Background Briefing

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>

Since the ‘Rose Revolution’

Local NGOs, international observers, and even Georgian government officials agree that for most of 2004 the new government's record on torture was poor.12 NGOs raised several cases of suspicious deaths in custody for the first time in approximately two years and reported on allegations of torture and ill-treatment.13 Although government officials were well aware of the problem of torture in Georgia, they were slow to react to these new developments, and at times appeared unconcerned by them. Statements made by the president and other high-level officials even appeared to encourage abuses by law enforcement personnel and diverged from the stated aim of developing European standards.14Victims of abuse were induced not to pursue complaints of torture and ill-treatment through plea bargains, and impunity for abusers remained the norm.15 


On a Path to Reform?

Throughout 2004, local NGOs and others raised the issue of ongoing police abuse and torture with little response from the government. However, by October, after a concerted effort by NGOs to place the issue of torture on the government agenda, the government appeared to listen. In an October meeting with local NGOs, Saakashvili and other high-level officials discussed a new plan for independent monitoring of police stations and places of temporary detention as a measure to prevent torture.16 Government officials acknowledged that the campaigns against organized crime and corruption had played a role in promoting police abuses and that more attention needed to be paid to eradicating human rights violations by the law enforcement agencies. Zurab Adeishvili, the procurator general, stated publicly that the government would continue its struggle against organized crime and corruption, but that human rights would be observed.17 When talking about the issue of torture, he told Human Rights Watch “[w]e made big mistakes after the revolution. We focused on corruption cases and we had other problems, such as Ajara and very painful reforms in the police.”18

Since October, the government has proposed to tackle torture in a number of ways. One of its primary initiatives was the creation, upon the initiative of the Ministry of Interior, of a monitoring council to visit police stations and places of temporary detention under that ministry’s jurisdiction.19 The council’s members are volunteers from NGOs that work on torture, who are chosen by the Public Defender's Office. That office also provides some funding for some of the council’s operating costs.20

Other steps taken have included the automatic investigation of reports of injuries of a prisoner when transferred from the custody of the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Justice and the strengthening of internal monitoring within the Office of the Procurator General.21

These initiatives build on the government’s renewed emphasis, beginning in May-June 2004, on the need for police professionalism, particularly in the collection of evidence. The procurator general told Human Rights Watch that this emphasis was related to the eradication of torture, arguing that police officers would not believe torture to be necessary if they could collect forensic and other evidence in order to solve a crime and prove a perpetrator’s guilt.22 With the help of international donors, the authorities planned to increase police training on evidence collection and set up a number of forensic laboratories staffed with forensic experts.23 As of this writing, arrangements for the construction of the laboratories were being worked out, and forensic experts were receiving training; police training is still envisaged but it is not clear when it will begin. The Georgian authorities have resumed a joint project with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to establish and implement a national action plan against torture.

These government initiatives were a positive development for torture prevention. By December, when Human Rights Watch carried out its research in Georgia, it remained too early to judge the efficacy of the measures, and their success remains uncertain. This highlights the need for ongoing monitoring and assessment by the Georgian government, NGOs, and the international community. Since these government anti-torture measures were taken, there have also been some worrying signs. By January, the newly created torture prevention monitoring council appeared to be working effectively, but their monitoring efforts had yet to reduce reports of abuse. The council reported uncovering fifteen cases of physical abuse by police against detainees in facilities that they visited over a ten-day period in January 2005, demonstrating that police violence against detainees has continued at high levels.24

In at least one case, the government attempted to restrict public debate about police involvement in torture. Since February 2004, community announcements against the use of torture, sponsored by the European Commission and the Georgian NGO, Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights, had been shown on several private television stations. The announcements included images of police in uniforms mistreating detainees and of electric shock equipment. The announcer's voice stated that it is a crime for police to beat people and that this is punishable under Georgian law; the announcement also provided a telephone hotline number.25

On December 13 and 14 respectively, the television stations Imedi and Kavkasia received letters from the State Anti Monopoly Service of Georgia, asking them to suspend their broadcasts of the community announcements.26 They enclosed a letter from the Ministry of Interior, which stated that the community announcements “discredit the profession of the police and interfere with reforms of the system, which are attempting to establish justice and order in the country.” It also stated that the announcements did not comply with the law on advertisements.27  The letter went on to request that the community announcements be taken off the air. Both channels suspended the broadcast of the community announcements. The next week representatives of the State Anti Monopoly Service and the Ministry of Interior held meetings with representatives of the European Commission and Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights. In the meeting with the latter, the authorities requested that the advertisements be changed so that images of police uniforms, the Ministry of Interior building, and electric shock equipment be deleted from the announcement.28

After repeatedly requesting written confirmation of the ban on the advertisements from the State Anti Monopoly Service, Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights received a letter from the agency in late January 2005, stating that it was not banning the advertisements, but just recommending to the channels not to show them. After the NGO showed this letter to the television stations in early February, they began to show the unchanged anti-torture community announcement again.29

[12] For example, Human Rights Watch interview with Levan Ramishvili, Liberty Institute, Tbilisi, December 19, 2004; with Ucha Nanuashvili, Human Rights Information and Documentation Center, Tbilisi, December 15, 2004; and with Zurab Adeishvili, procurator general, Tbilisi, December 21, 2004.

