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US Department of State issues annual human rights report

By Mzia Kupunia
Monday, April 11
The US Department of State released its 2010 Annual Human Rights Report, outlining Georgia’s human rights record as well among other states. The report says that the main human rights abuses reported during the year included abuse of prisoners and detainees, poor prison conditions and arbitrary arrest and detention. Selective application of the law was named among the top concerns in the US State Department’s report.

“Crimes allegedly involving government officials or supporters were slowly investigated and often remained pending, while crimes allegedly involving persons or organizations linked to the opposition were investigated quickly and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. This imbalance led to allegations of impunity for government officials,” the document reads.

Allegations of a lack of due process, government pressure on the judiciary and that individuals remained in prison for politically motivated reasons continued during the year, the report suggests. “There were reports of pressure on business to suppress potential support for the opposition and independent media,” the report reads “There were reports of curbs on media freedom. There were some cases of restrictions on religious freedom and a lack of progress on religious issues. There were also reported cases of violations of the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) during some evictions in Tbilisi, and senior-level corruption in the government,” it continues. Among the “significant” human rights achievements, the US State Department has named the implementation of a new Criminal Procedure Code with increased evidentiary standards and rights of the accused, amendments strengthening the Public Defender’s Office and the first direct election of the Tbilisi Mayor.

The report focuses on the human rights situation in Georgia’s breakaway regions as well. “During the year de facto officials of the separatist territories and Russian officials continued to detain many individuals in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia on charges related to “illegal” crossing of the administrative boundary line. Russian border guards, who began administering the boundary lines in 2009, carried out many of those detentions by enforcing boundary-crossing rules imposed by the de facto authorities, but they usually handed custody of the individuals over to the de facto authorities,” the report reads.

The authors of the document have outlined the cases of property rights abuses on Georgia’s breakaway territories. “In Abkhazia the de facto law banned de facto courts from considering any property claims filed by ethnic Georgians who left Abkhazia before, during or after 1992-93 war, thereby effectively depriving IDPs of their property in Abkhazia,” the document says “In December South Ossetian de facto authorities issued a decree that invalidated all real estate documents issued by the Georgian government between 1991 and 2008 relating to property held in the Akhalgori region. The same decree declared that all property in Akhalgori belonged to the de facto authorities until a "citizen's" right to that property was established in accordance with de facto legislation,” it continues.

In terms of freedom of the media, the US State Department report says that there were reports that business owners were “intimidated” into not advertising with opposition-leaning media outlets through the threat of lengthy financial audits by government authorities.” During the year print media frequently criticized senior government officials. However, some individuals affiliated with these papers reported facing pressure, intimidation, and violence for doing so. Few newspapers were commercially viable,” the report reads.

US Ambassador to Georgia John Bass commented on the US Department of State’s human rights report in a special video released on April 8. The ambassador noted Georgia made “important strides but there is still room for progress to better protect human rights.” “We also believe that stronger Georgian democracy requires the most competitive possible environment for the 2012 parliamentary and 2013 presidential elections. That’s why much of our assistance, including 60 million dollars in new investments this year, is focused on supporting electoral reform and strengthening the rule of law, independent media and civil society watchdog,” the Ambassador stated.

Georgian Parliament Speaker, Davit Bakradze also commented on the report, saying that the document lists the same problems as the report of the Georgian Public Defender. “That’s why we have taken a decision at the Parliament to thoroughly study the Ombudsman’s report at the Parliamentary committees during one month and then to discuss this issue at the plenary session,” Bakradze noted “We will call the Ministers of Penitentiary and Health and representatives of all other relevant institutions. We will treat this issue very seriously,” the Parliament Speaker added.

Georgian opposition representatives assessed US Department of State’s report as “one of the most objective” ones. Zurab Abashidze of the Free Democrats hailed the document, saying that the report includes the issues on which the opposition has been claiming about. “The issues on which we have been talking – about the syndrome of impunity, elite corruption – they are underlined in the report,” Abashidze noted “the document proves that it is necessary to hold free and fair elections in the country,” the opposition politician added.