HUMAN RIGHTS IN GEORGIA


THE INDEPENDENT SOCIETY "HUMAN RIGHTS IN GEORGIA" Monthly bulletin # 2/ 2000

HUMAN RIGHTS INFORMATION AND DOCUMENTATION CENTER HUMAN RIGHTS LIBRARY



Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion national or social origin, propoerty, birth or other status.

Article 2(1)

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
S  p  e  c  i  a  l          i  s  s  u  e  :
Georgia entry from AI's Concerns in Europe
Jul-Dec 99
Allegations of torture and ill-treatment

    During the period under review Amnesty International continued to receive persistent reports of torture and ill-treatment in detention.  In at least one case the victim is alleged to have died as a result of a sustained assault (see the case of Davit Vashaqmadze below).
     In November, for example, Dato Natelashvili made a written complaint about ill-treatment to the Tbilisi procurator and the General Procurator. He stated that he had been beaten at the temporary detention facility of Tbilisi Main City Police Department over a period of two days, after being transferred there from the Interior Ministry's investigation-isolation prison No 1. (Ortachala  prison) on 19 November.  He also alleged that he had been subjected to electric shock treatment in order to force him to confess to a murder.
     Dato Natelashvili was detained on 26 June, charged with theft and transferred from preliminary detention to Ortachala  prison.  On 19 November, however, he was transferred back to the temporary detention facility.  His family was reportedly not informed of the transfer at the time, and only discovered the move when Dato Natelashvili's brother attempted to deliver a food parcel to him at Ortachala prison on 21 November.  The next day Dato Natelashvili's brother and his two lawyers tried to visit him at the Tbilisi Main City Police Department, but were denied access.  The lawyers reported that procuracy officials told them they were no longer able to represent their client as they had been designated as witnesses in the case (a move they interpreted as a deliberate attempt to block their further participation in the defence of the case).
     Dato Natelashvili's written complaint (dated 30 November) reportedly stated that on the day of his transfer, 19 November, he was beaten by four law enforcement officials who had accompanied him from Ortachala to the Tbilisi Main City Police

 Department. They beat him the next day also, and used electric shock treatment to try to force him to confess to the murder of a man named Sheikhadinov.  At the time of writing his complaint Dato Natelashvili said that he still suffered from pain in the right hand side of his body, and he requested a forensic medical examination.  A third lawyer, allowed access to him on 25 November, reported that her client, who
described to her how he was severely beaten, was unable to sit upright without severe pain.  It is believed that Dato Natelashvili was transferred back to Ortachala prison after this visit, but Amnesty International has no further information on whether a medical examination or other investigation into his allegations has been instigated.

Deaths in custody
Davit Vashaqmadze
In November a man named Davit Vashaqmadze  died after an alleged severe beating by police officers in Tbilisi.  According to reports, Davit Vashaqmadze had called on his friend Zaza Buadze on the evening of 13 November.  There was a power cut, and they decided to leave in Vashaqmadze's car to find out if electricity was being supplied in other parts of the city.  Vashaqmadze stopped his car in Tavisupleba  Square to receive a call on his mobile phone, and was approached a few minutes later by two police officers  who asked for his documents.  Vashaqmadze did not
have his documents on him, and the police officers are said to have then pulled the two men out of the car and started to beat them.  Several other police officers also reportedly joined in the beating.  Vashaqmadze and Buadze were then told that they would be taken to Mtatsminda police station, but were instead taken to a location outside the city centre where the beating continued.  Davit Vashaqmadze is said to have suffered multiple fractures and other serious injuries, including some inflicted with a blunt instrument, and to have died in hospital two days later.  Zaza Buadze was also said to have sustained serious injuries.  A criminal case is said to have been opened by the Tbilisi City Procurator's office, and two officers of the traffic police have been arrested on a charge of "exceeding their authority" (Article 187 of the Georgian Criminal Code).

