Countries at the Crossroads 2004 - Georgia
|Cite as||Freedom House, Countries at the Crossroads 2004 - Georgia, 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/473868fbc.html [accessed 25 May 2013]|
(Scores are based on a scale of 0 to 7, with 0 representing weakest and 7 representing strongest performance.)
Aili Piano is a senior researcher at Freedom House and coeditor of Freedom in the World, the annual survey of global political rights and civil liberties. She is a specialist on Central Asia and the Caucasus.
Since gaining independence following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Georgia has made uneven progress toward promoting and protecting human rights, good governance, and the rule of law. The country's elections have been marred by serious irregularities during the campaign, voting, and tabulation processes, although the government took the positive steps of adopting an improved electoral code and revamping the central election commission in mid-2003 in advance of upcoming parliamentary elections. Despite some recent judicial reforms, the country's courts continue to suffer from a lack of full independence from the executive branch, and frequently due process is not followed in the administration of justice. Torture of detainees by law enforcement officials remains one of the most serious human rights problems in Georgia, while victims of abuse have few opportunities for legal recourse. Political parties and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally operate with few serious impediments, and the rights of the country's sizeable ethnic minority population are usually respected. However, certain religious minorities face violent attacks by perpetrators who enjoy almost complete legal impunity, and trafficking in women remains an area of concern. Although independent media outlets often criticize government authorities, they are sometimes subjected to libel lawsuits and even physical assault as a consequence.
Corruption, which is endemic throughout Georgia, is widely regarded as one of the country's most serious impediments to democratization and economic development. Despite the recent adoption of a number of well-publicized anticorruption measures, most have proven to be largely ineffective, calling into question the government's true level of commitment to fighting corruption. Some critics charge that these efforts are merely an attempt by the country's leadership to help bolster domestic popularity and guarantee continued international financial assistance linked to the fight against corruption.
During the last few years, the long-standing dominance of President Eduard Shevardnadze – who was appointed head of the Georgian Communist Party in 1972 and has led independent Georgia for over a decade – has increasingly been challenged by growing opposition forces and a general public weariness with continued economic hardships and rampant corruption. Shevardnadze's former power base, the Citizens Union of Georgia (CUG), split in 2001 amid tensions between the so-called reform wing and presidential loyalists, leading to the creation of several new parties opposed to the country's leadership. Opposition parties made significant inroads in the 2002 local elections with the hope of capitalizing further on the public's dissatisfaction with Shevardnadze's leadership during the November 2003 parliamentary poll. This election is expected to be watched closely as a prelude to the 2005 presidential vote that will determine the successor to Shevardnadze, who must by law step down after his second consecutive full term in office. The international community is likely to take considerable interest in the conduct and outcome of the vote, which will be seen as an important test for the country's democratization and future political stability.
Georgia's political development took place against a backdrop of secessionist wars in the republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia during the early to mid-1900s that led to the internal displacement of nearly 270,000 people. Although each of the two territories and the Georgian government eventually signed ceasefires, the final political status of both territories remains unresolved. Consequently, both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which comprise some 15 percent of Georgian territory, maintain de facto independence from central government control. For the purposes of this report, which examines the role of the national government, the situations in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are not taken into consideration, except when specifically noted.
On November 2, 2003, Georgia held parliamentary elections that were widely condemned by international and domestic election observers for serious violations, including inaccurate voter lists, ballot-box stuffing, biased media coverage, and harassment of some domestic election monitors. According to an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) election observation mission report, the elections "fell short of a number of OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections." Although the central election commission (CEC) concluded that the pro-Shevardnadze bloc For New Georgia received the most votes, the domestic monitoring organization, International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), conducted a parallel vote tabulation that suggested that the National Movement opposition alliance, led by former justice minister Mikhail Saakashvili, had won the election. Major opposition party leaders – including Saakashvili, former speaker of parliament Zurab Zhvania, and outgoing speaker of parliament Nino Burjanadze – launched a series of mass public protests demanding that the authorities recognize the opposition's victory or that Shevardnadze resign as president.
The political crisis climaxed on November 22, when a group of protesters led by Saakashvili broke into the parliament building where Shevardnadze was addressing the opening session of the new parliament. Shevardnadze was forced to leave the building, although the country's security forces did not intervene and there were no serious outbreaks of violence. After meeting with opposition leaders the following day, Shevardnadze announced his resignation and Burjanadze became interim president. The Supreme Court cancelled the results of the parliamentary vote under the proportional, party-list system (but not the results of the 75 seats won in single-mandate constituencies). Snap presidential elections were scheduled for January 4, 2004, and new parliamentary elections for March 28, 2004.
