quality of protection of human rights and freedoms in the country.

Woking Hours: Monday–Friday 9:00–18:00
Hot line: 1481 (24/7)