United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Georgia, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa364.html [accessed 10 October 2015]
This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
GEORGIA Georgia declared independence from the Soviet Union in April 1991. In January 1992, a military state council seized power from the elected Government of Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Following multiparty parliamentary elections in October 1992, Parliament chose Eduard Shevardnadze as its Chairman in an uncontested election and named him Head of State. On August 24, 1995 Parliament adopted a Constitution that provides for a unicameral legislature, an independent judiciary, and an executive branch which reports to the President. On November 5, Eduard Shevardnadze was elected President and a new Parliament was selected in elections described by international observers as "consistent with democratic norms." The President appoints ministers with the consent of the Parliament. The Constitution entered into force on November 18 at the first session of the newly elected Parliament. The internal conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain unresolved. In 1993 Abkhaz separatists forcibly took control of Abkhazia. In the summer of 1994, Russian peacekeepers representing the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) were deployed in the conflict area with the agreement of the Georgians and the Abkhaz. Skirmishes and atrocities against civilians continue despite a cease-fire and the presence of the peacekeepers. A Russian peacekeeping force has been in South Ossetia since June 1992. While there were no armed hostilities there in 1995, the Government has no effective control over the territory. The Ministry of Interior (MVD) has primary responsibility for internal security, but in times of internal disorder the Government may call on the army and the state security service (SGB, formerly KGB) to provide security. The civilian authorities maintain effective control of the police and security forces. The MVD, SGB, and the former governmental Mkhedrioni paramilitary forces ("the Rescue Corps") committed serious human rights abuses. The Rescue Corps was disbanded by decree of the Head of State on October 1. The Government and the MVD accused senior figures in the SGB and the Mkhedrioni of carrying out the assassination attempt against then Chairman Shevardnadze on August 29. The decline in some sectors of the economy halted, and growth occurred in the small but dynamic trade and services sector. The economy remains primarily agricultural; industry operates at less than 20 percent of capacity. Economic policies discriminate against exports, and they were meager, mostly fertilizers, citrus, tea, and ferrous metals. Foreign aid represents nearly 50 percent of government income. The United Nations estimates per capita gross domestic product at between $350 and $500. The most vulnerable groups are 250,000 displaced persons from Abkhazia, pensioners, the handicapped, and orphans. The Government instituted a number of reforms reflecting its serious commitment to improve its human rights record, but significant problems remain. Continuing abuses include police and security force torture and beating of detainees, inhuman prison conditions, judicial corruption, denial of fair and expeditious trial, and arbitrary interference with privacy and home. Progress on human rights included adoption of a new Constitution by the Parliament; restructuring of the state human rights protection body, including the establishment of a human rights ombudsman; the Government's rebuke of an effort by local officials to censor a television station; arrest of two MVD officers on charges of abusing prisoners; and partial resumption of access by international monitors to prisons and detainees. Abkhaz separatists tortured and killed dozens of civilians in the area that they control. The actual number of Abkhaz abuses is likely much higher. Georgian partisans committed killings in reprisal.
Respect for Human Rights
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person Including Freedom from:
a. Political and other Extrajudicial Killing
A series of assassination attempts against political figures culminated with the unsuccessful attempt on Head of State Shevardnadze on August 29. Shevardnadze sustained only slight injuries when a car bomb exploded outside Parliament. Unidentified assailants wounded former Defense Minister Giorgi Karkarashvili and killed his deputy, Major General Paata Datoashvili, on January 25 in Moscow. Masked men killed Shevardnadze's close political ally Soliko Khabeishvili in front of his home on June 20. On December 3, 1994, unknown assassins killed head of the National Democratic Party Giorgi Chanturia and seriously wounded his wife, member of Parliament Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia. The Government and the MVD have charged senior members of the SGB and the Mkhedrioni with involvement in the assassination of Chanturia and Khabeishvili and the attempted assassination of President Shevardnadze. Deputy Security Minister Temur Khachishvili was arrested on September 2 and accused of involvement in the attempt to kill Shevardnadze. A warrant was also issued for the arrest of former Security Minister Igor Giorgadze. According to the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Georgia, "the Abkhaz authorities continue to implement violent ethnic cleansing designed to prevent significant repatriation to Gali district and elsewhere in Abkhazia." On March 12-14, Abkhaz militia tortured and summarily executed 28 Georgians in the Gali district of southern Abkhazia. In retaliation, Georgian partisan groups assassinated seven Abkhaz officials on April 1. Prison officials report that 40 persons died in pretrial detention. Officials admit that poor conditions contribute to the high mortality rate, but physical abuse and torture are also likely factors (see Section 1.c.). The Government plans to build a new pretrial detention facility but as yet construction has not begun.
