U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Georgia

    Georgia declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Following multiparty parliamentary elections in 1992, Parliament chose Eduard Shevardnadze as its Chairman in an uncontested election and named him Head of State. The Head of State appoints the Prime Minister and the members of the Council of Ministers (Cabinet) who, with other executive officials, report to him. At the end of 1993, Georgia agreed to a U.N.-brokered cease- fire with Abkhazian separatists, who had forcibly taken control of the entire Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia in 1993. In April Abkhazian, Georgian, Russian, and United Nations representatives signed an agreement on the resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDP's); a peacekeeping force, drawn nominally from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) but comprised entirely of Russian forces, was deployed along the Inguri River which separates Abkhazia from the rest of Georgia. The role of the UNOMIG (United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia), already deployed in Georgia, was enlarged to include monitoring the actions of the peacekeeping force. Abkhazia declared its independence from Georgia in November. Attempts to reform the police, security services, armed forces, and paramilitary forces were only partly successful in 1994. The Government's anticrime campaign reduced much of the random violent crime in Tbilisi, the capital, and curbed some of the abuses committed by these forces. However, corruption on the part of law enforcement officials and police brutality are pervasive. Police routinely beat and otherwise mistreated detainees during pretrial detention. Internal conflicts and the disruption of trade links with other republics of the former Soviet Union have left Georgia's economy in ruins. Dependent on imported fuels for which the Government could not pay, Georgia has endured an acute energy crisis, including the complete stoppage of natural gas deliveries from Turkmenistan between mid-November and early December. Water, electricity, and natural gas are frequently unavailable, even in Tbilisi, the capital. With industry functioning at 20 percent of capacity and inflation as high as 50 percent per month, the standard of living of the population dropped further, making the country dependent on humanitarian grain shipments from abroad. A further burden on the Government's limited resources is the contribution by the Government to the 250,000 people displaced from Abkhazia and a lesser number from South Ossetia. The refugees and IDP's are housed at government expense in reassigned public buildings and receive small support stipends. Surveys undertaken jointly by nongovernmental organizations and the Government indicated that the displaced and refugees were satisfied with the level of financial support, although they remain critical of slow progress in repatriation efforts. CIS peacekeepers were unable to create a safe environment in Abkhazia for the return of IDP's, stating that police functions were not part of their mandate. The Abkhazian authorities allowed only a few hundred ethnic Georgians to return and, just prior to the first resettlements, razed 4 Georgian villages, killing 20 persons, after unknown assailants had killed 4 Abkhazian police. Abkhazian authorities called for ethnically cleansing Abkhazia of all Georgians by Septeber 27 and were credibly reported to have tortured, raped, killed, expelled, and imprisoned hundreds of Georgians and other non-Abkhaz. In South Ossetia, a 2-year-old cease-fire, monitored by CIS peacekeepers and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), partially succeeded in curbing human rights abuses in that region. Human rights abuses continued in the rest of Georgia, including apparent extrajudicial killings, hostage-taking or kidnaping, police beatings of detainees and demonstrators, arbitrary detention, denial of fair public trial, and arbitrary interference with privacy and home. There were no known summary executions in 1994, although the state of emergency decree that permitted the practice was not lifted until October. Freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association were significantly less restricted, although some instances of abuse still occurred.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

In the fall of 1993, during the state of emergency, the Minister of Internal Affairs reportedly personally shot and killed at least one of nine youths in Zugdidi who were accused of looting. The Minister appears so far to have evaded repeated calls for an investigation into his role in the summary executions which occurred in Zugdidi in 1993. It is often difficult to distinguish between criminal activity and political killings. For example, the assassination of the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs in March, in which individual police officers were implicated, appears to have been the work of mafia elements. The bombing of the Armenian Theater in Tbilisi in June, which resulted in one death, may have been the work of Azerbaijani sympathizers as an outgrowth of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The attempted bombing of a Moscow-bound passenger plane carrying a former Georgian defense minister, who is also a crime world figure, may have been either politically motivated or the work of criminal elements. The paramilitary organization Mkhedrioni, also called the Georgia Rescue Corps, remains actively involved in widespread criminal activity. Since several small factions feud among themselves, it is unclear whether recent assassinations of Mkhedrioni members were the result of factional disputes, vendettas, or political motivation. The State Committee on Human Rights and Interethnic Relations (SCHR), in a report issued in 1994, claimed that 50 detainees died, and many others required hospitalization, while being incarcerated at the Tbilisi interrogation cell in 1993. The head of the Abkhazian parliament reportedly has claimed that the Abkhazian authorities have made good-faith attempts to bring to trial 40 people associated with political killings and other atrocities carried out against Georgian civilians during the war. However, independent observers have not verified that claim.