Zaza Tsotsolashvili
A young man named Zaza Tsotsolashvili fell to his death on 4 December from the sixth floor window of the Ministry of Internal Affairs building in Tbilisi.  His two brothers, named as Aleksandr and Kakha Tsotsolashvili were being questioned in the next room at around the same time.  Zaza Tsotsolashvili  was taken to hospital, but died shortly afterwards the same day.  According to reports the Interior Ministry has begun an investigation,  and  the Krtsanisi District Procurator's Office has instituted criminal proceedings.  Four officials from the Interior Ministry's Organized Crime Department, said to have accompanied Zaza Tsotsolashvili to the investigator's office for questioning, have been suspended pending the investigation.
     Elene Tevdoradze, Chairperson of the parliamentary Human Rights Committee who visited the room from which Zaza Tsotsolashvili fell, was quoted by press sources on 14 December  as saying that she doubted that he threw himself from the window.  She is said to have based these remarks on her observations that the window was relatively high in the room and closed for the winter, and that Zaza Tsotsolashvili was not alone in the room at the time but accompanied by four police officers, who would have been expected to prevent his efforts to climb up onto the high window ledge and open the window.    Amnesty International is also concerned about allegations that a brother of Zaza Tsotsolashvili was pressurized by police
into refusing an independent forensic medical examination of the body (the brother is said to have visited the police and been held by them until 3am the following morning until he agreed not to seek such an examination).
     In a similar case early in 1999, a man named Ivane Kolbaya fell to his death on 22 March  from the fifth floor window of the Tbilisi Central Police Department while being questioned by police officers about alleged thefts.  His death was said to have been regarded officially by police as suicide, although the head of the Georgian forensic medical centre, speaking four days after the events to the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch, reportedly said that forensic medical examiners did not have the capacity to determine conclusively whether the trauma marks they
found on Ivane Kolbaya's body were the result of the fall or were sustained prior to his death.

Attacks on evangelical Christians
On 29 May police from the Gldani district of Tbilisi  forcibly broke up an open-air meeting of an evangelical Christian group.  Church members allege that police beat up several peaceful worshippers, including the pastor, Zaal Tkeshelashvili and his wife Nino.  To Amnesty International's knowledge no criminal charges were opened in connection with the alleged assaults, and the church failed in a civil action against the police in connection with the incident.
     Zaal Tkeshelashvili is pastor of the Madli (Grace) church, which belongs to the Christians of the Evangelical Faith Church in Georgia, a Pentecostal denomination registered with the authorities.  He reports that on the evening of 29 May police interrupted a service he was holding in a courtyard between apartment blocks in the Gldani district of the Georgian capital, verbally abusing members of the congregation and striking his wife and another female worshipper.  He asked the congregation to disperse, but a futher confrontation ocurred when around 12 police officers later tried
to detain him and his wife but were prevented from doing so by  other church members present (who also freed two of their number who had been put
in a police car).  The police officers are then said to have beaten and  kicked several members of the congregation for about 10 minutes, before leaving as they were unable to detain  those present.  Among the injured was Gocha Lalebashvili, who was reportedly thrown to the ground and kicked in the head and face.
     Pastor Tkeshelashvili brought a civil case against several of the Gldani officers in connection with the forcible break-up of that and other meetings, claiming violations of his rights to freedom of religion and association.  On 17 August, after a two-day hearing before Gldani-Nadzaladevi district court  Judge Tamaz Sabiashvili found in favour of the police officers, ruling that they had acted appropriately.  Lawyers for the Madli church, however, claimed that police failed to produce in court long lists of people they claimed had petitioned them to disperse the meetings, with several of their witnesses saying that they had signed a document to that effect only on the day of the hearing.  An appeal against the ruling was turned down on 10 October.
     Also in October, Tbilisi police faced criticism when they allegedly failed to respond as  followers of defrocked Orthodox priest, Father Basil Mkalavishvili, assaulted members of a Jehovah's Witness congregation. The Jehovah's Witness church is legally registered in Georgia, but has been the focus of hostility from radical supporters of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
   The Jehovah's Witnesses report that a group of around 200 people attacked
some 120 adherents, including women and children, who had gathered in a rented theatre for at a Sunday service on 17 October. The attackers are said to have  beaten the worshippers with  iron crosses and wooden clubs. A few adherents escaped during the attack and reported it to two local police stations, but police allegedly refused to come to their aid or provide protection. Fifteen worshippers reportedly needed hospital treatment, including Fati Tabagari who suffered a temporary loss of vision after she was struck on the head.
     Extracts from a video of the attack were shown on Georgian television, prompting  widespread condemnation, including from  President Eduard Shevardnadze who called for the attackers to be charged. The police opened a criminal case after the Jehovah's Witnesses lodged a complaint on 18 October, and laid charges against Father Basil Mkalavishvili.  By the end of the period under review, however, no court case had been heard against him.  Neither, to Amnesty International's knowledge, had he been charged or prosecuted in connection with attacks on Pentecostal believers earlier that year.  Speaking to the British-based Keston News Service, Paata
Zakareishvili, then chief of staff of the Committee for Human Rights and National Minorities of the Georgian parliament, said: "For the two months before the raid [on the Jehovah's Witnesses] they [supporters of Father Basil Mkalavishvili] had organized raids on the Pentecostals in Tbilisi.  I had appealed via my parliamentary committee to the Ministry of Internal Affairs for them to take action, but they merely replied that they had discovered no evidence of violence despite the fact that I have photographs with such evidence."

