Human Rights Watch: Georgian gov’t took steps to investigate abuse by law enforcement, but mechanism lack independence

The watchdog organisation is concerned by cases of abuse by law enforcement officials. Photo: Nino Alavidze/, 18 Jan 2019 - 16:59, Tbilisi,Georgia

The recent Human Rights World Report by the Human Rights Watch summarises human rights problems in Georgia.

The watchdog organisation is concerned by cases of abuse by law enforcement officials and emphasises that even though the authorities took steps to establish a mechanism to investigate such cases, these mechanism are not fully independent.

Other areas of concern included ‘unjustifiably harsh’ drug laws, occupational safety and labor rights, discrimination against LGBT people and threats to media pluralism.

Impunity for abuse by law enforcement officials remained a persistent problem. Investigations, if launched, often led to charges that carry lesser, inappropriate sanctions and rarely resulted in convictions. Authorities routinely refused to grant victim status to those who alleged abuse, depriving them of the opportunity to review investigation files,” reads the report, adding that out of 149 complaints, as well as eight petitions to the prosecutor's office to launch investigations, none resulted in criminal prosecution.

The report mentions the cases of the killing of Temirlan Machalikashvili, and the murder of two 16-year-olds  and drug raids on two nightclubs in Tbilisi. It is emphasised that the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) and the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC) documented ‘excessive use of police force against spontaneously gathered protesters outside the clubs immediately after the raids, and arbitrary detention of many’.

In a commendable move, authorities created a human rights department under the Interior Ministry, overseeing investigations into domestic violence, hate crimes, and crimes committed by and against children,” reads the report.

As for drug policy, the report says that despite the fact that the numbers of drug-related prosecutions continue to decline, authorities continued to use harsh drug laws to prosecute people for mere consumption or possession of drugs for personal use.

Drug-related felonies often result in long sentences, prohibitive fines, and the deprivation of other rights, including the right to drive a vehicle or work in an array of professions. Police compelled thousands of people to take drug tests, in some cases by arbitrarily detaining them for up to 12 hours,” HRW said in its report.

The report says that LGBT individuals often experience abuse, intolerance, and discrimination in every sphere of life in Georgia while ‘homophobic statements by public officials feed widespread homophobia in society’.

In terms of the freedom of media, the report mentions the broadcasting law which was amended  in December 2017 and expanded the Public Broadcaster’s powers allowing it to receive additional revenues from commercial advertising.

Private television stations and NGOs criticized the move, citing concern that the publicly-funded television’s entry to the already shrinking advertisement market, would threaten sustainability of smaller, regional broadcasters, and undermine media pluralism. The president vetoed the bill in January for those reasons, but the parliament overturned the veto,” reads the report.

It also says that the ownership dispute over Rustavi 2 remained pending before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) while the former owner alleged that he had been forced to sell the station below the market value and sought to restore his rights.

Rustavi 2’s current owners allege the lawsuit is government-orchestrated to take over the opposition-minded station.