Public Defender Reporting to the Parliament for the Year 2018

19 Sep 2019
Public Defender Reporting to the Parliament for the Year 2018

The PD, Nino Lomjaria presented the annual report at the plenary sitting of the Parliament of Georgia.
As she explained, the report was due for the Spring Session, but because of the recent developments, consideration has been postponed till now.

"Given that various significant advancements have occurred in 2019, am prepared to address those cases and talk about the issues that have developed this year and concern the situation of human rights in the country", - the PD commented.

The report submitted to the Parliament is quite extensive, and in addition to 2018, it also analyzes the problems that arose before the reporting period and continued into 2019.

According to Nino Lomjaria, the Public Defender's Office has been actively working with those agencies that were submitted recommendations.

As a positive note, I would like to point out that last year the Parliament of Georgia took into consideration most of the Public Defender's recommendations - 75%, and portrayed them in the resolution as mandatory. This year, the Human Rights Committee of Georgia has endorsed the decision to reflect more than 84% of the Public Defender's recommendations, which is a hailing decision”, - Nino Lomjaria noted.

In the context of the right to life, the report examines the proportionality of the force exhibited against Temirlan Machalikashvili.

"The Public Defender believes that Parliament should utilize all conceivable supervisory leverage to determine the circumstances of Temirlan Machalikashvili's death", - the Public Defender added.

The report focuses on the effectiveness of the investigation into the murder of Khorava Street. In the context of the right to life, the report highlights the significant shortcomings in the materials of the investigation into the murder of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the first President of Georgia. Furthermore, the issue of disproportionately light sentences for persons convicted in the case of Levan Kortava at the penitentiary establishment.

The Public Defender estimates that in order to combat ill-treatment effectively, the study of completed criminal cases has revealed problems with incorrect qualifications, victim involvement, timely, comprehensive and objective investigations.

"In relation to the right to life and ill-treatment, the Public Defender calls for a change in legislation and an extension of the mandate to have access to the materials of the ongoing criminal investigation into allegations of ill-treatment and encroachment on life", - Nino Lomjaria stated.

The Public Defender of Georgia, as a National Preventive Mechanism, exhibits a special focus of penitentiary establishments, bodies of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and psychiatric institutions. The report presents challenges and progress in all three areas.

Pursuant to the rapporteur, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, in 2018, was actively cooperating with the National Preventive Mechanism.

"The Preventive Group considers it essential that the safeguards necessary to prevent mistreatment be adequately and firmly adhered to", - the rapporteur added.

According to the Public Defender, there are systemic challenges in the field of mental health.
The chapter on the right to liberty and security deals with cases of illegal detention.

According to the rapporteur, one of the priority areas in the 2018 report is the right to a fair trial with particular attention being paid to the election process of Supreme Court judges.

The Public Defender estimates that in 2018, in terms of exercising freedom of expression in the country, the challenge remains with an unhealthy and especially polarized media environment.

"The main problem with regard to the exercising of freedom of assembly was the practice of lawlessly restricting the ability to place temporary structures during assembly and the ineffective management of counter-demonstrations", - the Public Defender noted.

The 2018 report separately highlights an issue of exercising of the right to unite in Georgia, which is caused by attempts to discredit NGO activity by representatives of state institutions.

According to the reporter, the full realization of the right to live in a healthy environment during the reporting period remains one of the major challenges facing the country. According to the report, serious problems with ambient air pollution are particularly urgent.

Pursuant to the Public Defender, the main challenge remains in terms of labor safety, however, according to her: "It was a step forward to adopt the Organic Law of Georgia on Labor Safety in February 2019, which states that from September 2019, labor safety standards will apply to all areas of economic activity".

There is one more novelty in the report - labor rights in specific regime institutions. This is about the daily working hours and the lack of quantitative limits on overtime work of the employees of the Emergency Medical Center, Emergency Management Service, Patrol Police Department and LEPL 112.
The Public Defender's report focuses on ineffective protection of patients' rights and inaccessibility of quality services.