Fair trial concerns - Guram Absandze (update to AI Index: EUR 01/02/99 and  EUR 01/02/98)

In August the trial began of Guram Absandze, a minister in the government of the former President of Georgia, who had been forcibly returned to Georgia from Russia in March 1998.  Amnesty  International had previously sought further information about allegations that he and his defence lawyer had been prevented from familiarizing themselves fully with the case materials before the start of the trial, and about the mechanisms for appeal, given that the case was being heard by the Supreme Court of Georgia as court of first instance.
     Responding in July, the Deputy Prosecutor General of Georgia reported that a time limit for familiarization with case material had been imposed owing to what were described as delaying factors by the defendant.  The official also reported that any sentence passed by the Board of Criminal Cases of the Supreme Court may be appealed via the Chamber for Criminal Cases of the Supreme Court.  However, the UN Human Rights Committee has been among those expressing concern that such an appeal within the same body did not meet international fair trial standards, in line with which a defendant has the right to conviction and sentence being reviewed by a
higher tribunal.
 
 

Resignation of the Public Defender
David Salaridze, the Public Defender (Ombudsperson) of Georgia, resigned on 9 September to become a candidate in the parliamentary elections the following month.  At the end of the period under review President Eduard Shevardnadze had still not submitted a new nomination for the post to parliament.  David Salaridze was appointed Georgia's first Public Defender in 1997, after a new law establishing the post was passed in 1996.

Ratifications  (see also Women in Europe, page 95)
In August Georgia acceded to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967  Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees the main instruments of international refugee protection. Reported threat to deny entry to some Chechen refugees. While welcoming Georgia's August ratification of the Convention, Amnesty  International sought further information on its application  with regard to those seeking to flee the armed conflict in the Chechen Republic Ichkeria by crossing Georgia's international border with Russia.  The organization welcomed Georgia's stated willingness to provide protection for refugees fleeing this conflict, but at the same time was concerned in particular about  reports that Georgian officials may have been denying access to Chechen men in a certain age range, or to those regarded as "militants" or as having a "dubious reputation".  President Eduard Shevardnadze, for example, was quoted on 25 October as saying that Georgia's borders would be open for women, children and the elderly, but not to "armed people, so-called combatants".  While  acknowledging that the Georgian Government
may have concerns about the stability of the country, and that it is reasonable to require that arms be forfeited at the border, Georgia has a clear obligation under international refugee law to ensure that a person seeking asylum is not forcibly returned without having an adequate opportunity to have their reasons for seeking asylum considered.
     Like all states, Georgia is bound by the principle of non-refoulement, a principle of customary international law.  This principle forbids states from forcibly returning, in any manner whatsoever, a person to a country where they might face serious human rights violations.  The principle also prohibits rejection at the frontier, and countries must keep their borders open, and afford refugees protection.  This protection need not be permanent, or even long term; refugee protection lasts only as long as the
human rights situation in the refugees' country of origin necessitates.
      Amnesty International urged Georgia to honour fully its obligations under the Refugee Convention, including by keeping its borders open to all refugees requiring protection, of whatever age or sex; by ensuring that officials at border crossing points are instructed to refer all those seeking asylum to the appropriate authorities so that their claims may be considered; and by ensuring that the international community is able to monitor fully the asylum situation in the border area and elsewhere.  The organization also sought further information on what procedures were being used to screen people seeking to leave the Chechen Republic, and  what
procedures were in place to consider applications for refugee status, including the right to appeal.

Concerns in the disputed region of Abkhazia
Amnesty International is aware that reports on events in Abkhazia can be extremely polarized, and regrets that the continued lack of response to its concerns from the de facto Abkhazian authorities  means it is unable to reflect their assessment of the claims against forces said to be under their control.
Detention of the crew of the Alioni (update to AI Index: EUR 01/02/99) In April the crew of a Georgian fishing boat named Alioni were detained by Abkhazian border guards for allegedly violating the region's sea borders. The only female crew member was released around 10 days later, but the rest were taken to the Abkhazian capital of Sukhumi.  There it was reported that the captain and chief mechanic  were to be charged with illegally entering Abkhazian waters, and the remaining crew with fishing illegally in a conservation area.  It was unclear initially, however, what if any formal
charges were to be laid.  Moreover, Abkhazian officials were quoted as saying that crew members could be released without any further legal proceedings if exchanged for four Abkhazian civilians said to have been captured by Georgian irregular armed forces.  Amnesty International expressed concern that if the crew members were held without formal charge, with their release conditional on an exchange for others, then in effect they were being held as hostages.  In August the Abkhazian Supreme Court began hearing the case, but the nine men were  released the following month
in exchange for three Abkhazians and one Cossack said to have been held in western Georgian by Georgian irregular forces.