The main opposition parties named Saakashvili as their candidate for president; he won with an overwhelming 96.3 percent of the vote. A statement by the OSCE concluded that despite some irregularities, including the lack of a truly competitive environment given the short time available to organize the vote, the election represented an improvement over previous votes and brought Georgia closer to meeting international standards for democratic elections. The staunchly pro-Western Saakashvili has named battling endemic corruption and widespread poverty as among his main national policy objectives, and his commitment and ability to face these and other serious political and economic challenges will be closely watched by both international and domestic observers.
Civil Liberties – 3.90
One of the most serious human rights problems in Georgia continues to be the torture and inhumane treatment of detainees by law-enforcement officials, which is prohibited under the country's constitution. While some policemen have been arrested in high-profile or extreme cases of torture or deaths in custody, a general culture of impunity persists. According to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the 2002 introduction by the ministry of internal affairs of a telephone hotline for torture complaints did not appear to reduce the occurrence of police torture.1 Incidents of ill-treatment reportedly take place most frequently during arrests and in police stations, often for the purpose of extracting money or confessions from detainees. Although the constitution stipulates that suspects may not be held in pretrial detention for more than nine months, victims of police abuse are routinely held for long periods in order to allow time for their injuries to heal.
Individual claims concerning human rights violations may be brought before the Constitutional Court by persons regardless of their citizenship. However, according to amendments made in 1999 and 2000 to the criminal procedure code, those who are accused of crimes may not file complaints before a judge regarding abuse or ill-treatment suffered at the hands of police officers. While the parliamentary committee on human rights and ethnic relations investigates claims of abuse, many claimants reportedly did not follow through on their complaints because of fear of reprisals. In September 2003, senior Georgian government officials and representatives of NGOs took the positive step of agreeing on a national action plan against torture for 2003-05 that aims to bring the country's legislation and practice into line with international standards.
Although freedom of religious belief and the separation of church and state are guaranteed by the constitution, the Georgian Orthodox Church enjoys certain rights and privileges, including legal status, not available to other religious communities. During the past decade, it has become an increasingly outspoken force in the country's political decision making and exerts a considerable degree of influence over public life. According to a constitutional agreement between the Georgian Orthodox Church and the government signed in October 2002 – the concordat – the Georgian Orthodox Church is granted tax-exempt status and the right to decide who can offer religious education in schools. The state, with the consent of the Georgian Orthodox Church, decides whether other religious communities may build churches, publish religious literature, and produce items for worship.
As of September 2003, Georgia still had not adopted a law on religion. The resulting lack of legal status for religious groups other than the Georgian Orthodox Church has made it difficult for them to conduct certain activities, including opening new places of worship. In an apparently abrupt reversal of plans, the government announced on September 19, 2003, that it would not sign an interstate treaty with the Vatican that would have provided legal status for the Catholic Church in Georgia. The decision followed public demonstrations against the proposed treaty and an appeal to President Eduard Shevardnadze by the Georgian Orthodox Church's patriarch against the signing of the agreement. According to some analysts, the government was unwilling to sign the treaty and thus risk losing the support of the influential Georgian Orthodox Church ahead of the November parliamentary election.
Despite a March 2003 pledge by President Shevardnadze to end religious violence and punish perpetrators, minority religious groups in Georgia continue to endure harassment and violent assaults at the hands of Georgian Orthodox extremists. Police reportedly have failed to intervene to protect victims, including Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptists, and Pentecostals, or have actively participated in the attacks. Investigations often proceed slowly, if at all, and rarely result in indictments, while courts frequently dismiss victims' complaints against law-enforcement officials for their complicity in such crimes. Over the past three years, nearly 800 criminal complaints have been filed against such religious extremists, but none of these individuals are reported to have been convicted for their crimes.2
The country's constitution provides for freedom of association, and the state has generally respected this right in practice. There are no serious barriers to the formation and activities of political parties, although religion-based parties are banned. Most associations, with the exception of religious groups, are allowed to register without arbitrary discrimination, and a number of domestic and international human rights groups operate in the country without significant government restrictions.
However, some recent developments indicate a disturbing trend in the state's attitude and behavior toward the country's nongovernmental sector. An April 2002 statement by President Shevardnadze compared the activities of NGOs, most of which are funded predominantly by the United States and other foreign governments and institutions, to those of terrorists and called for greater financial control of such groups. In a move widely seen as a government attempt to pressure civil society, the ministry of security circulated a draft law in February 2003 titled "On Suspension of Activities, Liquidation, and Banning of Extremist Organizations and Organizations under Foreign Control." In response to human rights groups the ministry of security produced a new, toned-down draft law that deleted references to organizations under foreign control but that nevertheless maintains several restrictive provisions.3 In March 2003, the ministry of finance issued an order imposing state control over all grants to NGOs by requiring that they be registered in a state treasury account under the ministry's control. The order, which was suspended three months later by a Tbilisi district court, had raised suspicions that the ministry would block the accounts of NGOs that criticized government policies.