Despite the positive steps taken in the area of social aid policy, the methodological shortcomings in the allocation of targeted allowances remain a challenge. It is also inconsistent with the activities of local authorities in providing shelter and food for the homeless. Targeted state programs focusing on the interests of older persons have not been developed so far”, - Nino Lomjaria state.

As the rapporteur noted, the Public Defender's report focuses on the right to vote.
According to Nino Lomjaria, ineffective policies to protect the rights of the child have led the state child care system to a state of crisis.

"The state does not allocate sufficient resources to sustain and enhance systemic changes in the field", - she added.

According to her, access to environment, information and services, quality of inclusive education, etc. are a particular problem for the rights of persons with disabilities.

As Nino Lomjaria noted, there are still many important issues in the field of protection of national minorities and civil integration. Education of national minorities, teaching of the state language, protection of cultural heritage, participation in decision-making processes and many other issues can be applied to the above-mentioned problems.

According to the rapporteur, the rights of people living in the occupied territories of Georgia are of particular interest to the Public Defender.

The most serious case of the murder of Archil Tatunashvili in the occupied territories was most heartfelt. The situation in the occupied territories and along the occupation lines is also grave in terms of violations of Georgian citizens' rights, security, education and children's rights, freedom of movement and ethnic discrimination”, - Nino Lomjaria commented.

According to her, the measures taken by the state in regard to the legal status of IDPs are not enough.
The Public Defender's report also dwells on the practice of arbitrary punishment and investigations of deaths in the military.

The Public Defender harps on the need to improve the legal status of veterans and speaks about the need to increase the corresponding tax benefits in the recommendation.

According to the rapporteur, protecting the right to equality remains an important challenge.
"The Ombudsman's practice in regards with protecting the right to equality demonstrates that in many cases stereotypes and misconceptions about vulnerable groups arise in society", - the PD said.

The Speaker, Archil Talakvadze on behalf of the Parliament thanked the Public Defender and her staff for the hard work embarked.

Every section, each issue that is delineated in the report, requires diligent work of several staff members, inspection of institutions, fact-finding, data collection. Accordingly, it is valued that such detailed reviews and assessments are given by the fields. The Ombudsman represents a parliamentary control mechanism, so it is natural for us to expect more consideration every year to focus on assessing the problems and creating explicit proposals on the issues. Before, unfortunately, there were sentiments that the Ombudsman should mainly talk about progress, positive accomplishments. Obviously, there are some changes in this report that have been emphatically evaluated, however normally, in the first place, there is an expectation that the Ombudsman will bring problems, make objective assessments on human rights issues. Consequently, today, I expect there will be numerous inquiries on significant themes that concern our society”, - the Speaker, Archil Talakvadze concluded. 

The rapporteur provided extensive and detailed answers to the questions posed by the MPs.

According to the Rules of Procedure, the ground was taken over by the parliamentary committees, factions and individual MPs.

Parliamentary Committees:
Co-Rapporteur, the Chair of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee, Sofo Kiladze addressed the colleagues: “This year, as in previous years, we have maintained positive dynamics in terms of sharing 84% recommendations of the Public Defender's Report. The presented report shall be evaluated positively, as these are not just recommendations. Beyond these recommendations there are specific benefits and reforms for our citizens by specific directions”, - Sofo Kiladze commented.

The co-rapporteur focused on the positive trends outlined in the Public Defender's report. As she highlighted, referrals were diminishing both in the penitentiary system and in police misconduct. Pursuant to her, it is important that funding for oncological services and mental health has been increased.

"There seem to be definitely positive trends in what the Public Defender set in 2018 and this should definitely be noted for objectivity", - Sofo Kiladze said.

In her speech, Sofo Kiladze emphasized the challenges still existing. She said the high price for medicines and medical services is a serious challenge for the country. Identifying poverty as one of the major challenges, she also talked about social aid assessment points, which remains a serious obstacle for Georgia.

The topic of social aid assessment points is one of the painful issues. We shall mobilize state resources and funds to reach the neediest people, those who really demand the help of the state”, - Sofo Kiladze said.

According to her, there are serious problems with children's rights as well.

The co-rapporteur focused on reforms in the penitentiary system, but noted that more needs to be done in this regard.

