Public Defender's Annual Parliamentary Report on Situation of Human Rights and Freedoms - 2019

The report refers to insufficient activities aimed at rehabilitation and resocialization of prisoners and lack of contact with the outside world, as well as shortcomings in medical services, preventive health care and mental health care. One of the main focuses of the Public Defender in terms of effective fight against ill-treatment was the issue of informal governance in penitentiary institutions and its impact on the rights situation of prisoners.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs did not implement the systemic recommendations regarding the mandatory use of body cameras, audio-video recording of questioning of citizens, etc.

With regard to the alarming situation in psychiatric institutions, the report says that the conditions and therapeutic environment in 10 large psychiatric institutions of Georgia fail to ensure patients’ dignified life and protection of rights. In addition, the current system of antipsychotic treatment and pharmacotherapy needs to be reviewed, updated and changed.

The investigation ongoing in the Prosecutor's Office into the abuse of power during the night of 20-21 June 2019 is discussed in the context of the procedural obligation of ill-treatment. The Public Defender addressed the investigative body with 6 proposals last year. The main tendency is that the investigation is focused solely on the detection of offences of individual law enforcement officers and the assessment of their individual roles, but is not aimed at establishing the scope of responsibility of the authorities. In addition, a number of investigative actions (for example, the seizure of records of handheld transceivers, examination of certain records, etc.) have not been carried out, which, according to the Public Defender, were necessary for the effective conduct of the investigation. Today we are publishing a special report on this issue, which elaborates on all the details and gaps.

In terms of freedom of assembly, the failure to take measures to prevent conflicts between groups with different views should be underlined.

Problems related to freedom of assembly were particularly obvious in light of the events of June 20-21, 2019. No statutory obligation was fulfilled before the use of force, namely demonstrators were not warned in a clear and comprehensible manner of the use of special equipment, nor were they given a reasonable time to comply with the demand of the police. Excessive force was used by police during the dispersal of the rally.

Detention and infliction of injuries to journalists, as well as interference with their professional activities, are worth noting. Considering the challenges relating to the right to assembly during the year, the Public Defender prepared a special report, which will be published in 2020.

There have been numerous cases, when radical groups prevented members of the LGBT+ community and their supporters from exercising their freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. In these cases, the State reacted differently to the violent groups that tried to grossly and violently infringe the rights of others under the guise of the right to assembly. According to the Public Defender, holding similar counter demonstrations by homophobic groups is an abuse of the right and their violent actions shall not be protected by freedom of assembly.

In terms of legislative deficiencies related to the right to liberty and security, the report deals with the problem of examining the legality of administrative detentions and the term of detentions, and asseses the actions of police officers during the arrests of protesters in 2019.

With regard to the realization of freedom of expression, the Public Defender underlined the attempts aimed at changing the critical editorial policy of Adjara TV as a serious issue in the report. The reporting year was marked by an abundance of criminal cases directly or indirectly related to the owners of TV stations that were independent of government influence, which raises questions about the attempts to persecute critical media in the country. The State has not yet investigated the disappearance of Azerbaijani journalist Afghan Mukhtarli.

In 2019, there were cases when human rights defenders working independently or within the framework of NGOs were discredited, physically or verbally assaulted or intimidated or had to deal with other challenges. Defenders of the rights of women and the LGBT+ community were particularly at risk.

In terms of the right to a fair trial, the report summarizes the issues related to the staffing of the Supreme Court of Georgia.

Unfortunately, we believe that the judges of the Supreme Court of Georgia were selected on the basis of flawed and non-transparent procedures. Legislative regulations failed to ensure the selection of judges in a properly fair competition. Some of the selected candidates’ minimum educational degree required by law raised questions.

The Public Defender of Georgia appealed against the law regulating the selection of judicial candidates of the Supreme Court to the Constitutional Court.

Despite the noticeable positive changes to the law on safety at work, the resources available to the agency responsible for the supervision of safety at work are not sufficient to perform important functions. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, 49 people died and 142 were injured in the workplace in 2019.

With regard to the right to health, the effective implementation of universal, primary and anti-cancer health programmes and the need for a unified state programme were problematic.

In 2019, the Public Defender's Office inspected more than 70 rural outpatient clinics in 17 different municipalities of Georgia and identified serious problems relating to infrastructure and the lack of qualified personnel. The problem of access to medicines should also be underlined.

In terms of protecting the right to social security, administration of the appointment of a social allowance and access to proper nutrition/free canteens, remain problematic.