Political parties and other organizations are required by law to receive permission from local authorities to assemble in a public thoroughfare, and most permits are granted without arbitrary restrictions. On September 26, 2003, however, security forces violently suppressed a campaign rally in the Bolnisi district that was organized by the National Movement party ahead of the November parliamentary poll. The right to form and join trade unions and to organize and bargain collectively is legally protected by the constitution and other legislation. Numerous strikes have occurred in recent years, including actions by teachers and energy workers demanding unpaid wages. Although employer discrimination against union members is prohibited by law, some workers have reported threats or intimidation by employers because of their union activities.
Despite constitutional and other legal guarantees of gender equality, including inheritance and divorce rights, discrimination against women remains a problem. The government does not operate specialized services to assist victims of sexual violence, and police do not always investigate reports of rape or sexual harassment in the workplace. According to a recent U.S. State Department report on trafficking in persons, Georgia is a source country for women trafficked primarily to Western Europe and the Middle East. The report, which covered events from April 2002 through March 2003, categorized Georgia as a "Tier 3" country, or one that fails to meet minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.4 After parliamentary deputies approved amendments to the criminal code in June 2003 designating human trafficking as a criminal offense, Georgia's category was raised to a "Tier 2," or a country in which some progress had been made to meet minimum standards.
The rights of Georgia's multiethnic and religiously diverse population are formally guaranteed by the country's constitution, which ensures equality regardless of race, skin color, language, gender, religion, political beliefs, national, ethnic, or social origin, social status, or place of residence. In practice, the government generally does protect the rights of Georgia's ethnic minorities located in areas that are under state control. However, public schools in predominantly Armenian- and Azeri-populated regions lack adequate Georgian language training, which effectively restricts these populations' access to employment and institutions of higher education. Most of the country's minority population, including Armenians and Azeris, resides in geographically concentrated regions, does not speak other languages, and often has limited social interaction with other groups. Although some Armenians who live in Tbilisi reportedly complain of discrimination from Georgians in sectors such as employment, other observers maintain that nepotism in hiring practices based on family and other connections is the primary factor.5 In the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the military clashes in the 1990s resulted in the displacement of over a quarter of a million ethnic Georgians. The few who have returned to Abkhazia are subject to various forms of harassment and violence and enjoy no effective protection from either the Abkhaz or the Georgian state authorities. At the same time, a recent report by HRW concluded that Georgian antiterrorist operations in the Pankisi Gorge – an area home to several thousand Chechen refugees and a reputed haven for armed Chechen rebels – have targeted Chechens based on their ethnicity. Georgian forces have committed human rights violations, including summary executions, arbitrary detentions, and "disappearances" of Chechens in the Pankisi Gorge.6 In late 2002, police conducted a massive identity check in Tbilisi that resulted in the brief detention of about 100 Chechens, who reportedly were targeted because of their ethnic background.
To help address the prevalence of ill-treatment of detainees and suspects by law-enforcement officials, victims should be given the opportunity to make complaints before a judge regarding torture during investigations. A law on religion should be adopted that would provide legal protections for all religious groups, and prompt legal action should be taken against those who attack members of minority faiths. Women who are victims of sexual assault or trafficking should have access to some basic assistance services, and the government should increase efforts to find and prosecute those responsible. The government should, when financially possible, provide members of minority ethnic groups with greater opportunities to learn Georgian and integrate more fully into Georgian society.
Rule of Law – 3.89
Despite some successful initiatives to reform Georgia's legal system following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country's judiciary continues to suffer from incompetence, corruption, limited impartiality, and a lack of full independence from the executive branch. According to the country's constitution, the judiciary is independent and any interference in a judge's activities in order to influence his decision is prohibited and punishable by law. The Council of Justice, a self-governing body representing the judiciary, develops proposals for judicial reform, recommends candidates for judgeships and the removal of judges in district and regional courts, initiates disciplinary proceedings, and organizes qualification exams.
