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Amnesty International Urges Georgia to Reform Criminal Justice System

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Tuesday, June 19
Reforming the country’s criminal justice system, including the creation of an independent mechanism to investigate alleged human rights violations by police, should be the top priority of Georgia’s new government, a London-based NGO Amnesty International said in a public statement yesterday, several days before the nomination of the renewed Cabinet of Ministers of Georgia.

Following a few weeks of demonstrations attended by thousands in Tbilisi on 13 June, the Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili quit the post. His resignation provoked the departure of the entire cabinet, and the new government is expected to be formed in the coming weeks.

The protests were triggered by a contested murder trial and reflect a widespread view that the criminal justice system is ineffective, the statement reads.

“Recent murder trial exposes lack of trust in criminal justice system and leads to protest,” Amnesty International says.

Davit Saralidze and Levan Dadunashvili, both 16, were killed in a high school student brawl in December 2017. On May 31, one teenager was convicted of the premeditated murder of Levan Dadunashvili and a teenage co-defendant found guilty of the attempted murder of Davit Saralidze. No one was found guilty of the murder of Davit Saralidze.

Davit Saralidze’s father, Zaza Saralidze, publicly denounced the results of the investigation, asserted that others are behind his son’s death, and led demonstrations in Tbilisi. The demonstrators who joined him demanded that all those responsible for the two murders are brought to justice. Protesters have as well demanded that anyone who has unduly influenced the investigation, including officials behind it, are prosecuted.

The Public Defender of Georgia has also deemed the investigation ineffective. On May 31, the Parliament of Georgia established an ad hoc investigation commission to review the case of Davit Saralidze and Levan Dadunashvili.

“The investigation into the murder of the two teenagers is not the first case to cause widespread concern about criminal justice in Georgia. Another high-profile participant in the recent demonstrations in Tbilisi was Malkhaz Machalikashvili, the father of Temirlan Machalikashvili, killed by Georgian security forces in December 2017 during a counter-terrorism operation in Pankisi Gorge (near the border with Chechnya, Russian Federation),” Amnesty says.

According to the official account, Temirlan Machalikashvili was shot dead as he tried to throw a grenade at members of the security forces. Malkhaz Machalikashvili claims that his son was at the time lying in his bed, holding a mobile phone, not a grenade. He denies that Temirlan Machalikashvili had any links with suspected terrorists. Georgian authorities were slow and reluctant to launch an investigation into his murder, but did so eventually.

“At the time of writing, no tangible outcomes of the investigation have been reported,” the organisation says.

The statement also mentioned the case of the Azerbaijani journalist Afghan Mukhtarli, who disappeared from Tbilisi on May 29, 2017 and re-emerged in Baku in detention. Mukhtarli accuses Georgian law enforcers of kidnapping him as he was disliked by top officials of Azerbaijan.

Amnesty International says that the Georgian government should ensure that a truly independent mechanism for the investigation of abuses by police and other state officials is created without delay, and that all concerns about the independence and effectiveness of such a mechanism are addressed.

“To ensure that investigation of crimes by law enforcement officials complies with the requirements of the European Court of Human Rights, the mechanism should conform to the five principles of independence, adequacy, promptness, public scrutiny and victim involvement, and should have no hierarchical or institutional links with the police or government,” the NGO reports.

The statement says Georgia’s new government should also take all necessary steps to address the credibility deficit in the country’s criminal justice system more widely.

The organisation believes that such steps should strengthen the impartiality, independence and integrity of all investigators within existing criminal justice system agencies, and assist them to develop relevant skills for effective investigation.