The fate of many Georgians and Abkhaz who have disappeared since 1992 as a result of the Abkhaz conflict is still unknown. Over 1,000 Georgians are still reported missing, according to the State Committee on Human Rights. The Government officially has no Abkhaz prisoners. Georgian partisan groups, which are condoned but not controlled by the Government, hold two Abkhaz prisoners. Other detentions by Georgian partisan groups have been reported but cannot be confirmed. The Abkhaz authorities released 30 persons in 1995 in prisoner exchanges and captured an additional 25 persons.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
While torture in prisons is not always systematic or organized, government officials admit that the lack of training and supervision often results in cases of abuse. The most serious incidents of torture occurred in the investigative stage of pretrial detention when suspects were interrogated by police. In March President Shevardnadze reported that more than 350 policemen had been arrested for various crimes, including the abuse of human rights. In accordance with the new Constitution, the Government has created the Office of Human Rights Defender to address cases of torture and abuse. After the July 9 arrest of five suspects in an attempted bridge bombing in Tbilisi, MVD police tortured the suspects. One suspect, Gia Korbesashvili, was beaten so severely that he could not stand after his interrogation. Human rights monitors visited Korbesashvili in the hospital after he slit his wrists, reportedly because he could no longer endure the torture. On March 25, police arrested Tamriko Khidasheli, her husband and her father, and two other men on suspicion of murder. On August 7, following reports of beatings during interrogation, police arrested MVD narcotics chief Colonel Gela Kavtelishvili and police officer Giga Kigacheishvili. At year's end, the two were awaiting trial on charges of violating the procedural code on interrogation. The five suspects were released. Between March 12 and 14, Abkhaz militia detained 300 Georgians in Gali District and tortured many of them. In the village of Kvemo Bargebi, the Ochamchira unit of the Abkhaz militia beat prisoners with rods, burned them with hot knives and bayonets, stabbed them, and set their bodies on fire. The Abkhaz militia killed 28 persons, most of whom were tortured to death (see Section 1.a.). Despite the claims of Abkhaz authorities, there is no evidence that the perpetrators have been punished for these atrocities. According to the OSCE mission to Georgia, during this period Russian CIS peacekeepers maintained fixed checkpoints only and were not on the scene at the time of the murders. The OSCE mission reported that as a result of the clearly "unsatisfactory posture from the standpoint of resident security, certain changes have since been adopted" including mobile patrols. However, the OSCE mission considered these changes as "still insufficient to provide the guarantees of personal security essential to any progress on repatriation. In a March report, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki noted that "perpetrators of war crimes on both sides of the conflict are not, by and large, being prosecuted and punished, and there is a near certainty that individuals accused of war crimes will not receive fair trials." In an effort to hold such perpetrators accountable, Head of State Eduard Shevardnadze proposed that the United Nations create a body to investigate and punish those guilty of crimes against humanity in Abkhazia. In May the U.N. Security Council requested that the Secretary General consider means to improve the human rights situation in Abkhazia. This