However, judicial authorities reportedly continue to experience pressure from the executive branch, as well as from powerful outside interests, including economic interest groups and extensive family networks. In August 2003, President Shevardnadze called on the Constitutional Court to consult with the government before making important decisions. His statement referred to a December 2002 ruling by the Court against higher energy tariffs that had been proposed by the national energy regulating committee. Civil society activists expressed concern that the president's comments amounted to pressure on the judiciary and a threat to its stated independence. The previous month, Shevardnadze had called on judges to reject appeals by pensioners that the government repay their pension backlogs. According to a 2002 report by the American Bar Association's Central and East European Law Initiative (ABA-CEELI), both executive and legislative bodies have on occasion ignored various judicial decisions.7
Delays of up to six months in the remuneration of judges because of the government's fiscal crisis represent a continuing incentive for corruption, although there appears to be no compelling evidence to suggest that the delays are intended for purely political reasons. In part because of the failure to pay judges in a timely manner, the bribing of judges remains a serious and widespread problem. The low level of judges' salaries has also been cited as a factor contributing to bribe-taking; the ABA-CEELI report noted that Supreme Court judges receive approximately $280 a month.8 According to the chair of the Georgian NGO Judges of Georgia, because the small number of judges in the country (approximately 300 as of September 2003) must deal with a large number of cases under strict deadlines, they may be tempted to accept bribes for giving certain cases priority.9
In an effort to reduce judicial corruption, enhance competence, and promote greater transparency in the selection of judges, the Law on the Courts established a three part testing procedure for current and prospective judges. In 2000, 12 new Supreme Court justices were nominated, 10 of whom had passed the exam (the other two were selected under an article of the law on the Supreme Court that allows for the appointment of distinguished legal specialists). Although testing procedures led to the appointment of a larger number of better educated and more qualified judges, many continued to be hindered by a lack of practical experience, and progress outside Tbilisi has been less pronounced.
In addition to the judiciary's susceptibility to corruption and political pressure, a number of other factors serve to inhibit due process in the administration of justice. According to the country's constitution, each individual has the right to immediate legal representation and a public trial and is presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, investigators seldom inform individuals of these and other rights or do not uphold them. Police often fail to charge detainees within the 72 hours required by law, restrict access to their attorneys, and prevent them from retaining lawyers of their own choosing. If defendants are unable to afford legal counsel, lawyers are assigned to them on the recommendation of the prosecutor's office, and cases have been reported of defendants being coerced into accepting attorneys who do not adequately defend their interests. Bribes are often paid to prosecutors, and judges reportedly have been reluctant to exclude illegally obtained evidence if the prosecutor general has objected. In politically sensitive cases, lawyers have been subject to pressures from various government officials. Lengthy trial delays and court convictions that may be based on confessions extracted under torture further compromise a defendant's chances of receiving a fair hearing.
Georgia's law-enforcement system continues to be plagued by reports of abuse and corruption. Elected civilian authorities do not always maintain effective control over law-enforcement and security forces, who commit a number of serious human rights abuses, including kidnapping for ransom. In the breakaway republic of Abkhazia, partisan groups and criminal gangs often engage in such activities to try to secure the release of captured compatriots. Some senior government officials and members of parliament have publicly expressed the widely held belief that corrupt law-enforcement officials frequently participate in such acts. After British banker Peter Shaw was abducted in June 2002, Georgia's minister of state security, Valeri Khaburzania, alleged that interior ministry officials were involved in his kidnapping. When Shaw was freed five months later in an operation conducted by Georgian forces, many observers maintained that government officials had staged his release. During the 2000 presidential election, observers noted armed police officers present in polling stations, while law-enforcement officials disrupted a number of opposition political rallies.
The right to own and inherit property is guaranteed by the constitution, and expropriation of personal property is allowed only under certain limited circumstances and with the provision that full compensation be made. In June 2003, the CEE Bankwatch Network, Georgian Young Lawyers Association, and the Green Alternative association issued a report critical of the ongoing process of land acquisition and compensation related to the construction of the Baku – Tbilisi – Ceyhan oil pipeline. Their examination found a number of cases of illegal leasing of individuals' land by local government officials. In addition, the names of landowners and land users to receive compensation, which were supposed to remain confidential, were sent to local government bodies and the police. Subsequently, criminal gangs began extorting money from landowners, leading to accusations of collusion between criminal groups and local government representatives.10
The rule of law in Georgia must be strengthened by increasing the number of qualified judges and providing them with adequate and timely financial compensation as a first step toward reducing instances of bribery. Documented complaints of judicial corruption should be investigated by an independent body, and appropriate disciplinary measures should be taken. The rights of detainees should be enforced, including informing them promptly of the charges against them and providing them access to attorneys of their own choosing, as required by law. Courts should not be permitted to make convictions based on confessions that have been extracted under torture.
Anticorruption and Transparency – 2.30
Corruption in Georgia, which was partly inherited from the Soviet era, is widely regarded as one of the most serious impediments to the country's economic development and political reform efforts. Despite the adoption during the last several years of anticorruption legislation, the sanctions for certain crimes are inadequate and the enforcement of laws remains weak. The continued pervasiveness of corruption throughout all levels and sectors of society undermines the credibility of the government and represents an obstacle to critical foreign investment and aid.
