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Public council on Lapankuri case lacking effectiveness

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Thursday, October 24
On August 29, 2012, the Georgian Interior Ministry announced that it was carrying out an “anti-terrorist operation against an armed group” close to the village of Lapankuri in the Lopota Gorge. Later, on the same day, it announced that eleven gunmen and three Georgian special service personnel, including a military doctor, were killed in the clash.

The public defender stated in his report that the armed group involved in the clash was formed, armed and trained by the former leadership of the Georgian Interior Ministry and the MIA officials promised to give them free passage to Russia’s North Caucasus via Georgia.

Following this incident, the investigation launched into the case has not been smooth. One problem is the role of the public council plays in the case.

The Prosecutor’s Office and the Ministry of Interior Affairs (MIA) do not consider the public council established at the Public Defender’s office as a legal lever for carrying out the investigation of the Lapankuri special operation. Moreover, they claim that the council will not be effective.

“We do not recognize council from legal point of view. The formation of such a council is a public right and everyone can take part in it,” General Prosecutor Archil Kbilashvili stated.

Minister of Internal Affairs Irakli Gharibashvili is skeptical that the council can act in an effective manner. He emphasized that the interior ministry is undertaking the investigation over the Lapankuri issues and the outcomes of the investigation will be known soon for the public.

Transparency International Georgia (TI) denied participation in the council. According to the Executive Director of the organization, Eka Gigauri, the investigation of the Lapankuri case is significant. However, the case concerns the interests of the state and the report, which will be delievered by the council, might reflect such facts that should not be known to the wider public.

“The outcome of the investigation carried out by the council might also raise questions, as the council does not have the luxury of using the legal levers that are essential for an adequate investigation,” Gigauri said, adding that the council should refrain from making the final report and just assist the MIA investigation by providing additional information.

The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) will not be linked with the council. Head of the GYLA Kakha Kozhoridze stressed that the representatives of the organization perform as lawyers of the families whose family members died in Lapankuri.

The ombudsman’s statement reads that the family members of the victims of the special operation still have many unanswered, legitimate questions and that public interest in the case is high, especially over such aspects like the planning process and the conduction of the special operation, its necessity, legitimacy and the use of lethal force.

Ombudsman Ucha Nanuahsvili states that he “cannot ignore the human rights violations that allegedly took place during this process, as this would contradict the core purpose of the Ombudsman institute.”

Nanuashvili highlights that the main goal of the council will be to gather information and document facts about the events of August 2012 in village of Lapankuri, in order to answer all questions that have emerged in the public regarding alternative opinions around the factual circumstances of these events.

Nanuahsvili says that the council will prepare a report, which will be sent to the investigative bodies.

“The council is not an alternative investigative body. On the contrary, it will assist to ensure that the investigation is conducted in a thorough, effective and transparent manner,” Nanuahsvili says.

Council member Gela Nikolaishvili states that if the MIA does not change its attitude towards the council, it will be really hard for the council to carry out effective action. “I hope that they will not hide information and we will be able to deliver interesting facts to them,” Nikolaishvili said.