Public Defender Presents 2022 Report on the Situation of Human Rights and Freedoms in Georgia at Parliament’s Plenary Session

On October 20, 2023, the Public Defender of Georgia presented the 2022 Report on the Situation of Human Rights and Freedoms in Georgia at the Parliament’s plenary session.

During the presentation, the Public Defender briefly reviewed the main findings and trends reflected in the 376-page document, which require special attention and timely response from the Government. He noted that the situation of human rights did not improve significantly in 2022, moreover, there was even a deterioration in a number of directions.

When reviewing the thematic rights situation, the Public Defender pointed to shortcomings in terms of proper investigation of the cases of violation of the right to life.

With regard to the prevention and investigation of torture and ill-treatment or punishment, the Public Defender drew attention to the challenges relating to the independence of state institutions overseeing/responsible for the protection of human rights, including the absence of significant institutional safeguards for the Special Investigation Service and the Personal Data Protection Service. He spoke about the vicious practice of the penitentiary system to place prisoners in de-escalation rooms and solitary confinement cells for a long time without the grounds provided for by the law; emphasized the lack of the obligation to use body cameras in the system of the Ministry of Internal Affairs; assessed the sharp decrease in the number of surveillance cameras in police facilities as particularly alarming; spoke about the deinstitutionalization of large psychiatric institutions and the issue of lengthy hospitalization.

In connection with the protection of the right to freedom and security, the Public Defender spoke about the amendments planned to be made to the Administrative Offences Code of Georgia, the obligation of the court to check the legality of administrative detention, the legislative regulation of the so-called removal mechanism and the necessity of improving the parole mechanism.

With regard to the right to a fair trial, it is important to fundamentally reform the High Council of Justice, improve the case allocation system, bring the national legislation into line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR, change the procedure for electing court chairpersons, etc.

Amendments made to the Criminal Procedure Code of Georgia in 2022 (the so-called wiretapping law) worsened the situation of the protection of the right to privacy in the country.

The Public Defender also spoke about the tendency of restrictions on freedom of expression; He noted that media representatives continued to work in a dangerous environment in the reporting period. The practice of administrative detention of assembly participants on the ground of petty hooliganism and disobedience to the lawful request of law enforcement officers continued, which is an outdated practice and does not meet even the minimum standard of compatibility with human rights and fundamental freedoms. Outdated legislation also hinders the proper realization of freedom of information, including the right to access public information.

The development of the idea of the draft law on transparency of foreign influence and its subsequent initiation was a disturbing fact in relation to human rights defenders.

Ecological problems created a dangerous living environment for the population of Itkhvisi village of the Chiatura municipality.

Efforts need to be made to properly enforce the labour legislation, to continue raising employees awareness of labour rights, to ensure strict observance of labour safety norms in heavy, harmful and dangerous workplaces and to reduce deaths in the workplace.

In terms of realization of the right to health, the shortage of nurses, old infrastructure, weak ties between rural doctors and other specialists, as well as the complicated and fragmented system of financing primary health care facilities remain problematic. It should be positively noted that as a result of the efforts of the Public Defender's Office, the State Dialysis and Kidney Transplantation Programme has been launched in the highland municipal hospitals from 2022.

Poverty, including child poverty, is still one of the main challenges in the direction of protection of social rights. Compared to 2021, the number of children in the Database of Socially Vulnerable Families increased by 40%, while the number of minors receiving social allowances amounted to 330,148.

There is no proper legal definition of a homeless person, the necessary framework legislation for the realization of the right to adequate housing, general database of homeless persons or even local databases in some of the municipalities.

The number of older people is increasing every year, and their share in the unified database of socially vulnerable families is also increasing. It is a pity that the results of the report on the implementation of the 2017-2018 National Action Plan of the State Concept on Population Aging have not yet been discussed.

With regard to children's rights, the Public Defender positively evaluated the process of deinstitutionalization of large residential institutions for children. He also spoke about the need to strengthen efforts for the prevention of child abuse and to provide an appropriate number of child support specialists, as well as rehabilitation services.

Regarding the rights situation of persons with disabilitiesno national accessibility plan or information, communication and website accessibility standard has been approved. Substantial participation of persons with disabilities or their organizations in the decision-making process has not been ensured.

Access to the right to education for representatives of national minorities, their employment in the public sector, proportional and equal participation in the decision-making process in state agencies, inefficiency of consultation mechanisms and issues related to access to the media remain problematic.

Challenges in the occupied territories include the practices of illegal detention and ill-treatment of citizens, illegal "borderization" and access to education in the native language, due to which, the population of both regions has to leave their permanent places of residence and take their children to the schools located on the Tbilisi-controlled-territory.

According to the data available at the end of 2022, 716 displaced families lived in dilapidated buildings. The number of families resettled from such facilities has decreased, and part of the buildings transferred to them are also dilapidated.

Despite significant changes carried out at the legislative level in the direction of gender equality, the femicide rate still remains high. Access to sexual and reproductive health services is a significant challenge for rural women and women with disabilities. Positive developments include the extension of gender quotas until 2032 and the activation of the rules for determining and issuing compensation for victims of violence against women and/or domestic violence, however, this rule needs to be improved.

The Public Defender also spoke about the discriminatory norms in legislation in terms of freedom of belief and religion, as well as the protracted process of transferring houses to eco-migrants. According to him, there are no proper databases on border crossings or rights situation of asylum seekers or internationally protected persons.

In the field of defence, it should be noted that non-statutory punishment and collective punishment are still used against the military personnel.

No general strategy or action plan has been developed for human rights education.

The Public Defender also talked about the cases studied by the Office and the responsive measures taken, recommendations developed, special and alternative reports prepared, constitutional lawsuits, amicus curiae briefs and other documents of international nature, as well as visits made to various institutions to identify and monitor rights violations and challenges.

After the Public Defender's speech, a discussion was held on the issues related to the report.

Levan Ioseliani presented the 2022 Report on the Situation of Human Rights and Freedoms at the session of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee of the Parliament of Georgia on October 2.

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