In September 2003, a U.S. State Department official announced that the United States would cut financial assistance to Georgia in 2004 because of Tbilisi's failure to implement key economic reforms and fight corruption.11 Even by regional standards, corruption in Georgia is endemic: According to Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index 2003, Georgia ranks 124th out of 133 countries surveyed, on a par with Azerbaijan and Tajikistan, and still worse than Armenia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.12
In an effort to address criticism that it has not done enough to fight corruption, the government recently launched a well-publicized anticorruption campaign. In July 2000, President Shevardnadze issued a decree establishing a seven-member anticorruption working group, which included NGO and government experts, that was tasked with elaborating the guidelines of a national anticorruption program. The group identified six priorities as part of a three-year action plan: liberalization of the business environment (including reform of the tax collection system), improved financial management of state resources (including state procurement matters), better management of state institutions, reform of law-enforcement agencies and the judiciary, development of fair political processes, and reform of the education system. In April 2001, Shevardnadze established a 12-member anticorruption council to monitor implementation of the national anticorruption program and consult with him on anticorruption issues. Members of the council, which is an advisory body, include government ministers, deputies, academics, journalists, and NGO representatives. During the past year, the council met frequently and presented information on alleged instances of government corruption, including among members of the tax and customs departments and the traffic police, to parliament. So far, their recommendations appear to have yielded limited results, including the resignations of some government officials for failure to make full declarations of their financial assets.13
Issues regarding conflict of interest in the public sector remain a concern in a country suffering from widespread poverty, low or sporadically paid wages, and nepotism based on a tradition of very strong family and other personal relations. The criminal code contains several provisions regarding corruption among government officials, including both active and passive bribery, the acceptance of gifts, and illegal participation in entrepreneurial activity. While the punishment for passive bribery is a minimum of five years in prison, accepting illegal gifts carries a penalty of only a fine or the equivalent of community service. Although public servants are subject to an administrative code and a civil code of behavior that include provisions on their conduct and accountability, these provisions are not always enforced. The 1997 Law on Conflict of Interest and Corruption in the Public Sector, which applies to senior-level officials, places restrictions on their simultaneously holding other paid positions and generally prohibits them from hiring close relatives as their subordinates. Such officials are required to submit annual asset declarations for themselves and their family members to the Information Agency on Property and Financial Declaration of Public Officials, and anyone may request and obtain a copy of a declaration for a nominal fee. However, the agency is simply a repository for declarations with no proactive and efficient mechanism for verifying the accuracy of income declarations.
The institutions that are entrusted with auditing the government and investigating possible corrupt activities are frequently limited in their effectiveness and impact. Georgia's supreme audit body is the Georgian Chamber of Control (GCC), which includes among its functions the review of final budgetary accounts. However, it must function under a tight deadline for its review, leaving insufficient time for an effective audit. Under the Law on the Chamber of Control of Georgia, the GCC operates independently from the executive branch and is responsible only to parliament, whose permission is required to detain or arrest the GCC chairman. The GCC estimates that parliament follows up on about 60 percent of the recommendations of its external audit reports. Some observers have expressed concern over a possible conflict of interest in the performance of the GCC's duties, given that the fines it collects through its investigations comprise a large part of its annual budget.
During the past several years, the government has taken steps to reform the tax service with the support of international organizations in order to combat widespread tax evasion and increase the accountability of tax inspection procedures. Georgia has initiated examinations for tax inspectors, established a value-added tax (VAT) fraud unit, and adopted legislation to strengthen the VAT refund system. Thus far, the reforms appear to have produced modest results. Although the collection of various taxes has generally increased since the mid-1990s, the tax and customs departments continue to have reputations for inconsistent administration that supports an entrenched system of bribe taking. Current customs regulations and a complex tax code that includes more than 100 amendments allow considerable room for manipulation by customs officials. Black-market activities, including counterfeiting and smuggling, are commonplace and enjoy the widespread complicity of corrupt government officials, fueled in part by high tax rates.
