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Human Rights Developments

In 1995, the Georgian government strengthened human rights mechanisms, and the U.N. Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) peacekeepers in Abkhazia continued to prevent renewed hostilities in that former war zone. However, political stalemate over the proposed federative status of Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia jeopardized human rights there and prevented some 250,000 internally displaced persons from repatriating. Also, despite some positive new steps, such as requiring police to wear identifying badges on duty, the government was unable to reduce chronic abuses such as police brutality; politically motivated killings, violent attacks and detentions; and violations of due process rights.

On March 10, 1995, Georgia adopted a law enshrining minority rights and, on August 24, passed its first post-independence constitution. On April 17, a new independent human rights group, the All-Georgian Human Rights Council, was created. The government maintained an open dialogue about human rights problems, admitting for the first time that law enforcement bodies had practiced torture, and distanced itself from the Mkhedrioni (Horsemen), an abusive paramilitary group the government had tolerated for years as an unspoken arm of law enforcement.

Sadly, one of the greatest government achievements in Georgia_curbing organized crime_came at the expense of respect for human rights. Within hours of the explosion of a car bomb that narrowly missed Head of State Eduard Shevardnadze on August 29, law enforcement agents detained some 200 individuals as suspects and searched countless offices and homes, all reportedly without court orders. This aggressive, arbitrary sweep stood in stark contrast to the relatively passive investigations conducted in connection with the approximately six actual or attempted assassinations against other leading political figures this year, reflecting politics'influence in law enforcement in Georgia.

The eighteen-month trial of criminal case No. 7493810, which was a microcosm of abuse including torture and gross violations of due process, ended with convictions in two sets of sentences on March 6 and in May, 1995. The nineteen defendants, most of whom credibly asserted they were tortured during investigation and denied proper legal defense, had been charged with offenses ranging from murder and terrorism to petty theft. They received prison sentences of one and one-half to fourteen years; two of them_Irakli Dokvadze and Petre Gelbakhiani_were sentenced to death. The subsequent Supreme Court review had reached no decision as of this writing, six months after it began.

The May 14, 1994 cease-fire continued to hold in Abkhazia, although the U.N.-mediated peace talks failed to make notable progress toward a lasting peace. Violence broke out in Abkhazia's Gali region on March 12-13 and April 2 when, according to the U.N., Abkhazian policemen beat and tortured some thirty-five people, murdering at least ten of them and forcing the temporary displacement of some 1,500 inhabitants. The combating parties systematically failed to investigate and punish war crimes dating back as far as 1992.

The Right to Monitor
The authorities prevented access to the Gali Canal along the Inguri River and to some Georgian weapons storage sites, thus hindering somewhat the work of UNOMIG; UNOMIG also faced some security problems. In a reversal of past practices, the Georgian government allowed International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) personnel access to imprisoned rebel leader Vakhtang "Loti" Kobalia, but it continued to deny them access to former Defense Minister Tengiz Kitovani, who was arrested in January 1995 for alleged illegal armed activity.

The Role of the International Community

U.N. Policy
UNOMIG extended its presence in Abkhazia through January 12, 1996. In June 1995, the Security Council augmented the responsibilities of the collective peacekeeping forces in Abkhazia, and the secretary-general and the Human Rights Centre submitted several situation reports. However, the UNHCR repatriated only 1 percent of the internally displaced people (IDP), leaving some 40,000 to repatriate at their own risk.

European Union and OSCE Policy
These bodies played an active role in promoting human rights in Georgia this year. The OSCE monitored and reported on the human rights situation in Abkhazia, helped build human rights protections into new legislation, conducted prison investigations, and forcefully condemned prison conditions and other aspects of abuse. It failed to hold the pertinent authorities accountable for war crimes in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, however.

On March 9, at a meeting of the Permanent Council of the OSCE, France, on behalf of the European Union, expressed concern about the legal proceedings for defendants in case No. 7493810, and on March 23 issued a follow-up statement. On April 6, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the commutation of the two death sentences and for proper appellate procedures in the cases, among other measures.

U.S. Policy
U.S. human rights policy in 1995 appeared confused, with stronger protests seeming to emanate from Washington than from the embassy in Georgia. The Helsinki Commission devoted a March 28 hearing to human rights in Georgia and spoke out on specific violations, but the embassy appeared to limit its response to closed-door and tardy reprimands.

Among other important contributions, the embassy frequently intervened on behalf of victims of human rights and exhibited a sound understanding of the scope of human rights abuse in the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1994. However, the report was uneven. For example, regarding Case No. 7493810 it noted the problem of denied access to defense counsel but failed to note the even more glaring problem of torture. Moreover, the report concluded that there were no political prisoners in Georgia in 1994, but failed to indicate the fate of the approximately 100 claimed in the previous year's State Department report.

The U.S. approved a much-needed rule of law program that provided in part for training and reform in Georgia's law enforcement. However, the program that included work with Georgia's notoriously unreformed Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) was not accompanied by a clear public statement of goals and a strict timetable for implementation, thus leaving the unfair impression that the U.S. was unaware of or unconcerned with curbing the ministry's abuse.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki
This year Human Rights Watch/Helsinki worked to inject human rights concerns into the peace process in Abkhazia and to protest entrenched civil rights abuse by documenting and publicizing abuse and monitoring trials.

In March 1995, the Arms Project and Helsinki divisions of Human Rights Watch released the report "Georgia/Abkhazia: Violations of the Laws of War and Russia's Role in the Conflict" at a Moscow press conference (see the Human Rights Watch Arms Project section). We traveled to the capital and to Abkhazia to communicate the report's findings and recommendations to the necessary authorities and gather updated information about unfolding concerns in Abkhazia. In March we began an exchange of views with the UNHCR regarding the difficult repatriation process, and on May 16 wrote to Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali enumerating our concerns in Abkhazia. In July we wrote to the Abkhazian authorities regarding nine Georgians reportedly in their custody.

In January Human Rights Watch/Helsinki again observed the trial of case No. 7493810 and raised concerns with pertinent government authorities. That same month we released "Urgent Update: Trial in Georgia Draws to a Close" at a Moscow press conference. In March we met with OSCE missions in Vienna, and in July with the OSCE's Amb. Audrey F. Glover to offer updates on developments and urge action. We also submitted an evaluation of the OSCE's human rights work in Georgia to help strengthen its ongoing programs.

On March 28, we testified before the U.S. Helsinki Commission on Georgia's human rights record, and in August wrote to key U.S. officials urging them to build clear public goals into the U.S.'s assistance program to the Georgian MVD.

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