b. Disappearance

The fate of many Georgians and Abkhaz who have disappeared since 1992 as a result of the Abkhazian conflict is still unknown. Over 1,000 Georgians are still reported missing, according to the SCHR, which maintains a current list. Some are thought to have been executed, and rumors persist that the Abkhaz are holding others in secret forced labor camps within Abkhazia. Amnesty International appealed to the Government in 1994 to investigate the status of seven ethnic Abkhaz who reportedly were detained by government forces in Sukhumi in October 1992. Amnesty International listed these persons as "disappeared." The Government considers these individuals missing but reported that it had no information about their alleged detention and, without access to Abkhazia, asserted it was unable to investigate the matter. Among the many persons who disappeared during the Abkhazian conflict are 46 Georgians whom Abkhazian forces, according to the Government, seized in September 1993 in Sukhumi, along with the former chairman of the council of ministers of Abkhazia. The Abkhaz executed the former chairman, despite Russian assurances of safe conduct out of the region, but the fate of 27 of his staff members and 19 soldiers is unknown. The Government has repeatedly appealed to international human rights groups to investigate this case. The 1994 SCHR report charged that peacekeeping contingents in South Ossetia engaged in hostage-taking in 1993.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

High government officials admit that law enforcement personnel routinely beat detainees. Officials often resort to physical and psychological abuse to extract information and confessions. Most of the abuse reportedly occurs during pretrial detention. Physical abuse also occurs, though apparently less frequently, during the trial period of a criminal defendant's incarceration. The press reported that Viktor Domukhovski, 1 of 19 defendants in a well-known trial of alleged terrorists, claimed that prison officials beat him for refusing to relinquish his diary (see Section 1.e.). Domukhovski's wife reported that he was again beaten on December 11, this time by fellow prisoners, but with the complicity of at least one prison official. Nongovernmental human rights groups reported significantly fewer abuses by the Georgian security services during 1994. In some instances, however, the security services reportedly resorted to threatening, intimidating tactics during interrogations. In general, prison conditions deteriorated parallel with the economic situation. Prison officials could not provide adequate food and medicines for inmates, who in turn relied on their families and friends to supplement the meager supplies. Prison infirmaries lacked medicine to treat diseases like tuberculosis and dysentery, which are prevalent in the prisons. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was permitted visitation rights to all regular prisoners but was not allowed unrestricted access to the extradited former military commander, Lote Kobalia, who served under deposed Prime Minister Zviad Gamsakhurdia and was being held virtually incommunicado by the security service. The SCHR reported that prisons were overcrowded, with 12 to 15 inmates frequently sharing cells designed for 3 to 4 persons and with 2 persons sharing individual bunks. Interrogation cells are extremely cramped and unsanitary, and prisoners are not protected from violence and brutal treatment.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Although the Government nullified relevant Soviet-era legislation, Parliament still had not finished drafting new laws governing arrest and detention procedures. While some law enforcement officials continued to abide by Soviet-era law, the consequent legal vacuum opened the door to significant abuse. Under the former Soviet-era law, prosecutors issued warrants for arrests and searches. Persons caught in the act of committing a crime could be legally arrested without a warrant and be detained for up to 72 hours. After this time, police were required to request and receive permission from the prosecutor for continued detention. The law requires the prosecutor to file charges within 72 hours, but criminal suspects are often held in pretrial detention for over a year before prosecutors file formal charges against them. 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 detaining officer must inform the detainee of these rights and must notify the detainee's family of his location as soon as possible. A suspect has the right to demand the presence of counsel during all questioning. The presence of an attorney is mandatory during the interrogation of a minor or of an individual accused of a capital crime. The presence of a teacher or a parent is also obligatory during questioning of a minor. However, these rights are frequently violated. Police may administratively detain a person without a warrant for several violations, including participating in an illegal demonstration, but a senior Internal Affairs Ministry official or an administrative judge must approve the detention within 3 hours. A judge, who may sentence the defendant for up to 15 days' imprisonment, must then decide the case within 24 hours. Authorities frequently ignore these legal requirements. In mid-September, Abkhazian authorities arrested and detained nine ethnic Georgians fishing off the Abkhazian coast, claiming that the detainees were fishing in Abkhazian territorial waters. Although the Abkhazian authorities want to exchange the nine for all Abkhaz currently being held in Georgian prisons, the Government maintains that all Abkhazian prisoners were transferred to Russian prisons 2 years ago. A few Abkhaz, however, may have been imprisoned since the war in western Georgia. The SCHR reportedly successfully negotiated a prisoner swap with Abkhazian authorities in October. Abkhazian authorities released a Georgian held since 1991 in exchange for several ethnic Abkhaz who had previously been transferred to Russian prisons. There were no exiles.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Continuing political instability and legislative disarray stymied any serious attempts at effecting the rule of law in Georgia. The criminal justice system is governed by a welter of conflicting laws from Georgia's brief period of pre-Soviet independence, the Soviet era, the Gamsakhurdia presidency (1990 to January 1992), and the current State Council period, which result in uneven and haphazard justice. Courts of general jurisdiction are undifferentiated as to function; judges may hear criminal, civil, and juvenile cases. All courts may act as the court of first instance depending on the nature and seriousness of the crime, and there are no clear rules to determine which court first hears a case. Prosecutors, ultimately responsible to the Procurator General who is appointed by Parliament, are more powerful than either judges or defense attorneys. Prosecutors direct all criminal investigations conducted by the Internal Affairs Ministry, exercise certain supervisory rights over the judiciary's functions, and can request that the Supreme Court review one of its own decisions. In contrast, the judiciary has little influence over prosecutors. Such a system leaves the judiciary vulnerable to political and other forms of persuasion, particularly at the local level. The defendant is presumed innocent and by law is supposed to enjoy various due process rights. Judges frequently send cases unlikely to end in convictions back to the prosecutor for "additional investigation." Such cases may then be dropped or closed, occasionally without informing the court or the defendant. In practice, fair public trials are the exception rather than the norm, due largely to the incompetence and corruption of the judicial branch, which is packed with Soviet-era appointees. Proceedings are not conducted in an adversarial manner. Many judges reportedly accept bribes and take instructions from powerful individuals both inside and outside the Government. The trial of 19 people implicated in the 1992 attempted assassination by car bomb of Mkhedrioni leader Jaba Joseliani which killed 5 people, including a child, provides the most striking examples of the denial of due process. Authorities refused to provide legal counsel to one of the defendants, Zurab Bardzimashvili, for several months following his arrest. Following the appointment of an attorney not of his choosing, in April they denied his request to change counsel. When he suffered an apparent heart attack on August 4, the court did not immediately permit him to be taken to a hospital. Defendant Zaza Tsiklauri was also denied counsel of his choosing and was assigned the same attorney as Bardzimashvili. This attorney was threatened with disbarment after she complained of being assigned against the defendants' wishes. The judge repeatedly denied the requests of defense attorneys for Tsiklauri and Gedevan Gelbakhiaini to allow their clients full access to the documents in the case. There are no known political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Intelligence agencies, including both Georgian and Russian services, are credibly reported to monitor private telephone conversations. Prior to his assassination, Gia Chanturia, the head of the National Democratic Party, complained publicly that his office was electronically monitored. Both paramilitary and law enforcement representatives enter homes without legal sanction. However, most Soviet-era forms of interference diminished. Telephone communications with Abkhazia and South Ossetia are almost impossible because local authorities exercise control over them.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

