European human rights body evaluates situation in Georgia

Nils Muiznieks, Human Rights Commissioner for the Council of Europe presses Georgia on justice system and tolerance., 13 May 2014 - 00:38, Tbilisi,Georgia

A European organisation that monitors human rights is welcoming an adaption of the anti-discrimination law in Georgia in a report following a visit to the country by a representative of the Council of Europe.

Nils Muiznieks, Human Rights Commissioner for the Council of Europe, encouraged Georgian authorities to undertake a public awareness campaign on the new anti-discrimination legislation.

"He strongly emphasizes the importance for the authorities, public actors and community leaders to send an unambiguous message in favour of human rights and tolerance, and against violence, hate speech and discrimination. It should be made clear that violence against LGBTI persons is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” the report said.

Muiznieks recommended all hate crimes should be "effectively investigated" by qualified law enforcement bodies.

"The bias motive should be taken into account as an aggravating circumstance, as already provided for by national legislation, and perpetrators should receive punishment commensurate to the gravity of the offence,” the Commissioner said.

The 32-page report also highlighted the positive and negative situation of the country's justice system, how the country deals with minority rights issues and the situation in prisons and media freedom.

The European Commissioner urged Georgia to improve its justice system, promote tolerance and avoid selective prosecution of officials who served former president Mikheil Saakashvili.

"Continued efforts are needed to enhance public trust in the justice system and to promote equality and minority rights," Muiznieks said in his report.
"The persistence of allegations of deficiencies in judicial processes involving political opponents is a cause for concern," he said and urged the Government to guarantee fair trials for all.

One of the paragraphs in the report was devoted to illegal surveillance.

The document stressed the new Government had identified about 24, 000 video and audio tapes obtained through illegal surveillance during the previous Government’s term, which in many cases served as a means for blackmail.

"Official statements have been made to the effect that phone conversations were no longer being intercepted illegally in Georgia and that interception of phone conversations was only carried out in the context of police investigations on the basis of a court order,” the report said.
"However, information has surfaced that major telecommunication companies continue to be equipped with "black boxes” allowing for illegal interception of phone conversations. In this regard, NGOs and the EU Special Adviser have expressed concerns about the lack of judicial oversight on investigations launched on the basis of operative information, and have highlighted the urgent need to amend the Law on Operative and Investigative Activities to bring it in line with international standards and especially with regard to privacy rights.”

The Commissioner welcomed the reported improvements in the treatment of prisoners and the enhanced transparency and public scrutiny of the situation in prisons.

He urged Georgian authorities to take the necessary steps to implement the recommendations of the CPT relating to prisons, in particular in regards the provision of activities to prisoners.

"Steps should be taken to protect privacy rights under Article 8 of the ECHR, including by criminalising the possession of materials obtained as a result of illegal surveillance and collecting any such material which may have fallen into private hands. Technical and physical surveillance activities must be regulated and any such activities should only be carried out under proper judicial supervision”, the report said.

The Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg, France, promotes human rights and democracy in Europe and has 47 member states. 

Muiznieks visited Georgia from January 20-25, 2014.