Open Democracy: “Torture was once ‘normal’ in Georgia’s prisons – this is how they ‘effectively abolished’ it

A woman cries at a prison fence as she and fellow protesters demand to see their family members during a protest rally against prison abuse in Georgia in 2012. Photo by Shakh Aivazov., Aug 04, 2016, Tbilisi, Georgia

Georgia's prisons used to be dirty and dangerous. Prisoners recounted beatings and NGOs reported institutionalised torture. But since 2012, there has been an amazing turnaround, writes Mairi Mackay for Open Democracy.

Georgia’s prisons once had a chilling reputation. Former prisoners recount harrowing stories of institutionalised torture — beatings, simulated drowning, bones purposefully broken — at the hands of guards and other officials.

The chilling stories of victims who testified in the 2016 report by the Georgian Parliament’s Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee on torture in the country from 2004-2012 were brutal but in the years that followed, this torture in prison has been virtually eliminated, says Mackay.

The problem was so widespread and severe that when Manfred Nowak, the UN’s then Special Rapporteur on torture visited Georgia in 2005, he said: "There is always the threat of violence in prison in a closed space...torture and prisoner abuse by prison staff was considered to be normal and even encouraged.”

Ten years later, in early 2015, the UN returned to Georgia to find a very different situation.

The prison population has been cut in half and many of the most egregious practices and punishments have effectively disappeared from the system. This was largely thanks to the Government’s extensive "policy changes” and "radical changes in the mentality of its staff throughout the entire chain of command.

The extraordinary turnaround in Georgia’s prison system was part of the country's wider approach to improving human rights, catalysed by a change of Government in 2012 and an ongoing desire in the former Soviet state for closer ties with the European Union, says Mackay.

Read the full article here.