Background Briefing

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The long-standing and widespread problem of torture and ill-treatment in Georgia has been well documented since the 1990s.4 Although successive Georgian governments have stated a willingness to institute reforms aimed at reducing the prevalence of torture, allegations of torture committed by law enforcement officers continued. In 1997, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture found that torture methods included:

[H]anging upside down; scalding with hot water; extraction of fingernails or toenails; application of electric shocks; systematic beating, sometimes resulting in fractured bones or broken teeth; and issuing of threats that members of the detainees family would be killed or tortured. Courts were said generally to refuse to exclude evidence, including “confessions,” repudiated by defendants as having been obtained through torture, and to fail to investigate such claims of torture.5

Some reforms undertaken in the years prior to the ‘Rose Revolution’ had a positive, although limited, effect. Reforms included closer independent monitoring of places of detention and the transfer of the prison service from the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Justice, as recommended by international bodies.6Both local NGOs and international observers reported a reduction in the number of reports of suspicious deaths in custody apparently due to torture, torture cases that led to severe injuries, and torture allegations involving electrocution.7

However, many proposed anti-torture reforms were not realized. A new criminal procedure code adopted in May 1999 established some new rights for criminal detainees, but amendments to the code adopted shortly thereafter eroded these newly established rights.8In 2002, then-Minister of Interior Koba Narchemashvili attempted to further erode detainees’ rights by proposing to parliament regressive criminal procedure amendments.9 The Soviet-era institution of the procuracy retained its conflicting duties of both prosecutor and the chief protector of detainees’ rights, and the judiciary remained de facto dependent on the executive, making it unresponsive to torture allegations. As a result, law enforcement officers accused of torture and ill-treatment appeared confident that they would not be exposed or punished.

Corruption and Organized Crime

By 2003, corruption had reached endemic proportions. It was practiced broadly throughout the public and private sectors and often appeared to be protected by interested state bodies. It had severely disabled an economy already weakened by armed conflict and instability and was frustrating government efforts at poverty reduction. It was also frustrating efforts at building a state based on rule of law, undermining the legitimacy of the judiciary, and trust in law enforcement agencies.10

Similarly, violent organized crime had become a real danger in the country. Many major routes through the country could not be used by ordinary citizens for fear of kidnapping or robbery. Lawlessness was particularly prevalent in and around the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as the Pankisi Valley, and there were persistent reports of police involvement in kidnappings and other forms of organized crime.11

[4] See, for example, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, “Torture and Due Process Violations in Georgia: An Analysis of Criminal Case No. 7493810,” A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 6, no. 11(D), August 1, 1994. Concluding observations of the Committee against Torture: Georgia, November 21, 1996, A/52/44, paras. 111-121. Mr. Nigel S. Rodley,Report of the Special Rapporteur on Torture, December 24, 1997, Commission on Human Rights, fifty-fourth session, E/CN.4/1998/38. Georgia: Continuing Allegations of Torture and Ill-Treatment, Amnesty International, February 2000, EUR 56/01/00. Human Rights Watch, “Backtracking on Reform: Amendments Undermine Access to Justice,” A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 12, no. 11 (D), October 1, 2000.

[5] Mr. Nigel S. Rodley,Report of the Special Rapporteur on Torture, December 24, 1997, Commission on Human Rights, fifty-fourth session, E/CN.4/1998/38, para 98. The current United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, undertook a fact finding mission to Georgia from February 19 to 25, 2005.

[6] See, for example, Concluding observations of the Committee against Torture: Georgia, November 21, 1996, A/52/44, paras. 111-121.

[7] Human Rights Watch interviews with representatives of the diplomatic community, experts, and Georgian NGOs, Tbilisi, February 2004.

[8] For example, the amendments eroded the newly established rights of those under investigation to submit a complaint to the courts during criminal investigations. See Human Rights Watch, Backtracking on Reform: Amendments Undermine Access to Justice.

[9] ““Pro-Torture” Legislation Looms in Georgia,” Human Rights Watch press release, November 26, 2002.

[10] See for example, United Nations Development Programme,National Human Development Report Georgia 2000. This report found that the large informal economy in Georgia was supported by groups that included law enforcement and other officials. These groups had no incentive to encourage or contribute towards an effective judicial or law enforcement system, which could constitute a serious threat to their income. Transparency International rated Georgia between 2002 and 2004 as being perceived to have rampant corruption, Transparency International Corruption Index 2004.

[11] See, for example, Alexandre Kukhianidze, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center, “Criminalization and Cross-Border Issues: the Case of Georgia,” March 2003, and Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 2003, (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2003).

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