While Georgia has adopted legislation to promote a free and competitive market-oriented economy, including the Law on Entrepreneurship, establishing and running a business remains a difficult undertaking. Corrupt law-enforcement and judicial officials limit the effective enforcement of existing legislation, while frequent regulatory changes lead to confusion about the procedures required to operate a business. Businesses are forced to pay often substantial bribes to government authorities for basic services, including obtaining the licenses necessary for operation. According to a December 2001 survey of domestic and foreign businesses by the Foreign Investment Advisory Service, business regulations are bureaucratic, nontransparent, and open to corruption.14
Formal state involvement in the economy continues to decline, with the government having lifted most price controls and gradually raising regulated prices, including energy tariffs. Approximately 80 percent of all large and medium-sized enterprises have been privatized, although an inability to attract buyers for large enterprises has led to charges of insider deals.15 However, allegations that relatives and friends of government officials, including President Shevardnadze, profited disproportionately from the sale of state-owned enterprises continue to overshadow the privatization process.
The quality and reputation of Georgia's educational system has been severely compromised by entrenched corruption. Professors frequently supplement their income by accepting bribes from students in exchange for high marks or for writing their dissertations. In order to pass college entrance examinations, many prospective students pay thousands of dollars in "tutoring fees" to professors who also sit on the committees that make college admissions decisions. Although corruption in education has been the subject of numerous recent investigations, media reports, and government campaigns, few concrete results have been achieved in addressing the problem.
Some independent media outlets vigorously investigate and report extensively on government corruption. As a consequence, they have faced legal battles, government raids on their offices, and violent attacks on their journalists. In spite of such media coverage, very few cases of high-level corruption have been prosecuted successfully; at worst, senior officials are dismissed or resign their positions. Among the reasons are the ineffectiveness of law-enforcement agencies in detecting suspicious behavior, corruption among those government officials responsible for examining and prosecuting criminal cases, and limited coordination among law-enforcement agencies in anticorruption efforts.
The lack of prosecutions and convictions for corruption is also attributable to a reluctance on the part of the general public to report corrupt behavior because of a lack of faith in the legal system or concern about retribution. According to the Corruption Research Centre survey of Tbilisi businessmen, nearly three-quarters of those questioned said that they do not pursue legal recourse for bribe requests and other corrupt practices by state authorities, in part because they believe that courts are biased against whistleblowers.16 In addition, few reliable protections are available to those who report cases of bribery and corruption; for example, there is no witness-protection program for such whistleblowers.
With regard to governmental transparency, the freedom of information chapter of the general administrative code stipulates that every citizen has the right to receive public information from government agencies in a timely manner and for a nominal fee representing copying costs. If access to public information is denied, the applicant has the right to file a complaint within three days of the rendering of the decision. However, the government reportedly often fails to register freedom of information requests or delays the release of information indefinitely.
Georgia's budget-making and expenditure-accounting processes are generally comprehensive and open to scrutiny. The president submits a draft budget that must be approved by a majority vote of parliament, which in practice is very active in budget formulations. Because all discussions in parliament must be open to the public, the general population has access to elements of the budget preparation. Information on public debt, revenue collection, and annual budget execution is available from the ministry of finance (MOF) and the state department of statistics (SDS). While the treasury department generates monthly reports on the performance of the central government's budget, weaknesses in its accounting system reportedly call into question the accuracy of certain budget data. A new Budget System Law, which takes effect on January 1, 2004, introduces improvements to current regulations governing the budget system that include preventing expenditures without appropriation.
The Law on Public Procurement requires that public agencies organize tenders for awarding government contracts according to internationally accepted standards. However, enforcement has been weak due to poor training and a lack of awareness of legal requirements.
Georgia has received massive amounts of foreign assistance from multilateral organizations and individual countries, but crime and corruption has resulted in the diversion and misuse of much of this aid. Aid money is often channeled through various levels, increasing opportunities for theft or misuse of funds. In addition, some organized crime groups, in conjunction with corrupt authorities, engage in stealing foreign credit and humanitarian aid.
Having recently established high-profile mechanisms to address the country's endemic corruption, the government must take further steps to produce concrete results, including implementing key recommendations of the anticorruption council. As part of this process, the internal auditing mechanisms of government agencies should be strengthened, and the tax code should be simplified to prevent confusion and opportunities for discretion by tax and customs officials. Adequate safeguards for whistle-blowers of corrupt activities should be provided, including witness-protection programs. The regulation and accountability of foreign aid donations must be improved to reduce theft or misuse of funds. Widespread corruption in the educational system must be tackled through such measures as the adoption of standardized entrance examinations and increased government financing to state schools.
Accountability and Public Voice – 3.68
Since gaining independence in 1991, Georgia has held three legislative and three presidential votes. The 1999 parliamentary poll, in which the ruling Citizens Union of Georgia (CUG) won a majority of seats, was deemed by election monitors from the OSCE to be generally fair. At the same time, they noted a number of serious irregularities, including a bias toward the ruling party in state media, inflated voter turnout figures, and the presence of unauthorized persons during voting and counting. No voting took place in either Abkhazia or South Ossetia.17 Incumbent Eduard Shevardnadze won the last presidential election, in 2000, by some 80 percent of the vote. The poll was marred by examples of serious electoral fraud, including group voting, ballot-box stuffing, police presence in polling stations, and a lack of transparency in vote counting and tabulation. Although registered candidates were provided with free airtime on state media, they suffered from a lack of balanced reporting. Even in the private media, which generally provided less biased coverage, Shevardnadze reportedly received more time and attention than his competitors.
