U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Georgia
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Georgia, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3f3c.html [accessed 21 September 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
GEORGIAGeorgia declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Multiparty parliamentary elections followed a short-lived military coup in 1992 that ousted the elected government of Zviad Gamsakhurdia. In August 1995, Parliament adopted a Constitution that provides for an executive branch that reports to the President, a legislature, and an independent judiciary. In November 1995, Eduard Shevardnadze was elected President, and a new Parliament was selected in elections described by international observers as generally consistent with democratic norms except in the self-governing region of Ajara. The President appoints ministers with the consent of the Parliament. The judiciary is subject to executive pressure. Internal conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia that erupted in the early 1990's remain unresolved, although cease-fires in both areas are in force. These conflicts, together with problems created by roughly 250,000 internally displaced persons (IDP's), pose the greatest threat to national stability. In 1993 Abkhaz separatists won control of Abkhazia, and most ethnic Georgians, a large plurality of the population, fled the region. In 1994 Russian peacekeeping forces representing the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) deployed in the conflict area with the agreement of the Government and the Abkhaz separatists. Despite the presence of peacekeepers, there has been only very limited repatriation of ethnic Georgian IDP's, apart from some spontaneous returns to the Gali region of Abkhazia, where the security situation remains unstable. A Russian peacekeeping force has been in South Ossetia since June 1992. Repatriation to South Ossetia has also been slow. The Government has no effective control over either Abkhazia or South Ossetia. There were no large-scale armed hostilities in South Ossetia or Abkhazia in 1997, but the intensity and frequency of partisan warfare in Abkhazia increased. Abkhaz and Georgian armed criminal bands were also active in Abkhazia. The Ministry of Interior (MVD) and Procuracy have primary responsibility for law enforcement, and the Ministry of State Security (MGB, formerly KGB) plays a significant role in internal security. In times of internal disorder, the Government may call on the army. Reformist, elected, civilian authorities still maintain inadequate control of the law enforcement and security forces. In particular representatives of the MVD and Procuracy committed serious human rights abuses. The economy continued its turnaround, with a growth rate estimated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) at 10 percent. The economy is primarily agricultural. Foreign aid remains an essential component of the economy. The country began a second stage of economic reforms to complete the transition to a free market economy, but the ongoing energy crisis remains an obstacle to economic progress. The IMF estimated annual per capita gross domestic product at over $850. The Government continued efforts to improve its uneven human rights record, but serious problems remain. Police and security forces routinely abuse and beat prisoners and detainees, force confessions, and fabricate or plant evidence. Inhuman prison conditions, along with abuse, led to deaths in custody. Corrupt and incompetent judges seldom displayed independence from the executive branch, leading to trials that were neither fair nor expeditious. Law enforcement agencies illegally interfered with citizens' right to privacy at times and limited freedom of assembly, violently dispersing peaceful rallies. The Government constrains some press freedoms. Discrimination against women is also a problem. Senior government officials openly acknowledged serious human rights problems, especially those linked to law enforcement agencies, and sought international advice and assistance on needed reforms. However, while structural reforms designed to improve respect for human rights continued to be implemented, there was no change in the practices of the law enforcement agencies. Nevertheless, increased citizen awareness of democratic values, and growth of civil society provided some check on the excesses of law enforcement agencies. The Parliament challenged the law enforcement agencies by forcing the resignation of the Security Minister and by investigating charges of abuse. Parliament passed a Law on the Courts designed to increase judicial competence and independence as well as a new Criminal Procedures Code that puts into effect constitutional protections. Independent newspapers showed greater maturity and a continued willingness to criticize government policies and actions. The number, variety, and sophistication of independent nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) grew, as did their ability to speak out for, and defend the rights of, individual citizens.