"We need people who upon leaving the penitentiaries, succeed to have a hope for the future, a profession and a chance to be integrated in the community", - the Chair of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee added.

As the co-rapporteur estimated, more needs to be done to ensure that the police perform their primary and ultimate function - prevention.

"We need appealing police to the people, those who protect and take care", - Sofo Kiladze mentioned.

According to her, the Prosecutor's Office must accomplish Machalikashvili and Khorava Street cases thus establishing the full truth of what happened and punishing those responsible.

She also spoke about the challenges in education. According to her, minorities in different directions still remain one of the serious challenges.

I can further harp on the challenges, but in the end, I can assume that there is no ideal state, the only thing that truly exists is a constant strive for development and a drive for the better. It is our responsibility to take steps that will bring favorable to specific people in our country. Again, for the benefit of our people, we have to put aside our political differences and when it comes to human rights, let's all stand together protecting human rights. In this case, one of your steps might be to support the recommendations that will really come in handy for our citizens”, - Sofo Kiladze reported.

Zaza Khutsishvili, First Deputy Chairman of the Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Committee: “Ambient air is of high importance to our citizens. Therefore, we need to be alert and take precautionary measures to eliminate causes of ambient air pollution. For the first time in the history of Georgian parliamentarianism, a commission was set up to conduct a committee inquiry into ambient air because incorrect information was reported that the ambient air quality in Georgia was very low and we were included in the 10 most polluted cities, which is not true. We hail the Ombudsman's initiative to conduct such a survey".

Akaki Zoidze, Chair of the Health Care and Social Issues Committee: “I am pleased with the cooperation we have had with you throughout the year and which have provided specific tangible outcome for the citizens of Georgia. Additionally, I would like to express my satisfaction for the criticism that we have been hearing from you along with the whole process and also from the report. This criticism depicts constructive, professional recommendations based on objective reality.
We have a lot to do and, above all, in terms of parliamentary oversight. I am also pleased that there has been vivid interest in mental health issues. Our very principled position was to raise the budget of this program, which we have achieved through joint efforts, but this is not enough. 24 million GEL is not enough for us to resolve all the problems that such a voluminous part of your account has covered. I do agree, there are several issues that need to be revised and need specific amounts of money, but there are still some that need to be evaluated in terms of legislation".

Individual MPs

Levan Gogichaishvili: “The most important problem in the country today is faulty governance system. I refer to disregarding of constitutional principles. We would love see you concerned about that constitutional principles, the rule of law, which has had certain problems recently."

Sergo Ratiani: “This stands out as one of the heaviest reports I've ever heard. There are many areas of serious concern. First of all, this lies in the direction of the right to life".

Gedevan Popkhadze: “I would like the Public Defender's report to have more analytics and focus on systemic problems. This is what we need to be concentrated on. If we increase the Ombudsman's mandate, then we should also think about giving her the opportunity to address the causes of the problems in the country".

Parliamentary Factions:

Faction "National Movement"
Roman Gotsiridze: “The hereby report is quite critical and objective. The most basic norm of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is gross violated in the country. The Government, Court, Prosecutor's Office, Parliament - all are governed by one individual”.

Tinatin Bokuchava: “We hail the initiative of the Public Defender's Office to have access to investigative materials in cases involving abuses, torture and ill-treatment, especially in cases where distrust of the investigative authority has increased over the last 7 years. I believe, the role that the Public Defender has to play is very considerable".

Alliance of Patriots and Social-Democrats
Ada Marshania: “You should not have been the Ombudsman in the country. Although you work very conscientiously, yet you are a very incomprehensible person to us. We perceive many fundamental issues differently, and along with us, a large part of our society does so as well. Do not fetishize international organizations' statutes and beliefs. Put our national interest, national identity, the face of our country and nation in the forefront".

Faction "European Georgia - Movement for Freedom"
Lela Keburia: “Our country is experiencing a really alarming situation regarding the rights of children. The number of academically terminated students has more than doubled in one year and more than 10,000 children do not enjoy constitutional rights. It is also important to determine the way students are to spend their study time, and according to this report, only a quarter of schools in the country meet the minimum standard of physical fitness and sanitation".