[13] See, for example, Human Rights Information and Documentation Center One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, Tbilisi, 2004, found at and Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights, Torture, Inhuman, Humiliating Treatment in Georgia: Theory and Practice, Tbilisi, 2004.

[14] See, Human Rights Watch, “Agenda for Reform: Human Rights Priorities After the Georgian Revolution,” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, February 24, 2004.

[15]  Many of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch asserted generally that judges continued to follow procurator 's demands and did not safeguard the rights of the accused; police and procurators did not give detainees timely access to lawyers, or grant the defense full access to case materials. Other police abuses included failure to produce arrest warrants and planting evidence such as guns and drugs on the detainee. Human Rights Watch interviews with lawyers, experts, and representatives of NGOs, Tbilisi, December 13 to 23, 2004.

[16] The government may also have been aware that its honeymoon period was coming to an end, almost a year since the Rose Revolution, and that unless it began to tackle this issue, international criticism would build and could effect the level of international support enjoyed by the government. Also present at the meeting were Irakli Okruashvili, the interior minister, and Zurab Adeishvili, the procurator general. “Interior Minister Offers New Scheme Against Torture in Detention,” Georgian Press Digest, Caucasus Press, October 12, 2004.

[17] “General Procurator's Office—Human Rights General Procurator's Office Promises to Guarantee Observance of Human Rights During Arrests and in Preliminary Custody,” Caucasus Press, October 18, 2004.

[18]  Human Rights Watch interview with the Procurator General Zurab Adeishvili, Tbilisi, December 21, 2004. Ajara is an autonomous region within Georgia. During 2004, the central government and Ajaran government had a conflict which almost escalated into war, until the Ajaran government capitulated and its leader went into exile in Russia.

[19] This initiative was jointly decided by the government, the Public Defender's Office and NGOs. The Public Defender's Office is an independent national ombuds institution, set up under the 1996 Law on the Public Defender. It is also known as the Ombudsman’s office.

[20] The monitors were to receive financial support for petrol for necessary travel and mobile telephone cards to pay for necessary telephone communications. Human Rights Watch interview with Sozar Subari, public defender of Georgia, Tbilisi, December 22, 2004. In December 2004, when the program was launched, certain issues relating to the powers of the monitors, and the provision of training for them remained undecided.

[21] The procurator general told Human Rights Watch that previously reports of injuries on prisoners transferred from the custody of the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Justice were not in fact investigated. Human Rights Watch interview with Zurab Adeishvili, procurator general, Tbilisi, December 21, 2004, and with Iris Muth, human rights officer, OSCE Mission to Georgia, Tbilisi, December 20, 2004.

[22] Human Rights Watch interview with Zurab Adeishvili, procurator general, Tbilisi, December 21, 2004.

[23] Ibid and Human Rights Watch interview with Anthony Baird, U.S. Embassy political officer, December 17, 2004. During 2004, the government carried out reforms in the police force, halving the number of officers from 30,000 to 15,000 and increasing their wages from approximately U.S.$40 to $200 per month. Adeishvili told Human Rights Watch that these reforms help to improve professionalism within the police force, and thereby help to reduce police abuses.

[24] “NGO-Police-Bearing NGOs Affirm that Citizens are Beaten in Police,” Caucasus Press, January 21, 2005; “Police Under 24-hour Monitoring,” Caucasus Press, January 21, 2004; “Ombudsman Presents Prisons Monitoring Results,” statement by the Liberty Institute, a prominent Georgian human rights NGO, January 20, 2005.

[25] The telephone number was of the NGO, Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights.

[26] Human Rights Watch interview with Nana Kakabadze, Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights, Tbilisi, December 18, 2004. Copy of letters on file at Human Rights Watch, unofficial Human Rights Watch translation. The State Monopoly Service, among other things, oversees advertising for television broadcasts in Georgia.

[27] The letter stated that there is a penalty  for showing advertisements that are not ethical, which includes advertisements that are insulting on the basis of race, ethnicity, profession, social level, age, gender, religion, and other categories, under articles 3 and 4 (8) of the law on advertisements. Copy of letter dated November 29, 2004, on file at Human Rights Watch, unofficial Human Rights Watch translation.

[28] Human Rights Watch interview with Nana Kakabadze, head of Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights, Tbilisi, December 22, 2004.

[29] Human Rights Watch e-mail communication with Nana Kakabadze, Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights, received February 9, 2005.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>April 2005