Internal conflict abated in Georgia during 1994. Cease-fires are in place in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and the Government has reestablished tenuous control over the western region of the country. However, in Abkhazia and the cease-fire zone around Gali, Abkhaz committed egregious human rights abuses against the remaining Georgians despite the presence of Russian peacekeepers. Armed indigenous guerrillas in the so-called Svanetian-Georgian region of Abkhazia and renegade Georgians in the Gali region also committed abuses sporadically. Confirmed evidence of human rights violations is difficult to obtain because of the lack of access to the region and the fear of reprisal among the victims. Abkhazian separatists reportedly executed as many as 800 Georgians and other non-Abkhaz who remained in the Gali region of Abkhazia. From January through April, the following executions reportedly took place: 32 in Ganathleba; 40 in Gudara; 11 in Muhuri; 14 in Muhurchi; 9 in Tsarchushi; 55 in Okami; 16 in Perveli Gali; and 17 in Nabakevi. The Abkhaz police reportedly shot some victims. They also allegedly tortured some victims before burning them to death. Rape, which often took place in front of the victim's family, was so common that there were no attempts to keep statistics. Many of those executed allegedly were the elderly and women. Abkhazian police officers on November 15 seized an elderly ethnic Mingrelian man in Kokhoria, attached wires to the man's legs, and doused him with diesel fuel. They then attached the wires to a battery and repeatedly shocked the man. The man's relatives found him alive but unconscious. They alerted the police commander, who beat and arrested the officers responsible. Despite international law which provides that IDP's have the right to free, safe, and dignified return to their homes, the 250,000 Georgians who fled Abkhazia during the 1993 ethnic cleansing campaign were officially allowed to begin returning only in October. By year's end, fewer than 300 had returned. Unofficially, several thousand IDP's spontaneously returned, but only at great personal risk. Until the Russian peacekeeping operation took over in mid-November, Abkhazian forces were in charge of providing security in the Gali security zone. Days prior to the first official return of IDP's in October, 200 Abkhazian police, reportedly in the presence of the Abkhazian minister of the interior, razed 4 Georgian villages in the Gali area, killing 20 persons, after unknown assailants killed 4 Abkhazian police officers.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