led to enhanced coordination between the U.N. and the OSCE on human rights issues in the region. Prison authorities admit that conditions are inhuman in many facilities. They blame inadequate cells, medicine, and food on a lack of resources. In the pretrial detention facility in Tbilisi, 2,050 inmates are housed in a prison designed for fewer than 1,000. Cells contain as many as 36 inmates with so few beds that they must sleep in shifts. Lack of sanitation, medical care, and food poses a serious threat to life and health. In 1995 Amnesty International reported that improper medical care resulted in the amputation of the leg of detainee Badri Zarandia in Zugdidi on October 30, 1994. Zarandia's relatives believe that the amputation was unnecessary and preceded by severe beatings by Zugdidi police, which resulted in Zarandia's loss of consciousness and damage to an artery in his leg. The Government permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit some prisoners but restricted access to others (see Section 4). Tours of prisons and pretrial detention facilities conducted for foreign embassy and OSCE representatives are closely monitored by prison officials preventing uninhibited conversations with inmates. Despite assurances provided by the office of the President, officials from the office of the prosecutor prevented international monitors from meeting several of the detainees arrested in connection with the Shevardnadze assassination attempt. Among the detainees whom monitors have not been able to visit is Guram Papukashvili, a former state security service officer. There are continuing credible reports that Papukashvili has been abused since being detained.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution adopted on August 24 provides for a 9-month period of maximum pretrial detention, mandated court approval of detention after 72 hours, and restrictions on the role of the prosecutor (see Section l.e.). Many of these provisions, although embodied in Soviet law, were ignored prior to the entering into force of the new Constitution on November 18. No significant change in arrest patterns occurred after November, but public awareness of citizen's legal rights noticeably improved. During most of 1995, former Soviet law continued to be enforced. Under Soviet law, prosecutors issued warrants for arrests and searches without court approval. Persons could be legally detained for up to 72 hours without charge. After 72 hours, the prosecutor was required to approve the detention. This approval, however, was often a formality as the prosecutor had initiated the arrest. The law allowed for a maximum of 18 months of detention before trial, although this limit was often exceeded. Amnesty International notes that the police have held Nikolay Ploshkin for 3 years since October 28, 1992, without trial. A court ruled on June 28 that the evidence against Ploshkin did not support the prosecutor's charge of narcotics production, but Ploshkin continues to be held under investigation and without charge. The Government resisted a call to declare a state of emergency following the August 29 attempt to assassinate the Head of State. Dozens of supporters of ousted President Gamsakhurdia were, however, briefly detained and released following the incident. Dozens of Gamsakhurdia supporters were also detained on May 26 when police broke up an unsanctioned assembly of protesters (see Section 2.b.). In a Shevardnadze-initiated crackdown against the then official but heavily criminal Mkhedrioni (Rescue Corps), MVD police arrested a number of Mkhedrioni in August and September on criminal charges, some as old as 3 years. There were no cases of forced exile.
