Police lack control, discriminations – HRW report on Georgia in 2020
The main problems of Georgia are the lack of accountability of law enforcement agencies, discrimination against LGBT individuals, the restriction of media freedoms, the violation of labor rights, and too strict legislation against drug users.
These are the conclusions reached by the international human rights organization Human Rights Watch in its 2020 report.
Parliamentary elections that led to political instability
HRW pays special attention to the parliamentary elections that took place on October 31, 2020, which led to massive protests and serious political tensions.
The ruling Georgian Dream party retained the majority of seats in the new parliament, but the opposition accused the authorities of falsifying the elections, launched street protests and is boycotting the new convoation of parliament.
Georgian observers called these elections “the least democratic and free” during the time the Georgian Dream party has been in power. OSCE international observers believe the elections were held in a competitive environment, but credibility was undermined by “widespread accusations of pressure on voters.”
Violations in the investigation of crimes
HRW has noted in previous reports on Georgia that law enforcement agencies often abuse their powers.
In November 2019, a special independent structure, the State Inspection Service, was created in Georgia to investigate such facts. For eight months of 2020, it received more than 1.3 thousand complaints. Investigation of 168 cases was launched.
Most of them are related to conflict of interest, but there are also cases of inhumane treatment.
During the same period, the Public Defender’s office received 68 complaints of ill-treatment in the penitentiary system and by police officers. The report states that the problem of impunity for law enforcement officials remains particularly acute in cases committed before the launch of the state inspection service.
Among other things, HRW speaks about the victims of the protest in Tbilisi on June 20, 2019 after the visit of the deputy of the Russian communist Sergei Gavrilov, who took the place of the speaker of parliament.
Thousands of protesters gathered in front of the parliament building were targeted with poison gas and rubber bullets. About three hundred people were injured. The Ombudsman for Human Rights in Georgia believes that the launched investigation “focuses only on crimes committed by ordinary policemen, but does not provide an objective or complete assessment of the responsibility of the leadership.”
Freedom of the media
HRW believes that there are problems with media freedom in Georgia, and analyzes this issue with the example of the opposition channel Mtavari Arkhi and the public television channel Adjara TV.
Human rights activists talk about a series of layoffs of Adjara TV employees, which led to a change in the channel’s leadership. According to the authors of the report, the ruling party thereby “openly expressed dissatisfaction with the editorial policy of the previous leadership of the television and radio broadcasting.”
Another fact that HRW focuses on is the statement by the state security service about the start of an investigation into the alleged sabotage in connection with the reportage on the independent TV channel Mtavari. The report said that officials in Georgia may have falsified data on the coronavirus pandemic and committed other illegal actions.
Local human rights organizations assessed the investigation launched by the special services as a dangerous precedent for violating freedom of speech. Human rights defenders are also concerned about the amendments to the law on electronic communications of Georgia adopted in 2020.
Now the national communications commission has the right to appoint its own special manager to any private company in the event that this company cannot enforce the commission’s decisions. This decision has already been sharply criticized by the media advocacy coalition and Reporters Without Borders.
In September 2020, the Georgian parliament passed legislative changes expanding the powers of the state labor inspectorate.
The inspectorate is now expected to better regulate the working hours in all factories and offices in Georgia, night shifts, overtime work, mandatory weekends and breaks.
But working conditions and safety remain an issue, HRW said. According to the Confederation of Trade Unions of Georgia, from the beginning of 2020 to the end of September, 22 people died at work, 110 were injured.
HRW cites the following examples as egregious.
In June 2020, several hundred workers at a coal mining plant in Tkibuli staged a protest after 22 miners spent several hours in a mine due to an elevator malfunction. Prior to this, in March, three miners of the same enterprise were hospitalized due to gas poisoning.
Problems in the field of gender identity of people
“The Georgian government continues to deny the need for legal recognition of transgender people without gender reassignment surgery.
The lack of legal gender recognition poses serious problems for transgender people in their daily lives, including finding a job,” the HRW report says.
Since the start of the pandemic, the situation of transgender people in Georgia has deteriorated. Many of them lost income and could not pay their rent.
- ‘Don’t let us die of hunger’ – transgender people ask Georgian government for help
- Poster dedicated to memory of transgender individuals burned in Tbilisi
- Living surrounded by hate. LGBT individuals and their parents in Georgia
- Transgender woman sets herself on fire in downtown Tbilisi
In April 2020, transgender women staged a protest and turned to the authorities for help. To draw attention to the problem, a transgender woman tried to set herself on fire in the city center.
Local human rights activists have criticized the government’s anti-crisis economic plan because it did not include the needs of transgender people.
The statements of Georgian non-governmental organizations say that the problems of transgender people are very acute because many of them are not accepted not only in society, but also in their own families.
Draconian drug use policy
According to HRW, the tough anti-drug legislation in Georgia creates considerable problems. Residents of Georgia are punished for using / possessing drugs (except for marijuana) or for personal use
In June 2020, the Constitutional Court ruled unconstitutional the detention of people for possession of a small amount of drugs.
“However, Georgia still needs legislative reform that would fundamentally change the existing practice of punishing drug use,” the HRW report said.