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Democracy and Governance Working Group meets in Tbilisi

By Ana Robakidze
Monday, April 15
The sixth meeting of the Working Group on Democracy of the Georgian-American Charter on Strategic Partnership took place on April 12, in the office of the government in Tbilisi.

It is one of the four inter-agency bilateral groups that were established to address priority areas of the Strategic Partnership Charter, which was signed in January of 2009.

As the Georgian Foreign Ministry announced earlier on at the meeting, the Georgian side was chaired by the First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs David Zalkaliani and the Deputy Minister of Justice Gocha Lortkipanidze. The U.S. delegation included Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Eric Rubin, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Thomas Melia, as well as the USAID Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Europe and Eurasia Paige Alexander.

Participants of the meeting released a joint statement and said Georgia is progressing towards Euro-Atlantic integration and that the October 2012 election was one of the steps taken forward.

The Working Group reviewed reforms to further strengthen democratic institutions, political pluralism and electoral processes, media freedom and access, rule of law and judicial independence, and decentralized governance with a view toward Georgia’s achievement of its Euro-Atlantic integration goals. The U.S delegation discussed with the Georgian side the possible ways to cultivate a competitive electoral environment, which they say is essential– especially ahead of the by-elections in April 2013, the presidential elections in October 2013, and the local elections in 2014. The parties also touched upon the issue of cohabitation in the country. “Diverse views were expressed in discussions focused on recognizing Georgia’s reform achievements to date and efforts to foster a constructive cohabitation period,” the statement says.

At the joint press conference Tomas Melia spoke about the planned reforms of the High Council of Justice (HCoJ) and said that the working group discussed the issue. The bill envisaging changes in composition of the council has already been sent to the President Mikheil Saakashvili for signature, but reportedly Saakashvili will veto the bill.

“I think that it’s clear to us that there is a broad consensus that there is a need for reform of the operation of the judiciary and specifically in the construction of the high judicial council. We’ve heard competing visions of the best way forward today from different parties in our discussions,” Melia said. He supports the amendments to the law which establish that the selected six non-judge members of the HCoJ should be confirmed by the parliament. “Whether it is signed by the president, or whether [inaudible] back and forth, the important thing is that when the parliament gets to the point of selecting the six non-judicial members of that commission, there will be an opportunity to do that in a way and it seeks to identify the most highly qualified persons for those positions and it’s done in a way that is above parties and politics and in the best interest of the country of Georgia,” Melia said.

The charter on Strategic Partnership between Georgia and the United States was signed by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze, on January 9, 2009 in Washington. In the framework of the Charter, which is nonbinding, working groups on several fronts were set up. The document provides for the expansion of partnership and cooperation between the two countries in the fields of defence and security, economy, energy, democratic reforms, diplomacy and culture.