e. Denial of Fair Trial
The new Constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Prior to the adoption of the new Constitution, the courts were often influenced by the pressure from the executive branch. By year's end, the courts displayed no greater independence from the executive branch's prosecutor's office. The Constitution delineates the authorities of individual courts. Courts of general jurisdiction are undifferentiated as to function; judges may hear criminal, civil, and juvenile cases. Military courts are allowed to operate only during wartime. The Constitution provides for a new Constitutional Court made up of three appointees from each branch of government--executive, legislative, and judicial. Parliament has yet to adopt specific legislation to determine the powers, duties, and operating procedures of the Constitutional Court. Under former Soviet law which governed for most of 1995, prosecutors were vested with powers greater than those of judges or defense attorneys. Prosecutors directed criminal investigations, supervised some judicial functions, and represented the State in trials. The judiciary had little control over the activities of prosecutors. The new Constitution limits the role of prosecutors by placing them under the supervision of the courts. Under the law a detainee is presumed innocent and has the right to a public trial. Trials, however, are not conducted in an adversarial manner. A detainee has the right to demand immediate access to a lawyer and to refuse to make a statement in the absence of counsel. The State must provide legal counsel if the defendant is unable to afford one. The detaining officer must inform the detainee of these rights and must notify the detainee's family of his or her location as soon as possible. In practice, these rights are frequently violated. Human rights observers report widespread judicial incompetence and corruption, including the payment of bribes to prosecutors and judges. In the trial of 19 persons implicated in the June 1992 attempt on the life of parliamentary deputy and Mkhedrioni leader Jaba Ioseliani, the Supreme Court sentenced two of the suspects to death on March 6 and the rest to jail terms of up to 15 years. The Government consistently violated due process during the investigation and trial. Acts of torture, use of forced confessions, denial of legal counsel, and expulsion of defendants from the courtroom took place. One of the condemned men, Petre Gelbakhiani, had been denied access to legal counsel and trial records to prepare his appeal. Access to his lawyer and legal records was restored in May after intervention by the State Committee on Human Rights. On July 8, the presiding judge expelled from the courtroom two other suspects in the same case, Zurab Barzimashvili and Omar Kochlamazashvili, when they objected to being denied access to case materials. After a 7-month appeal process, the Supreme Court denied the appeal and declared the trial to have been legal and valid. The defendants plan a second appeal directly to the Supreme Court Chairman. There are no known political prisoners, although detained Gamsakhurdia supporters, organized crime figures, and SGB personnel have claimed that they are political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Credible reports indicate that both the SGB and MVD monitor private telephone conversations without court order. SGB and MVD officials also enter homes without legal sanction. The frequency and seriousness of such violations, however, are diminishing.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution and the 1991 press law provide for freedom of the press. The Government improved its respect of this right in practice, although some problems remained. Press freedom for private media was almost universal in 1995, with the exception of an unsuccessful attempt by certain officials to censor a private television station. Observers noted that police harassment of journalists had declined. Dozens of opposition newspapers with wide circulation operate without interference throughout Georgia. The Government finances and controls many newspapers and most television stations, and they reflect principally official viewpoints. The government-financed newspapers Sarkartvelos Respublic and Svobodnya Gruzya, do not publish opposition viewpoints. The State also owns and operates the major publishing house. Opposition spokesmen complain they do not have equal access to government-operated national television stations nor the resources to print large numbers of their newspapers. The government-operated stations have introduced some programs designed to air opposition viewpoints. During the campaigns prior to the November 5 elections, all political parties were given equal time on government television with rotating time slots. On June 16, the Ministry of Communications rescinded the license of a local television station "Rustavi TV" after the station refused to submit to censorship by municipal authorities. The Ministry closed "Rustavi TV" under the pretense that it was engaging in illegal commercial activity. After media and diplomatic protests to the Head of State's office, the Ministry of Communications restored the license on July 18.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Government generally observes the right of peaceful assembly and association. The Government permits unannounced assembly in three locations in Tbilisi and requires 24-hour advanced notice for assemblies in other areas. The Government grants permits for assembly and registration for associations without arbitrary restriction or discrimination. On May 26, police in riot gear broke up an unsanctioned assembly of 2,000 protesters (mostly supporters of ousted President Gamsakhurdia) in the Tbilisi city center. The protesters complained that some of them, particularly women, were handled roughly by police. Dozens of protesters were detained.