Georgia has a large number of registered political parties, although many are not active and are based on individual personalities rather than agendas or platforms. Growing tensions between the so-called reform wing and presidential loyalists in the CUG led to its fragmentation in 2001 and the emergence of three new major parties opposed to the country's leadership. Although opposition parties made significant inroads during the 2002 local elections, personal differences among party leaders have hindered their ability to create strong and long-lasting alliances. According to an OSCE election observer mission report, the wide range of parties and candidates that registered to contest the November 2003 parliamentary election – some 39 political parties contesting the 150 party-list seats – indicates the existence of a genuine choice for voters. No single party was expected to win control of the legislature.
The lead-up to the November parliamentary poll saw the creation of a newly constituted central election commission (CEC) after repeated attempts to reach a political compromise on its composition, followed by substantial amendments to the electoral code. According to the OSCE report, the new CEC was functioning more transparently than its predecessor. However, some opposition parties criticized the allocation of seats among various parties as favoring the pro-presidential faction and its supporters. Despite some persistent shortcomings, the electoral code reportedly improved registration procedures for candidates and introduced additional safeguards against fraud.
In July, the Council of Europe organized a meeting in Strasbourg for representatives from major Georgian political parties and the media with the aim of forming a group to monitor the funding of parties and electoral campaigns. The monitoring group that was subsequently established is composed of representatives from political parties, media, and nonprofit organizations in Georgia. Although parties are legally required to present finance reports only after elections, the group has requested that they report on a weekly basis.
Despite the fact that non-Georgian ethnic minorities comprise approximately 30 percent of the country's population, fewer than 20 members of minority groups sit in the current 235-member parliament, in part because of their often minimal proficiency in the Georgian language.18 Only 17 members of parliament are women, while about 10 percent of government ministers are women.19 Political parties failed to include large numbers of women as candidates for the November 2003 poll.
On the positive side, Georgia's parliament is one of the country's more transparent state bodies and provides some information to citizens on government laws and policies. Draft legislation that does not have national security implications must by law be available to anyone.
The country's NGO sector enjoys some influence over legislation and the political process. The regulations of the parliament of Georgia provide for public hearings by committees on bills. However, some NGOs that testify at committee hearings maintain that there is a wide degree of variation among committees regarding the level of public input that is sought.20
Freedom of speech and the press are enshrined in the country's constitution but are not fully guaranteed in practice. Some Georgian legislation, including libel and slander laws, inhibits the independence of the country's media. In June 2003, parliament ratified an amendment to the criminal code that imposes longer jail sentences for slandering a government official. The investigative program, 60 Minutes, of Tbilisi-based Rustavi-2 television, which is known for its exposes of government corruption, lost two separate politically motivated libel cases in 2003.
The independent media frequently criticize senior government officials and conduct investigations of alleged corrupt practices. However, at times the authorities have used threats and even violence to intimidate journalists, some of whom practice self-censorship. In October 2002, some 30 police officers beat journalists and destroyed equipment of the Odishi television station in the town of Zugdidi just hours after the station had aired a program critical of the local police. More recently, a former police officer was sentenced to prison in July 2003 for the murder of Rustavi-2 journalist Georgy Sanaya two years earlier. Sanaya's wife and colleagues maintain that he was killed because of his investigations into ties between Georgian government officials and Chechen separatists. The state has also failed to protect journalists from attacks by some non-state actors, including followers of the radical defrocked Orthodox priest Basili Mkalavishvili. For example, Dzveli Kalaki, a popular independent radio station in the town of Kutaisi, has been the repeated target of verbal and physical harassment by Mkalavishvili's followers, who oppose the station's weekly program about Georgia's Catholic minority.
The government finances and controls the main national television and radio stations and a newspaper, all of which reflect official views. State-owned media criticize editorially independent outlets. Most regional and local media outlets struggle to be commercially viable. As a consequence, many are forced to depend on local officials and businesspeople for financial support and are subject to their editorial influence.
