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“European Commissioner’s Office Shocked by a Killed Prisoner’s Case”

10.11.2011

Tamar Lepsveridze, tribuna.ge

Human rights expert Manana Kobakhidze returned from Strasbourg several days ago, where she was invited by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg.  Manana Kobakhidze spoke about the meeting in her interview with the tribuna.ge

-What was the mission of your visit in Strasbourg and how fruitful was it?

-It was a very busy three-day meeting; the delegations [of the countries] met representatives of the European Committee against Torture and Committee against Discrimination and Intolerance. It was meeting with human rights defenders from the CoE member states. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how human rights defenders are defended in those countries. We spoke about challenges and risks we encounter during our activities. At the second session, we spoke about our cooperation with state institutions.

You know that Hammarberg’s authority as a human rights commissioner will expire in 2012 and new commissioner will replace him. So, it is urgently important for him to provide his successor with detailed information about his past activities.

As for the situation about human rights defenders, I focused on the number of detained and imprisoned people in Georgia. By the way, the Commissioner asked me about Georgian lawyer Mariam Ivelishvili who is in prison. I would like to add, that the young lawyer was also mentioned in the Commissioner’s report and he is very concerned about the fact that nothing has changed in this particular case. I underlined that although lawyers are not killed or tortured in Georgia like it happens in Belarus, Azerbaijan or Russia, we spend several hours in the isolator of the CSD and custodies where we are not allowed to take out concrete evidence from the custodies that is unlawful fact. And the main problem is that nobody is punished for similar unlawful activities.

It is very serious problem for us but completely unclear for French and Italian human rights defenders. They were looking at us with open eyes when we spoke about our problems.

By the way, EU representative thanked me for having raised the topic during the discussion.

-Their astonishment is clear but we should remember that despite many illegal facts, the government of Georgia has serious lobbyists in the CoE.

-Yes, they really have lobbyists there and they actively cooperate with the EU structures. In informal talks, a representative of an EU institution told us – [Georgian] NGOs must work more seriously in order to update European structures with impartial and correct information because the government seriously works on the improvement of its reputation here.

-The last report of Thomas Hammarberg was very critical. However, the government of Georgia did not bother about it at all.

-The government responded to the European Commissioner and the latter studied their response in details and directly stated that it is a pity when the government tries to justify itself. Thomas Hammarberg was concerned about the fact that nothing was changed in regard with the people who were directly mentioned in his report as political prisoners. You know, he personally met several prisoners including Merab Ratishvili, whose politically motivated persecution was proved by the Human Rights International Federation too in its report, as well as by the US State Department and Thomas Hammarberg. Despite that, nothing was changed and conclusions are released for conclusions. Similar situation has been in our country for a long time. It was clear that Hammarberg’s report could not create independent court in Georgia. He is also aware that nothing was improved and he is sorry about it.

-His sorrow and astonishment is clear but unless it has no results, why do you provide him with information or why do they prepare reports about it?

-If nothing is done, we will be no different from Lukashenko’s regime. But if the government does not accept strict recommendations, Hammarberg will not prepare them. The point is that similar carelessness of the government degrades them and it might have very negative results. The government justifies itself by having eradicated corruption, having imprisoned influential criminals and having prevented the crime. Nevertheless, we have the highest rate of prisoners among CoE member states. When you arrest every fifth person, how can you claim that crime was eradicated in the country? What shall we expect when non-guilty judgments make up only 0, 04% of all judgments passed by Georgian judiciary and the fact is explained by perfect work of the prosecutor’s office? We all are fully aware that it is nonsense. In fact, judges are afraid of the prosecutor’s office. This government relies on this fear and inhuman policy.

But they should not forget that everything will not always be so perfect. In the past the CoE supported Shevardnadze too and gave grants to him but after he did not pay attention to their recommendations, you all saw what happened. At some point, they will understand you, but as soon as they see you do not fulfill your obligations, they will not support you any longer.

-But, our government permanently claims that we are further developed than Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia …

-Yes, we really heard terrible stories about Azerbaijan, Russian and Belorussian human rights defenders but why do they compare me with them? The government of Georgia always boasted that we are pro-western democratic country and that we are very successful. So, they should compare us with at least Poland, Czech Republic and Baltic states if not France and Germany. For example, French human rights defender was sitting next to me and he was complaining during half an hour that French custom officers do not meet migrants smiling. And it is their problem. Just imagine, what his reaction will be when I tell him that inmates of our prisons become victims of sexual violence?

The government wants to be applauded for having painted the façade of the prison and for having installed central heating in it. The problem is what is going on inside and we have information about it. That’s why we have many plea-agreements and even non-guilty people plead guilty. By the way, Hammarberg stated in his conclusion that it was faulty practice of signing similar agreements.

-Did you discuss concrete cases with Hammarberg and what other information did you share with him?

-Unfortunately, we did not have time to discuss concrete cases but I managed to give a letter of the political prisoner Vakhtang Maisaia to Thomas Hammarberg; in this letter Maisaia requested the Commissioner to respond to his case. I also informed him about lawyer Shalva Dolidze’s case which is very famous and was already sent to the European Court. The communication finished in 2008 and no judgments were made yet. His son Vladimer Dolidze was arbitrarily detained for the second time. He urges the commissioner to petition to the Court to haste to pass judgment on their case. There is no other way because verdicts of the ECHR are urgently important for those people.

I directly told Thomas Hammarberg I could not leave Strasbourg without informing him about ruthless murder of the prisoner Kakhaber Tedliashvili. I gave him Tedliashvili’s letters, which he had written before murder; in those letters the prisoner was informing the state institutions that his murder was planned but nobody protected him. It is example how the state machine works. Hammarberg and entire his office got shocked with the story. An employee of the Commissioner’s secretariat accepted all our letters with particular attention and promised me they would study the case in details.

Maybe there are some other cases that should have been mentioned with the commissioner but I think it was good example of physical and moral torture of a person. Besides that, this fact occurred during Hammarberg’s visit in Georgia in April and Tedliashvili was killed at the end of April.

All in all, it was very fruitful and significant meeting and I am sure the topics and cases which we raised during the meeting will not remain without attention.

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