In practice, freedom of the press in 1994 was almost universal. The authorities did not attempt to reimpose censorship of the antigovernment press. Virtually all newspapers that had been closed in the past reopened, some under new names. Opposition leaders also obtained uncensored access to television and radio broadcast time, although they frequently complained that they did not receive enough air time. Adjarian parliament chairman Aslan Abashidze accused the Georgian Government of denying Adjar television 10 minutes a day to broadcast on Georgian television. However, the energy crisis, damage from a fire in October at the Tbilisi radio and television tower, and paper shortages limited all media. Journalists covering demonstrations were subject to police beatings through most of the year, as well as to harassment by political forces opposing their views. On average, police beat one or two journalists per month, including a local Reuters reporter on June 14 and another journalist during the October visit of the U.N. Secretary General.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Government was more tolerant of antigovernment demonstrations during 1994 than in previous years. However, law enforcement troops continued to disperse unsanctioned rallies, sometimes forcibly. In practice, the Government allowed demonstrations anywhere except along the main thoroughfare, Rustaveli Avenue, provided the organizers requested permission in advance. Opposition groups apparently did not always seek permission and then complained that police harassed them while dispersing unsanctioned rallies. Frequently, the Government preemptively deployed special police (OMON) units, whose chilling presence intimidated would-be demonstrators. On frequent occasions, police briefly detained opposition leaders who organized unsanctioned demonstrations. On July 9, police and OMON units forcibly broke up a demonstration organized by several opposition parties, and police detained at least one of the radical opposition leaders.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Government took no actions to restrict freedom of religion.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The old Soviet system of registering residency still remains in place, although enforcement is uneven. Both foreign and internal travel, as well as emigration, are unrestricted. There are, however, practical problems with travel in the areas of former conflict (see Section 1.g.). Citizens generally enjoy the right to return, but there is continuing controversy over the desire of former, primarily Muslim,residents of the Mskheti region, deported from Georgia by Stalin in 1944 to return to that area. Approximately 270,000 Mskhetians now living in Russia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and other parts of Central Asia face significant popular opposition to their return. The Cabinet issued a decree on August 23 that would permit the Mskhetians to return; Parliament, however, has not yet passed the legislation to implement it. In November, 150 Mskhetians attempted to return via Tskhinvali in South Ossetia, but Russian peacekeepers and Georgian police reportedly stopped them. However, the Government has established a repatriation service, which currently subsidizes the study of 100 young Mskhetians in Georgia.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The 225-member Parliament and its chairman, Eduard Shevardnadze, were elected in nationwide, multiparty elections in 1992, which international observers judged to be generally free and fair despite widespread technical violations. Parliament is drafting a new election law to govern the next elections, scheduled for October 1995. In the Adjar Autonomous Republic, Aslan Abashidze was elected chairman of the Supreme Council in free and fair elections in 1991. The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for October 1995. Women and minorities are less well represented in Parliament than they were during the Soviet or Gamsakhurdia eras. The participation of women in politics is generally limited, partly as a result of longstanding cultural traditions and partly as a backlash to the Gamsakhurdia era, when women were perceived to be among the ex-president's most ardent supporters. There are only 11 women deputies in the Parliament, and there are no women serving in ministerial posts. The lack of support for minority candidates may reflect some resonance for Gamsakhurdia's proethnic Georgian policies and the resulting conflicts.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Government does not prevent nongovernmental organizations from investigating human rights violations. There are several organizations which profess to be human rights monitors, but they often are composed of political opponents of the current Government and have largely political, rather than human rights, agendas. The members of the All-Georgian Association of Human Rights, the Helsinki Union of Georgia, and the Historical Justice League predominantly were supporters of former president Gamsakhurdia. In October President Shevardnadze issued a decree that charged the SCHR with inspecting the conditions of detainees and inmates, offering written appeals to the appropriate officials to eliminate such abuses, and inspecting the conditions of detainees and prisoners. It issued a report on human rights in Georgia, highlighting a variety of abuses cited above. The Government cooperates with international human rights organizations. It assisted Human Rights Watch/Helsinki in visiting 19 persons on trial for terrorism and other crimes (see Section 1.e.) who claimed their human rights were violated, as well as in other investigations. However, no organization has yet obtained access to Lote Kobalia (see Section 1.c.).