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The 1993 law on migration provides for these rights, and the Government generally respects them in practice. The Government Office of Passports, Visas, and Foreign Registration (OVIR) often illegally restricts foreign travel by demanding bribes and requiring long delays for passport issuance. The registration of residence is no longer required in Georgia. Georgian citizens are free to live anywhere in the country. The Government generally respects the right of repatriation, although approximately 270,000 Meskhetian Turk (primarily Muslim) refugees still face public opposition to their return. Stalin exiled the Meskhetian Turks from Georgia in the 1940's. The Government is attempting to return 35 to 40 Meskhetian refugee families from Azerbaijan to Marneuli, eastern Georgia, as part of a pilot resettlement program. Larger repatriation programs continue to face strong local resistance. International law and the 1994 Quadripartite Agreement (Russia, Georgia, Abkhazia, and U.N. High Commissioer for Refugees) on repatriation in Abkhazia provide for the free, safe, and dignified return of internally displace persons (IDP's) to their homes. Since 1994, when only 311 IDP's were allowed to repatriate, there has been no official repatriation. Approximately 30,000 of the 250,000 displaced persons from Abkhazia have returned spontaneously, most all to the southern part of Gali District where Abkhaz separatist forces operate only sporadically. The returnees continue to face security threats from Abkhaz authorities. South Ossetian separatists also continue to defy attempts to repatriate IDP's.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change their Government
The Constitution and 1995 Election Law provide citizens with the right to peacefully change their government, and citizens exercised this right in the last two elections in October 1992 and November 1995. A democratically elected President and Parliament governs most of Georgia. The separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are ruled by unelected leaders, and national balloting is not conducted in these areas. The 223-member Parliament and President Eduard Shevardnadze were elected in multiparty elections in 1992 and 1995. International observers judged these elections to meet international standards, despite technical violations. In the 1995 election, opposition parties actively participated in preelection planning and election monitoring. The most serious election violations occurred in the regions of Adjaria and Southern Georgia but were not sufficiently large to upset the national election outcome. Local elections are planned in 1996. Women and minorities are less well represented in Parliament than they were in the Soviet or Gamsakhurdia governments. Only 16 women (7 percent) were elected to Parliament in 1995, and one woman (6 percent) has been named to a ministerial post.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government generally respects the right of domestic and international organizations to monitor human rights, but has limited the access of such organizations in specific cases. The ICRC has visited 80 prisoners in Georgian custody and 55 prisoners in Abkhaz custody without the presence of third-party observers. The Government has denied access by ICRC to 27 prisoners, most of whom are supporters of ousted President Gamsakhurdia. Following the attempted assassination of the Head of State on August 29, the Ministry of Interior arrested dozens of members of the Rescue Corps and the Security Service (see Section 1.d.). There are continuing credible reports of abuse of one of the detained security service officers, Guram Papukashvili. By year's end, the Government granted the OSCE and diplomatic representatives access to some of the detained persons in this case, but not to Papukashvili. Domestic human rights monitoring is politicized. Local human rights groups complain that the State Committee on Human Rights is biased and promotes the interests of the Government. The Committee counters that most local human rights groups are extensions of partisan political groups. The new Constitution provides for a human rights public defender who will be independent from the executive branch. The public defender will be elected and funded by Parliament but will be accountable to neither the Parliament nor the executive. The position will be filled after the Parliament adopts legislation defining its specific duties and authority.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution recognizes the equality of all citizens without regard to race, language, sex, religion, skin color, political views, national, ethnic, or social affiliation, origin, social status, landownership, or place of residence. The Constitution provides for Georgian as the state language, except in Abkhazia where both Abkhazian and Georgian are state languages. The State Committee on Human Rights and Interethnic Relations is responsible for combating discrimination but lacks the resources to monitor discrimination effectively.
Women's nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) report that family violence and rape is not common in most of Georgia, although there have been incidents of spousal abuse and sexual harassment. They indicate that spousal abuse usually goes unreported, and police are reluctant to investigate complaints. They also note that sexual harassment is becoming a growing problem in the workplace as increasing numbers of women are employed outside the home. The Government has no support services for abused women, although police reportedly do investigate reports of rape. Human rights monitors in Abkhazia noted dozens of reports of rape of non-Abkhaz women by young Abkhaz men, often in paramilitary dress. In many cases, these rapes were reported to be of elderly women with the clear intent of humiliating the victim and her family. Women's access to the labor market continues to be confined mostly to low-paying and low-skill positions despite frequent high professional and academic qualifications. There are only a relatively few women working in industry and professional fields. Despite their small numbers, prominent women including opposition leader Irina Chanturia-Sarishvili play important roles in politics and business. Five new political collectives have been formed to promote women's rights, including Georgian Women's Choice and the Party for the Defense of Women's Rights.
