Annual Report on Situation of Human Rights and Freedoms in Georgia – 2023

The Public Defender of Georgia has published an annual parliamentary report on the situation of human rights and freedoms in Georgia in 2023. The 386-page report reviews the challenges and progress in the direction of the protection of human rights guaranteed by the Constitution, as well as the state of implementation of recommendations.

The report pays special attention to the occupation and related problems - the rights situation of Georgian, Ossetian and Abkhaz population living in the conflict zone; The murder of Tamaz Ginturi by the occupation regime and the impunity of the immediate participants in the murder of Davit Basharuli, Giga Otkhozoria, Archil Tatunashvili and Irakli Kvaratskhelia, for which the Russian Federation bears responsibility.

The practice of illegal detention and ill-treatment of citizens continues in the occupied territories. The ethnically Georgian population is not given the opportunity to receive education in their native language. More efforts are needed from the State to protect the rights of the population displaced in their own country as a result of occupation.

Ill-treatment and illegal arrests at the occupation line, illegal imprisonment, violations of property rights and almost continuous illegal "borderization" remain serious challenges. The most difficult are the health and safety conditions of women living along the occupation line, violence against women and domestic violence, lack of information about basic services.

In the reporting period, the tragedy that happened in Shovi was especially sad, which claimed the lives of 32 people. According to the Public Defender, it is necessary to carry out an effective investigation into the case meticulously, competently, within a reasonable time, with the involvement of the family members of the deceased and by observing institutional independence and impartiality. It is worth noting that the Public Defender was exceptionally given the opportunity to access the investigative materials of the Shovi case, which will allow the Office to study in detail the preconditions of the disaster and the rights situation during the relief process, as well as to effectively observe the investigative process. In the context of the cases of Shovi and Guria, the report refers to the fundamental human right to live in a safe environment and to receive a warning about the impending disaster in advance.

From the point of view of the violation of the right to life, the intentional gender-based murder of 14-year-old Aitaj Shakhmirova was alarming. Aitaj's murder is not an isolated incident, but a result of the gaps existing in the prevention of violence, protection of and assistance to victims. The incident once again confirms the need to strengthen efforts to eliminate harmful practices and traditions based on gender stereotypes, and to protect women from violence, as well as minors from violence and child marriage.

In order to eliminate school dropout and abuse of children, it is important to raise awareness of children themselves and the general public about children's rights and protection mechanisms.

An important place in the report is given to the monitoring results of penitentiary and civil psychiatric institutions, as well as shelters and facilities for persons with mental health problems.

No significant improvement could be observed in psychiatric institutions. Patients continue to be victims of violence and their legal protection guarantees are neglected; A number of restrictions imposed on the beneficiaries may amount to ill-treatment. Among the challenges are the use of antipsychotic medications and the management of side effects, as well as the production of statistics on deceased patients.

Overcrowding in penitentiary institutions, cases of ill-treatment and informal governance have been the major challenges over the years.

It is necessary to improve the practice and legislative framework for the early release of prisoners in order to establish a uniform, foreseeable and clear grounds for who is entitled to benefit from this legislative mechanism.

The effective functioning of the sentence review mechanism is especially important for convicts sentenced to life imprisonment. It is welcome that, based on the positive obligation of the State, the prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment, by passing the relevant programme, evaluation and reservation of appropriate conditions, have been given the opportunity for rehabilitation, commutation, or in some cases, release. However, unfortunately, the programme did not bring concrete results, and after passing the programme, most of the prisoners (despite positive recommendations) were refused by the court to get their sentences mitigated or to be released early. The Public Defender believes that such an approach completely destroys the motivation in these people.

Regarding the right to a fair trial, first of all, it is significant that, despite numerous attempts to reform the justice system, there remain gaps in the Georgian court system, both at the legislative and institutional levels, the elimination of which is a necessary condition for Georgia on its path to EU membership.

In 2023, the issue of freedom of assembly was no less relevant. Against the backdrop of the gatherings of radical groups, challenges relating to the right to peaceful assembly, legislative initiatives restricting the form and content of the assembly, disproportionate and, in some cases, illegitimate measures to disperse assemblies, were easy to notice. The practice of administrative detention of assembly participants was still common.

Freedom of expression and freedom of the media, existence of an appropriate safe environment for the activities of journalists, represent challenges. At the same time, journalists’ activities are obstructed by the outdated legislation regulating access to information, which does not ensure effective protection of the right.

In 2024, for the first time, parliamentary elections will be held in the country with a fully proportional system. In addition, electronic technologies will be introduced on a large scale in the voting process. Conducting the upcoming parliamentary elections in a free, fair and peaceful environment is of particular importance for the country's democratic development and European integration. The Public Defender hopes that, unlike the past sad experiences, both the pre-election period and the election day will be conducted without violations of human rights and the election processes will enjoy high public confidence.

Inappropriate environment in social housing, absence of minimum standards for arranging social housing for homeless persons, lack of housing fund and social housing for long-term accommodation purposes, as well as overcrowding, remain problematic. The conditions in the Kutaisi, Gori, Ozurgeti and Tbilisi (Orkhevi) facilities are particularly noteworthy.

As for the challenges in the country in the direction of the right to equality and the fight against discrimination, it is significant that no effective steps have been taken either in terms of policy documents or legislative regulation.

The Public Defender's report contains detailed information about the rights situation of all groups of society, including religious, ethnical, LGBTIQ+, persons with disabilities, older persons, minors, IDPs, refugees, etc.

In the reporting period, thePublic Defender’s Office received 4 849 applications about human rights violations; 17 567 calls were received via the hotline. Dozens of closed institutions were monitored, educational and informative meetings were held with regional population, representatives of self-governing bodies and thematic groups.

79 recommendations/proposals were sent to the relevant agencies to eliminate the rights violations mentioned in the report; The Office prepared 10 special reports and 3 alternative reports for submission to international bodies, 3 constitutional lawsuits, 23 amicus curiae briefs, and 3 communications for the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

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