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

There are no legal or constitutional prohibitions against discrimination.


Government concern, as well as the concern of society at large, about discrimination against women is limited. Although in 1994 Georgia signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, there is no distinct women's movement, nor are there academic programs in women's studies. The dominant stereotype that the majority of Gamsakhurdia's supporters were somewhat irrational women has significantly weakened women's involvement in politics (see Section 3). Women's access to education resources is unimpeded, but women are found mostly in so-called traditional occupations, such as the arts, languages, and social sciences. Careers that involve technical skills, applied sciences, or supposedly "more complex" reasoning are heavily male-dominated. Women's labor is generally low paid and, often, part-time, although government positions reportedly are paid on an equal basis. In a growing trend, women engaged in "cottage industries" are becoming the primary breadwinners. Credible statistics on violence against women are difficult to obtain. In July the Ministry of Interior stated that, during the first half of 1994, reports of rape had declined by 10 percent. Sociologists and domestic specialists claim instances of rape and domestic violence are rare; however, the lack of statistics could reflect victims' fear of reporting such crimes as well as lack of confidence in law enforcement and judicial organs.


The economic crisis which continued to grip Georgia in 1994 prevented government expenditures on the welfare of children adequate to meet their needs. The severe economic conditions have resulted in children being left without homes or being forced to beg. In September a children's advocacy group was established, and in 1994 Georgia signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Neither the 1921 Constitution, supposedly reinstated in 1992, nor Georgian legislation contains antidiscrimination provisions. With the exception of the situation in the former conflict zones, the Government generally respects the rights of ethnic minorities, although information on areas outside the capital is scarce, and some ethnic Azeris from southern Georgia came to Tbilisi in September to protest against what they claim is unfair treatment. Local police and officials sometimes discriminate against non-Georgians, but the central authorities usually try to resolve complaints. The Government provides funds for ethnic schools, and the teaching of non-Georgian languages is permitted. In Azeri-populated areas, where Georgian is not the primary language, the poor quality of Georgian-language instruction and the wider availability of Azeri-language schools produce graduates with limited professional opportunities in Georgia.

Religious Minorities

Freedom of religion is widely respected in Georgia (see Section 2.c.). The Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, however, is wary of proselytism and has exhibited an intolerant attitude toward the growing Protestant movement. The Salvation Army publicly complained of hostile articles regarding the resident Salvation Army mission and of the Georgian Orthodox Church's negative disposition. The Catholic Church has also complained of the delay in the return of six churches, closed during the Soviet era and later given to the Georgian Orthodox Church.

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 numerous special discounts and favorable social policies for those with disabilities, especially disabled veterans.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Soviet-era Labor Code still in effect in Georgia allows workers freely to form unions and associations. These unions and associations must register with the Ministry of Justice. A single Confederation of Trade Unions, made up of about 30 sectoral unions, is active in Georgia. Membership in labor unions has fallen as the economy collapsed and interest in the labor movement declined. Strikes are permitted, except during a state of emergency. Because of the extreme economic crisis, however, there were few strikes in 1994. There are no legal prohibitions against affiliation and participation in international organizations.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Labor Code allows workers to organize and bargain collectively, and this right is widely respected. The Labor Code also prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers against union members. Employers may be prosecuted for antiunion discrimination and, if found guilty, would be required to reinstate the employees and pay them back wages. The Ministry of Labor investigates complaints but is not sufficiently 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 the 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. Because of the Ministry's inadequate resources, unions themselves are often left to enforce the minimum age law.

e. Acceptable Conditions for Work

A nationally mandated minimum wage applies only to the government sector. In December 1994, the Government raised the minimum wage to about $0.50 (1.5 million coupons) a month. There is no state-mandated minimum wage for private sector workers, who are free to bargain for any wage. The law provides for a 40-hour workweek, including a 24-hour rest period, although the Government adopted a 35-hour workweek for the winter period from November 15, 1994, through February 15, 1995. The energy crisis in mid-November further prompted the Government to permit government workers at their discretion to reduce their workweek to 30 hours. The Labor Code permits higher wages for hazardous work and permits a worker in such a field to refuse duties that could endanger his life. The Government has not addressed further safeguards for workers.  

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