The right to adequate housing - like previous years, there is still no government strategy or action plan for the homeless persons, a full legislative definition of a homeless person or the necessary framework legislation for the realization of the right to adequate housing. The lack of unified database on homeless people or even local databases in a number of municipalities, limited budget and infrastructural resources, lack of support programmes for people living in social facilities, or their inefficiency in some municipalities, remain problematic.

In relation to ecology, the measures taken to improve the quality of atmospheric air and to exercise the right to clean air are ineffective; it is necessary to make legislative changes and provide effective enforcement mechanisms to ensure the safety of natural gas consumption; construction regulations need to be improved; human rights are not taken into account when implementing large-scale infrastructure projects. There are no policy documents on the construction of hydropower plants; the environmental impact assessment process is flawed.

In terms of the right to vote, the Public Defender's Office monitored the mid-term elections of municipal councils and mayoral by-elections, as well as the relating developments, in 2019. According to the Public Defender, various violent incidents, confrontations between political parties, violation of secret ballot, alleged control of the will of voters and alleged cases of bribery had a negative impact on the public interest of holding peaceful elections. The report also discusses the progress of investigations into the violent incidents that occurred during the 2018 presidential elections.

With regard to the right to equality, the report indicates that discrimination is often caused by stereotypes and misconceptions and the State fails to take appropriate measures to overcome them. The most vulnerable groups are still women, persons with disabilities and members of the LGBT+ community. Equality between members of religious and ethnic minorities is also critical.

The legislative changes made in 2019 should be evaluated positively, according to which, the mandate of the Public Defender with relevant obligatory execution mechanisms has been extended to private individuals as well, like the entities of public law. Such a change allows the Public Defender to work more effectively. It is also welcome that sexual harassment has been defined as an administrative offence, as a result of which, a new remedy has emerged in legislation. In addition, harassment and sexual harassment were defined as forms of discrimination under the Law of Georgia on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination.

In terms of protecting gender equality, gender-based killings of women (femicide) are alarming. According to the Prosecutor General's Office of Georgia, there were 19 cases of femicide in 2019, 10 out of which contained signs of domestic crime; 18 out of 22 attempted murders of women also contained signs of domestic crime. Prevention of murders/attempted murders or infliction of serious damages to the health of women is a problem. The rate of women's political participation remains low. The problem of effective implementation of reproductive health and rights also has a negative impact on women's rights situation and gender equality.

One of the major challenges remains the practice of early marriage and engagement. Like previous years, coordinated work between the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, the Social Service and educational institutions, as well as proper referral mechanism for identifying and preventing the cases of early marriage and engagement, is problematic. The large-scale early marriage prevention campaign launched by the Ministry of Internal Affairs should be welcomed.

The rights situation of LGBT+ persons has not improved. The rate of violence committed on the ground of gender identity and sexual orientation is still high. Whereas the rights are violated by private persons, in most cases, the State's response is not active or effective.

With regard to the rights situation of children, it is welcomed that the Parliament adopted the Code of the Rights of the Child in 2019. However, there are still many unresolved issues in the country in terms of full and effective implementation of children's rights.

The number of cases of suicide and suicide attempts among juveniles increased compared to previous years. Protection of beneficiaries from sexual abuse in group homes is critical. The school dropout rate is high; children living and working on the street, or those engaged, married or involved in labour at an early age are particularly vulnerable groups. The state care for children in boarding houses operating under religious confessions remains a problem. The high rate of child poverty continue to show that the state policy is not focused on poverty eradication; neither municipal programmes can fully satisfy the needs of families living in poverty. According to the registered data, 150 065 minors lived in 70 792 families getting social allowances in 2019.

No major steps have been taken to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Neither the State body responsible for coordinating this process has been designated, nor the Optional Protocol to the Convention has been ratified.

The State cannot ensure rehabilitation of adults with disabilities, while mental health measures are not sufficient to protect the rights of persons with mental disabilities. The community services are also not enough.

Identification of the cases of violence against older persons is still a challenge and there are no relevant statistics. It is difficult for the local self-governments to take care of social well-being of older persons. The Public Defender found out that more than 50% of older people's monthly pensions goes to banks, which further exacerbates their socio-economic situation. There is no regulation/limit in this direction.

Challenges have been identified in the field of protection and civil integration of national minorities, such as access to the right to education, protection of cultural heritage and participation in decision-making. The issue of teaching the official language is particularly serious. Despite the fact that the language learning programme has been provided for years, the number of people who can speak and use the official language remains low.