Government services for children are extremely limited. The Health Reform Act of August 10 withdrew the right of children over the age of 1 year to free medical care. While education is officially free, many parents are unable to afford books and school supplies, effectively excluding their children from participation in school. The Georgian private voluntary organization (PVO), "Child and Environment," notes a dramatic rise in homeless children since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It estimates that there are as many as 1,000 street children in Tbilisi because of the inability of orphanages and the Ministry of Education to provide support services. "Child and Environment" also reports a growing trend towards child involvement in criminal activity, narcotics, and prostitution despite the cultural tradition of protecting children.
People with Disabilities
There is no legislative or otherwise mandated provision requiring accessibility for the disabled. The Law on Labor has a section which includes the provision of special discounts and favorable social policies for those with disabilities, especially disabled veterans. Many of the state facilities for the disabled which operated in the Soviet period have been closed because of lack of government funding. Most disabled persons are supported by family members.
Freedom of religion is widely respected in Georgia. The Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, however, is wary of proselytism and has exhibited an intolerant attitude towards Baptist missionaries and the Salvation Army. The Catholic Church has also complained of the delay in the return of churches closed during the Soviet period and later given to the Georgian Orthodox Church. Organizations promoting the rights of Jewish persons and Jewish emigration continue to report that the Government provides exceptional cooperation and support. This year, during the transition to a new passport regime, the Government expedited the cases of Jewish emigrants while delaying all other cases. Georgia has a tradition of tolerance towards religious minorities.
The Government generally respects the rights of ethnic minorities in nonconflict areas. Local government has encouraged the repatriation and reintegration of ethnic Ossetians into Georgian communities. The Government provides funds for ethnic schools, and the teaching of non-Georgian languages is permitted. Both pro-Georgian and Abkhaz separatist violence against civilians in Abkhazia reflects historical ethnic conflicts as does the refusal of South Ossetian authorities to allow ethnic Georgians to return to South Ossetia.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Constitution provides for the right of citizens to form and join unions. The Soviet Labor Code, still in effect, specifies that these unions must be registered with the Ministry of Justice. A single Confederation of Trade Unions, made up of about 30 sectoral unions, operates in Georgia. Current trade unions, however, are remnants of the Soviet period where unions were administrative bodies concerned with property and finance but not with workers' rights. There are no legal prohibitions against affiliation and participation in international organizations. The right to form unions is protected under the new Constitution.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The Constitution and the Soviet Labor Code allow workers to organize and bargain collectively, and this right is respected. The Labor Code also prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers against union members. Employers may be prosecuted for antiunion discrimination and be made to reinstate employees and pay back wages. The Ministry of Labor investigates complaints but is not staffed to conduct effective investigations. There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Labor Code prohibits forced or compulsory labor and provides for sanctions against violators; violations are rare. The Ministry of Labor enforces this law.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
According to the Labor Code, the minimum age for employment of children is 14 years. Children between 14 and 16 years may not work more than 30 hours per week. Reportedly, the minimum age is widely respected.
e. Acceptable Conditions for Work
The nationally mandated minimum wage was abolished on July 1 and replaced by a wage scale which sets the lowest salary grade at $4.31 (3.5 lari) per month. There is no state-mandated minimum wage for private sector workers. A recent government report concluded that $77 per month was required to maintain the basic needs of a single elderly male in Georgia. Pensions are undifferentiated, except for World War II veterans, and are set at $4.55 (3.7 lari) per month. Pensions for World War II veterans are set at $7.38 (6 lari) per month. The law provides for a 41-hour workweek, including a 24-hour rest period, although the Government workweek was shortened during the winter due to the energy crisis. The Labor Code permits higher wages for hazardous work and permits a worker in such fields to refuse duties that could endanger his life.