GEORGIA AT THE CROSSROADS TIME TO ENSURE ACCOUNTABILITY AND JUSTICE FOR TORTURE
GEORGIA AT THE CROSSROADS: TIME TO ENSURE ACCOUNTABILITY AND JUSTICE FOR TORTURE
The ‘Rose Revolution’ has raised a great deal of hope in Georgia that the country will finally succeed to free itself from the legacy of the authoritarian system and commit itself to the rule of law and full protection of human rights. The year 2004, the first year in which the new Government was in power, brought a number of encouraging developments, in particular several initiatives for reform and a number of measures to combat torture. However, as stressed by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture following his visit to Georgia in February 2005, “torture still exists in Georgia” and there is an “apparent culture of impunity”. Torture is still widely used, in particular as a means to extract confessions or extort money, especially in pre-trial detention. Whilst this has been recognised by officials, much needs to be done to make Georgia’s obligations to prohibit torture a reality in practice and to provide overdue justice and reparation to the survivors.
Georgia has become party to the major treaties outlawing torture, in particular the UN Convention against Torture and the European Convention on Human Rights. Over the last few years, a wide range of legal and institutional reforms, including the approval of a Plan of Action against Torture, have been initiated. However, actual implementation has been inconsistent and serious concerns remain in light of the continued prevalence of torture.
The present Report highlights the practice of torture in Georgia from its independence. The examination of Georgia’s compliance with its obligations under international human rights law discloses a series of deficiencies that have both contributed to and resulted in impunity for torture. For example, the domestic legal framework fails to make torture a specific criminal offence in line with Article 1 of the UN Convention against Torture and it does not ensure victim and witness protection or prompt and impartial medical examinations.
Doubts about the political will to prosecute torture cases and the degree of independence of the judiciary complete a picture in which the odds are heavily stacked against accountability. Torture survivors continue to be largely ignored, unprotected and deprived of justice. Torture survivors are also commonly left without any form of official remedies or reparation including rehabilitation, forcing them to rely on the support provided by non-governmental rehabilitation centres instead. The Government has progressed a series of reforms addressing a range of areas impacting on the prohibition of torture, for example, the reform of the Criminal Procedure Code and institutional reforms to the procuracy and police. There is also the ongoing, if delayed, implementation of the Plan of Action against Torture approved by the Government in 2003. However, as will be discussed further below, not all of the shortcomings pointed out above are addressed in present reform initiatives. The reform agenda is likely to effectuate certain positive changes but there are concerns about the process as well as the sustainability and effectiveness of the reforms themselves. There does not appear to be a concrete or long-term strategy as to how and by whom the various reform initiatives will be monitored. Also, laws have been drafted by nominally independent institutions close to the Government and with little or no prior consultation of all concerned stakeholders, raising concerns about transparency. It is critical that relevant international standards binding on Gorgia are taken as the benchmark and that concerned civil society groups in Georgia re widely consulted.
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