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John Kerry Releases 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights

By Tatia Megeneishvili
Tuesday, March 4
In the preface of the recent Country Reports on Human Rights Practices of the Department of State transmitted to the congress, the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, said on the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the report “highlights the continued pursuit of “free and equal dignity in human rights” in every corner of the world”.

According to the 2013 report the most important human rights problems in Georgia were:
• The resignation and dismissal of government employees from local government institutions allegedly for their association with the former ruling party, United National Movement (UNM), and the government’s insufficient response;
• Increased societal violence against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and the government’s failure to hold perpetrators responsible;
• Local government interference with religious minorities’ rights to assemble and freely worship, and the government’s generally insufficient response.

“Other problems reported during the year included police abuse of detainees and Georgia’s substandard, although improving, prison conditions. There were also allegations of politically motivated harassment.”

“Following the October 2012 elections, UNM members reported arbitrary harassment, job loss, and arrests – including of the UNM’s general secretary, a former minister of internal affairs, defense minister, and prime minister – due to their political affiliation or activities,” the report reads.

However, based on the interim report of the international organizations monitoring the Georgian presidential elections, the US report said “the presidential election was efficiently administered and transparent,” so that the “fundamental freedoms of expression, movement, and assembly were respected, candidates were able to campaign without restriction, voters were able to express their choice freely, and vote counting and tabulation procedures were positive.”

The report also paid its attention to the issue of illegal video recordings of the private lives of citizens and opposition public officials. It also highlighted the issue of the media environment. According to the document, there were reports of government pressure on the media, especially the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB).

However, “in a positive development, in an effort to broaden public access to sources of information and in response to a civil society campaign, parliament amended the Law on Broadcasting to make the previous year’s “must carry, must offer” legislation permanent. The regulation requires cable providers to carry television channels with public-value content (for example, channels of the public broadcaster, local channels, or channels with national news and current affairs programs) in their packages, while television stations must offer their signal to service providers without discriminating against selected companies. The prime minister’s decision to close his family-owned television station, asserting his desire to avoid the perception of using the station for partisan purposes, was largely seen as a positive step.”

Accordingly to report, domestic violence and trafficking also remained a problem in 2013. “The government adopted a new labor code, but there was no labor inspectorate to enforce the applicable laws properly. Problems persisted with workers’ fundamental freedom of association, interference with collection of dues, and the failure to honor previously agreed collective bargaining agreements,” the statement reads.

The US report on Georgia covered the issue of the country’s occupied regions, too. It said, with the exception of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), de facto authorities did not allow international organizations regular access to South Ossetia to provide humanitarian assistance.

"Russian "borderization” of the administrative boundary lines of the occupied territories of Georgia intensified during the year, separating Georgian residents from their communities and undermining their livelihoods. This activity was inconsistent with commitments made by the Russian Federation in the August 12, 2008 six-point cease-fire agreement,” the statement reads.

The reports, mandated by congress, help inform US government policy and foreign assistance. They are also a reference for other governments, international institutions, non-governmental organizations, legal professionals, scholars, interested citizens, and journalists. The reports draw attention to the growing challenges facing individuals and organizations as governments around the world fall short of their obligation to uphold universal human rights.