Activities of Georgian irregular forces (update to AI Index: EUR 01/02/99 and EUR 56/02/98)

During the period under review Amnesty International received responses from the Ministers of State Security and the Interior regarding the organization's concerns about the activity of illegal Georgian armed formations in and around Abkhazia.  Such formations are said to have been responsible for the abduction of Abkhazian service personnel and civilians as hostages, and are alleged to have had links with, or support from, certain Georgian officials.  Both ministers again denied any such connections.  However, the reported exchange of four men said to have been held by such irregular forces, in return for the nine Georgian sailors held by the Abkhazians (see above),  would appear to indicate some level of coordination, if not cooperation.

Reported death in custody

An ethnic Georgian named Apollon Markelia  was said to have died following a beating by Abkhaz law enforcement officials.  He and another man named Ushangi Todua (aged 75) were said to have been detained in the Gali district, then taken to a preventive detention unit in the town of Ochamchira.  On 5 August the Georgian Iprinda news agency  reported that Apollon Markelia died after being beaten in this unit.

The death penalty (update to AI Index: EUR 56/02/98)

At least one death sentence was passed during the period under review. Otak Kulaia was reportedly sentenced to death on 31 August for heading a terrorist group which caused explosions in the town of Tkvarcheli in 1998. Two other defendants named as Astamur Jinjolia and  Beslan Pachulia received prison sentences of 12 and 15 years' respectively. The head of the Commission for Human Rights in Abkhazia  reported in November that 14 people had been sentenced to death since the region had declared itself independent.  No executions were reported, presumably as a de facto moratorium continued to hold.

WOMEN IN EUROPE

Optional Protocol to the Women's Convention - Georgia and Azerbaijan

On 10 December, Human Rights Day, the United Nations opened for signature the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  Under this Protocol women who claim their rights have been violated will be able to seek redress from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, once they have exhausted national remedies.  Amnesty International urged Georgia and Azerbaijan to sign this Optional Protocol without delay, and with a view to prompt ratification, and in so doing be among the countries which have expressed their commitment to ensuring that women have a means to receive full implementation of their rights under the Convention.

Allegations of ill-treatment

Patient with AIDS reportedly denied early release under amnesty Amnesty International sought further information on the official policy in Georgia with regard to granting amnesties to prisoners with AIDS or who are HIV positive.  This concern arose from a report in January 1999  that a female prisoner suffering from AIDS, and held at that time in the central prison hospital in Tbilisi, was denied early release under an amnesty although she had served one third of a five-year sentence.  She is said to have alleged that the amnesty commission denied her amnesty on the grounds that she was considered a danger to the outside world.  A further report the following month said that the amnesty commission had given priority for release to women and sick prisoners, among others, apart from those suffering from AIDS.  This report mentioned that prisoners in the latter category included one women, the mother of two children, who may be the same as the woman quoted in the previous report.  In the light of these reports Amnesty International expressed concern about allegations that amnesty has been denied based on a misunderstanding that those living with AIDS would be a risk to others outside the prison system (although in normal daily life they would pose no risk to others).  Amnesty International also requested further information in general about what care prisoners with AIDS are given, including any advice or counselling.
 

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

Conclusions of the UN Women's Committee

In June this UN committee considered Georgia's first periodic report on the steps the country had taken to implement the provisions of  the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  The committee noted positive aspects, such as the establishment within the office of the Public Defender (Ombudsperson) of a confidential hotline for women victims of violence.  However, the committee expressed concern, among other things, about the lack of a real understanding of discrimination against women as contained in the Convention, including both direct and indirect discrimination; the persistence of a patriarchal culture and the prevalence of gender stereotyping; and that the policy of not criminalizing procurement for the purpose of prostitution had created an environment in which women and young children were not protected from sexual exploitation in sex-tourism, cross-border trafficking and pornography.  The committee's recommendations included comprehensive measures to eliminate gender stereotypes; gender-sensitive training for law enforcement officials and agencies; amending the criminal code to impose severe penalties for sexual violence and abuse of women and girls; and establishing a network of crisis centres and the expansion of consultative services to render the necessary assistance to women victims, especially girls.
 

"HUMAN RIGHTS IN GEORGIA"         # 2,  2000
This  is monthly bulletin "Human Rights in Georgia"

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