The government must ensure that serious past irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and biased media coverage, are not repeated in future elections and that the results reflect the true will of the people. Greater participation of ethnic minorities and women in the political process should be encouraged through steps including improved availability and access to Georgian language courses for minorities and public education efforts for both groups. Government accountability and transparency can be enhanced by providing the public with more comprehensive and timely information on draft legislation and policies. The government should take more active steps to ensure the independence of the country's media by, among other things, repealing libel and slander legislation used to intimidate journalists into not publishing reports critical of the government. In addition, the authorities must thoroughly investigate and pursue violence against journalists that is perpetrated by police and non-state actors.
1 World Report 2003, Georgia (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2003).
2 "EU-Georgia Fifth Co-Operation Council FIDH Note on the Human Rights Situation in Georgia" (Paris: Federation Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l'Homme [FIDH], 26 September 2003), http://www.fidh.org.
3 Ibid.; Claude Zullo, "NGOs – Unlikely Targets of Azerbaijan's and Georgia's Wars on Terrorism," Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst (Washington, DC: Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, 23 April 2003), http://www.cacianalyst.org; "Civil Experts Say Ministry of Security Pushes for an Obsolete Law" (Tbilisi: http://www.Advocacy.ge).
4 "Trafficking in Persons Report – Georgia" (Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of State, 11 June 2003).
5 Jean-Christophe Peuch, "Georgia: Tbilisi's Pro-Integrationist Armenians Uneasy as Javakheti Pushes for Autonomy" (Part 2) (Prague and Washington, DC: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty [RFE/RL]), Weekday Magazine, 26 November 2002.
6 In the Name of Counter-Terrorism: Human Rights Abuses Worldwide, A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper for the 59th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (HRW, 25 March 2003).
8 Data Sheet, Georgia, Rule of Law, Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance (Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of State, USAID Mission, Georgia, 2003), http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/democracy_and_governance/regions/ee/114-0220.pdf; Overview of the Legal System: Georgia (ABA-CEELI, February 2003), http://www.abaceeli.org.
9 Sopho Gorgodze, "More Judges and Higher Salaries Key to Reducing Corruption," The Georgian Messenger, 22 October 2003.
10 "Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline: Review of Land Acquisition and Compensation Process, Interim Report" (Prague and Tbilisi: CEE Bankwatch Network, Georgian Young Lawyers Association [GYLA], and Green Alternative [GA], 2003), http://www.bankwatch.org; "New Form of 'Best Practice' Jeopardizes Land Users' Rights in Georgia," press release (CEE Bankwatch Network, GYLA, and GA, 18 June 2003).
12 Corruption Perceptions Index 2003 (Berlin and London: Transparency International, 2003).
13 "Anti-Corruption Council Slams Customs, Tax Departments," Civil Georgia online magazine (Tbilisi), 3 October 2003), http://www.civil.ge; "Anti-Corruption Council against Traffic Police," The Georgian Messenger, 31 July 2003; "Georgia: Report on the Observance of Standards and Codes – Fiscal Transparency Module" (Washington, DC: International Monetary Fund [IMF], October 2003); "Georgian Presidential Administration Official Resigns over Corruption Allegations," RFE/RL Newsline, April 30, 2002.
14 "Georgia Country Commercial Guide FY2003" (Washington, DC: U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service and U.S. Dept. of State), http://www.buyusainfo.net; Gerald P. O'Driscoll, Kim R. Holmes, and Mary Anastasia O'Grady, 2002 Index of Economic Freedom (Washington, DC: Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal, 2002); Gerald P. O'Driscoll, Edwin J. Feulner, and Mary Anastasia O'Grady, 2003 Index of Economic Freedom (Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal, 2003); "Business and Corruption Problem (Results of Tbilisi Businessmen Inquiry)" (Tbilisi: Corruption Research Centre [CRC], 1999), http://crc.gateway.ge; "Georgia: Report" (IMF, October 2003).
15 "Georgia Country Commercial Guide" (U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service and U.S. Dept. of State),; O'Driscoll, Feulner, and O'Grady, 2003 Index; "Georgia: Report" (IMF).
16 "Business and Corruption Problem" (CRC).
17 "Georgia Parliamentary Elections, 31 October and 14 November, Final Report," Election Observation (Warsaw: OSCE, Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights [ODIHR], 7 February 2000).
18 Georgia, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2002 (Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 31 March 2003).
19 "Women in National Parliaments" (Geneva: Inter-Parliamentary Union, 20 October 2003), http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm; "Consultation on Georgia and Tajikistan Programming Frameworks, Annex 1: Poverty Profile" (Gatineau, Quebec: Canadian International Development Agency, n.d.), http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca.
20 Keith Schulz, and K. Scott Hubli, "USAID/NDI Joint Parliamentary Assessment Mission," 6-13 March 2002 (Tbilisi, Baku, Washington, DC: USAID Caucasus Mission), http://www.usaid.org.ge/assessments.shtml.