“Continued efforts are needed to enhance public trust in the justice system and to promote equality and minority rights,” said today Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, releasing a report (CommDH(2014)9) on his visit to Georgia from 20 to 25 January 2014.
A reduction in the use of pre-trial detention and the increase of acquittal rates by the courts appear to signal a departure from the previous near-automatic endorsement of the prosecution’s motions or reasoning in court decisions. However, continued vigilance is needed to reinforce judicial independence and shield judges from undue interference. Revising the current provision on three-year probationary periods for judges would be an important step.
Concerning allegations about flawed criminal investigations and judicial proceedings against former officials, the Commissioner underlines that the judicial system should be resilient enough to withstand power shifts resulting from elections. “The persistence of allegations of deficiencies in judicial processes involving political opponents is a cause for concern. The Georgian authorities must address this problem by respecting fair trial guarantees, including the presumption of innocence, for everyone.” The Commissioner also calls on the authorities to implement “long-overdue reforms to enhance the equality of arms, by strengthening the role of the defence and rigorously pursuing professional development of prosecutors, who are key actors in the justice system.”
As to the many complaints filed after the transfer of power in October 2012, the Commissioner encourages the authorities to assess and prioritise the cases of serious human rights abuse, notably those falling under the prohibition of torture of the European Convention on Human Rights. At the same time, he welcomes improvements in the treatment of prisoners following the 2012 prison abuse scandal.
While welcoming the plans to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, the Commissioner recommends additional efforts to combat hate crimes and promote tolerance in Georgian society. The violence which erupted on 17 May 2013 during a rally in Tbilisi organised to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia is another clear illustration of the need for decisive action in this area. “The authorities, public actors and community leaders should send an unambiguous message supporting human rights and tolerance. It should be made clear that violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons will not be tolerated.”
The Commissioner highlights the importance of supporting the effective participation of minorities, including in elected bodies and public service, reaching national minorities through public broadcasting in minority languages, and promoting interaction and understanding between different ethnic and religious communities. “Negative attitudes and instances of open hostility towards Muslims and other communities are of serious concern. The authorities must show firmer political will to better integrate ethnic and religious minorities into Georgian society. This includes resolving the remaining legal and practical obstacles to the repatriation and integration of the Meskhetian population.” [Read this article in Georgian]