Giorgi Tugushi
: “The authorities holding the jurisdiction to investigate the crime, I mean the Chief Prosecutor's Office, need to be made a claim as their investigation is not at all trustworthy, it is absolutely ineffective when it comes to so-called Sensitive things. It is time for us to think about what can be done to break this vicious circle. The prosecution cannot meet the minimum standard of independence in any way. In order to regain trust, we need to concentrate on the fundamental reform and bringing the investigation fully out of the prosecution”.

Faction "Georgian Dream - Entrepreneurs"
Simon Nozadze: “The report can be described with the criticism that usually characterizes you. It is not always pleasant to hear your harsh criticism, but there is a lot of truth in it and the Government should take it into account. Your reports are gradually reflecting the positive trends of the measures taken by the Government, it proves your objectivity”.

Faction "Georgian Dream"
Rati Ionatamishvili: “When we talk about human rights and the protection of freedom, there are no compromises, we really have to be most demanding, because the protection of the human rights of every individual is as important as the those of the whole society. We depend on each other's rights and on each other's freedom, and this is probably one of the key indicators of the democratic development of our country in an irreversible way".

Mamuka Mdinaradze, Chair of the faction “Georgian Dream”:
While there may be some issues in your report that I disagree with, it is absolutely relevant for me that the Parliament of Georgia should carefully consider each point from your report and outline appropriate responses to them. This alone will benefit even more, especially in the field of human rights. I believe, the issues raised in your report as well as the lies that our current opposition embeds in society need special attention. Therefore, we must ensure that we have maximum extent communication with the public, including in the area of human rights protection".

Gia Volski, Majority Leader: “The reality is that the attitude towards the people, human rights, and generally human beings has changed and this is true for all agencies. There are many problems, but with such a pace, with such a path, I believe we will overcome it all. Making the right conclusions is our main task and this is what the Public Defender's report helps us to do”.

After the individual MPs, the Public Defender made a closing speech.

"We are delighted with every piece of success that has been made in protecting human rights or strengthening democratic institutions in the country. The purpose of our work is to improve the situation, to make progress, and we perceive it as the accomplishment of our aspirations at work. Our goal last year was focused on giving recommendations to the agencies as much as possible. We have had some examples of successful cooperation in this direction”, - Nino Lomjaria noted.

As she said, it is crucial to find a consensus among political parties, including bitterly opposed parties.

First of all, we shall say no to violence! In any circumstance, against anyone, be they political opponents, supporters, people of different sexual orientations, or violence against state authorities and police officers. All political parties should dissociate themselves from violence, as well as hate speech and encouragement of violence. These two are issues that all responsible political parties should share and express clear positions on”, - the PD said.

She expressed her gratitude towards the parliamentary parties for their confidence in the Public Defender as an institution.

It is very important and difficult at the same time to maintain the confidence of the opposition or the Government. We will try to pass this threshold very carefully next year, be very critical, but not lose our sense of objectivity”, - the Public Defender added.

The Parliament is committed to listening to the Ombudsman's report as an oversight mechanism. We should not defend our positions, not respond to criticism, rather keep an eye on the recommendations made in the report. The Parliament is running in this mode and today it has been proved well”, - the Speaker said.

According to Archil Talakvadze, the significance of the Ombudsman's institute in the country's highest legislature is rightly comprehended, and each time the PD appears to report to the Parliament, Georgian lawmakers do not meet the critical assessments and recommendations in defense positions.

"We may still need to develop a political culture in the Parliament so that the Ombudsman's assessments are not used for political speculation. However, I believe, compared to the past, our country has established higher standards in terms of the attitudes to the PD’s report", - the Speaker commented.

Archil Talakvadze emphasized that not the individuals rather the institutions are of utmost importance and this attitude contributes to the establishment of democratic institutions in our country.

For the next report, I do hope to have an indication of the proper implementation of the recommendations that will help continue the process called human rights protection in the country. It is a straightforward process and it requires constant effort. The first and foremost condition of our political team when we came to power was precisely the protection of human rights and the creation of appropriate guarantees. All of the following conditions for the next elections were to keep these achievements and guarantees. It will also be so in the future”, - the Speaker concluded.