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Appeal of Human Rights Center regarding the Use of Disproportionate Force by the Police against Protest Demonstration

November 9, 2020
Human Rights Center (HRC) is alarmed while observing the opposition protest in front of the Central Election Commission (CEC), where the special forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs have repeatedly used special means: water cannons and gas of unknown type (presumably - tear gas) in disproportionate force and in violation of the law. It is of great concern that initially the police used the special means, water cannons, without any warning and in a cold weather endangering the health of the citizens, especially on the background of the new coronavirus pandemic in the country. According to the latest information, the media disseminated footage depicting injuring of one of the protesters and the cameraman of TV Pirveli injured in the eye, allegedly by the water cannon. 

The HRC monitors were observing the entire process of the peaceful demonstration in front of the Parliament of Georgia and afterwards in front of the Central Election Commission during the whole day on November 8, 2020.  The law enforcers used special means, water cannons and unknown kind of gas (most likely – tear gas), in order to disperse the protesters in front of the CEC premises. 

According to the observation of the HRC monitors, on the one hand, there was no need to use any of the special means against the protesters, on the other hand, the law enforcers did not follow the law when using the special mean – there was no preliminary warning given to the protestors about the usage of the special mean.   The use of water cannons against the protesters and most likely of tear gas in the observed circumstances was a disproportionate force violating the legislation of Georgia and international human rights standards. 

In accordance with the Law on Police, water-cannons, armoured car and other special transportation means may be used “to suppress mass violations of legal order, to repel a group attack on the state and/or public facilities, to stop a vehicle by force if the driver does not obey a police officer's demand to stop; to detain an armed criminal”. As for the tear gas, this may be used “to repel an attack on a person, a police officer and/or protected facility; to prevent mass and group violations of legal order; when detaining a person who has committed a crime or an action posing threat to the public at large, or when forcing such person to leave an occupied territory, vehicle or building and construction that the person is using as a shelter”. 

According to the observation of the HRC, none of the above actions took place in front of the CEC that would justify the use of the water cannons and tear gas against the protesters.  Some of the protesters were hitting fists and other items onto the iron fence in front of CEC. However, this action cannot be assessed as a violent act. 

Under article 31 of the Law on Police, the police shall warn a person of using the special means and give the person reasonable period of time to carry out the lawful order “except the cases where the delay may cause infringement on life and health of a person and/or of a police officer, or other severe consequences, or if such warning is unjustifiable or impossible in a given situation.” As a justification for not warning the protesters, the Deputy Minister of Interior referred to this exception envisaged by the law and stated that when there is an urgent necessity and the violence may endanger the life and health of the police officers or other persons or may cause other grave consequences, the police can use special means including water cannons. 

According to the observation of HRC, none of the exceptional cases emerged in front of CEC justifying the use of the special means - water cannons and special gas - against the protesters without warning. 

HRC calls on the government of Georgia to seize the use of disproportionate force against the protesters, respect the laws of Georgia and international human rights standards.