By Eka Janashia (15/10/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s (PACE) October 1st resolution on “the functioning of democratic institutions in Georgia” spurred debates in both Strasbourg and Tbilisi.
The Georgian Dream ruling coalition along with Michael Aastrup Jensen of Denmark and Boriss Cilevičs of Latvia, the two PACE co-rapporteurs on Georgia, strongly opposed the document while the United National Movement (UNM) opposition party supported it, backed by the majority of Assembly members.
The draft resolution built on a report prepared by the co-rapporteurs as a part of PACE’s regular activity to observe the country’s performance regarding obligations undertaken upon its accession to the Council of Europe (CoE) in 1999.
Allegedly, UNM members of the Georgian delegation were, through the support of European People’s Party (EPP), able to introduce amendments to the initial version in order to make it more critical of the Georgian authorities. As a result, the originally “balanced” report has been changed into a “partisan” one, Jensen and Cilevičs claimed. Jensen termed the product “completely a shame,” because PACE should not be taking sides in Georgia’s internal politics, but should instead “try to paint a picture as correctly as it is.”
According to the document, despite the peaceful handover of power after the 2012 parliamentary and 2013 presidential elections in Georgia, the arrest and prosecution of almost the entire UNM leadership “overshadowed” the democratic achievements the country has made since.
The document describes the detention in absentia of former President Mikheil Saakashvili, former Minister of Defense David Kezerashvili and former Minister of Justice Zurab Adeishvili as well as the arrest of former Prime Minister and UNM Secretary General Vano Merabishvili, former Defense Minister Bacho Akhalaia and former Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava as regressive moves for Georgia’s democracy.
The resolution expresses concerns over the freezing of assets belonging to former government officials’ family members and the length of Akhalaia’s pre-trail detention, asking the authorities to replace detention on remand with non-custodial precautionary measures. It takes note of the multiple charges filed against the former president as well as the large number of possible instances of criminal conduct on the part of former government officials and emphasizes that no one is above law, but meanwhile urges the authorities to ensure that their trials are impartial.
In this respect, the resolution recalls the Assembly’s reservations regarding the independence of the judiciary and administration of justice in Georgia. While it welcomes positive signals such as the adoption of a comprehensive reform package aiming to establish a truly adversarial justice system, it also notices that the sensitive legal cases against opposition leaders has disclosed “vulnerabilities and deficiencies” of the system. Thus, the Assembly suggests further reforms of the judiciary and prosecution service and recommends the Georgian parliament to achieve a necessary compromise to elect all members of the High Council of Justice.
Another set of concerns refers to an increasingly intolerant and discriminatory attitude especially towards sexual and religious minorities and a lack of measures from all stakeholders – the investigative and prosecution agencies, politicians and institutions with high moral credibility – to examine “hate crimes” and condemn discriminatory sentiments. Regarding minorities, the Assembly also calls on the Georgian authorities to sign and ratify the European charter of regional and minority languages, which remains an unfulfilled commitment of the country since its accession to CoE. The Assembly recommends the government to communicate the charter’s provisions to the public through an awareness campaign and ensure the engagement of civil society, media and other interest groups in the process. As for the deported Meskhetian population, the document underscores the setbacks in granting citizenship to already repatriated persons.
Before the resolution was adopted, PM Irakli Gharibashvili expressed hope that EPP along with other members would not rely on the “groundless allegations” put forward by UNM. Later, commenting the already approved document, he said the amendments to the resolution had been passed because of EPP’s “solidarity” with UNM. “The wording that was made in reference to Akhalaia and Saakashvili – I do not deem it alarming. This is yet another attempt by the UNM to fight against its own state, its own people,” he said.
Although the Assembly is deeply concerned about “a polarized and antagonistic political climate” in Georgia, the resolution has further fanned the confrontation between GD and UNM. Rejecting political motivations, GD declares that prosecution of former officials is a demand of Georgian people and that it certainly should be met. The head of the human rights committee in the Georgian parliament and one of the GD leaders, Eka Beselia, termed the Assembly’s request regarding Akhalaia an attempt to exercise pressure on the independent court.
The adoption of a critical resolution on Georgia signifies that leading European political forces are principally against the marginalization and demonization of UNM, as its disappearance from political scene would enormously damage democratic processes in the country. On the other hand, GD evidently maintains a tough approach reflected in its indifference to the PACE recommendations regarding the prosecution of opposition party members.