The situation of freedom of religion has not substantially improved either. Tax and property issues of religious organizations remain unresolved. We saw progress in the activities carried out by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia in relation to the alleged crimes motivated by religiously hatred. For over 30 years, the monuments of Georgian religious and ethnic diversity have been destroyed due to the unresolved issue of restitution.

Protection of human rights in defense - the Government of Georgia has endorsed the recommendation stressed by the Public Defender for many years and equated the situations of those receiving social subsidies. As a result, all persons with veteran’s status have been enabled to enjoy the subsidy.

Provision of adequate-size booths for the Diplomatic Mission Security Service of the Security Police Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs remains an unresolved issue. The use of non-statutory punishment for disciplinary misconduct of mandatorymilitary servicemen is also a challenge in some military units of the Ministry of Defense. In addition, the Public Defender's report recommends to increase tax benefits to improve the rights situation of veterans.

The human rights situation in the occupied territories is critical. The issue of responsibility of representatives of occupation regimes directly involved in the killings of previous years has not been raised to date. The long-term closure of the so-called checkpoints in 2019 was alarming, which led to a humanitarian crisis in the Akhalgori district and problems with access to medical services. Several people died as they could not get proper medical care. The movement was restricted on the Enguri Bridge several times, for various reasons. Illegal detentions of Georgian citizens (including doctor Vazha Gaprindashvili) for crossing the so-called border and the resumption of the borderization process were major challenges.

The Public Defender considers that arbitrary restrictions imposed by the de facto authorities on freedom of movement adversely affect locals' enjoyment of various rights, including the rights to health, education, security, adequate standard of living, family life and freedom of religion. Another challenge in the occupied territories is beating, ill-treatment and torture of prisoners in temporary detention facilities or prisons. The realization of the right to sexual and reproductive health is a problem as well. The right to get education in the native language is restricted in the occupied territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; education in the Georgian language is completely forbidden in all schools of Gali and Akhalgori; Georgian is taught as a foreign language only in some of the schools.

In terms of the rights situation of IDPs, resettlement is one of the main challenges. Some of the IDPs continue to live in life-threatening buildings. Resettlement is a problem for eco-migrants as well. According to the Public Defender, the funds allocated for their resettlement are insufficient; no measures are taken to prevent the causes of eco-migration.

The Public Defender studied the rights situation of aliens in Georgia and the rate of granting the refugee or humanitarian status to them. The lack of justification of the refusal to grant refugee or humanitarian status to asylum seekers and the integration-related problems have been identified.

There is still no proper mechanisms for the protection of cultural heritage under private ownership; when illegal activities are carried out in relation to cultural heritage monuments, the lack of clear separation of competences and obligations of administrative bodies is a problem; the obligations of cultural heritage maintenance are not fulfilled, while investigations into important criminal cases have been futile.

In terms of the rights situation of stateless persons, the following challenges have been identified: the ban on the right to seek status in case of deportation from Georgia; restrictions on appealing against citizenship decisions; restrictions on the registration of socially vulnerable families in a unified database; exclusion of stateless persons from municipal programmes aimed at providing shelter to the homeless.

The Public Defender's parliamentary report also deals with human rights education in the country, analyzes the state policy and strategic documents.

The report provides a brief description of the activities of the Public Defender’s Office, according to which, in 2019, the Office received 6737 applications about alleged human rights violations. The hotline received 9438 messages. The Tbilisi office provided legal consultations to 2399 visitors. Regional offices provided telephone and personal consultations to 4448 stakeholders. 990 meetings were held with population and representatives of various local organizations.

After examining individual applications, the Public Defender’s Office prepared and submitted 75 recommendations/proposals, 5 constitutional lawsuits and 14 amicus curiae briefs. In the reporting period, the Public Defender also applied to the European Court and was involved in one of the cases as a third party.

405 visits were made to penitentiary establishments, psychiatric institutions, temporary detention facilities and police stations. We met with 1728 detainees/prisoners and visited 35 military units.

Monitoring was carried out in about 200 early and preschool institutions, kindergartens, foster families, associations of kindergartens, schools and social service centers. We studied the situation in Tbilisi and Kutaisi boarding houses for older persons and outpatient clinics in more than 70 villages.

The Public Defender hopes that the current state of emergency will end peacefully, that state institutions will resume normal functioning and we will work together to improve the human rights situation and standards.

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