Georgia: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2004

U.S. Department of State
Georgia: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2004
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 28, 2005

Georgia is a republic with a Constitution that provides for a strong
executive branch that reports to the president. The president appoints
ministers with the consent of Parliament. Parliamentary elections held in
November 2003 were marred by serious irregularities, resulting in mass
street protests. In November 23, 2003, President Shevardnadze resigned as
president, culminating what became known around the world as the Rose
Revolution. New presidential elections were held on January 4, and
opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili won by over 90 percent. New
parliamentary elections were held in March, and Saakashvili’s National
Movement won the majority of seats. A civil war and separatist wars in the
early 1990s ended central government authority in Abkhazia and South Ossetia
and weakened central authority in the autonomous region of Ajara and
elsewhere in the country. The Constitution provides for an independent
judiciary; however, the judiciary was subject to executive pressure and
The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) and the Ministry of State Security
(MSS), which were combined in December to become the new Ministry of Police
and Public Order, have primary responsibility for law enforcement along with
the Prosecutor General’s Office. In times of internal disorder, the
Government may call on the Ministry of Police and Public Order or the
military. While civilian authorities generally maintained effective control
of the security forces, there were some instances in which elements of the
security forces acted independently of government authority. Some members of
the security forces committed a number of serious human rights abuses.
The country, with a population of approximately 4.4 million, had a
market-based economy with a large agricultural sector. The gross domestic
product growth during the year was 8.4 percent. Wages did not keep pace with
inflation. Although corruption impacted the economy, the Government took
steps to address it during the year. Pensions and state salaries were paid
on time and arrears began to be retired for the first time in several years,
as a result of economic reform and anticorruption programs.
The Government’s human rights record remained poor; although there were
improvements in some areas, serious problems remained. Nongovernmental
organizations (NGOs) blamed two deaths in custody on physical abuse. NGOs
reported that police brutality continued, and in certain areas increased.
Law enforcement officers continued to torture, beat, and otherwise abuse
detainees. Corruption in law enforcement agencies decreased, but remained a
problem. Arbitrary arrest and detention remained problems, as did lack of
accountability. The judiciary system continued to lack true independence,
and the executive branch and prosecutors’ offices continued to exert undue
influence on judges. There were lengthy delays in trials, and prolonged
pretrial detention remained a problem.
Law enforcement agencies and other government bodies occasionally interfered
with citizens’ right to privacy. The press generally was free; however,
journalists practiced increased self-censorship. In the beginning of the
year, security forces violently dispersed several peaceful rallies and
placed participants in pretrial detention. While violence against religious
minorities decreased, Government officials continued to tolerate
discrimination and harassment against some religious minorities. Violence
against women was a problem. Trafficking for the purpose of forced labor and
sexual exploitation was a problem.
International observers determined that the January presidential elections
and the March parliamentary elections represented significant progress over
previous elections and brought the country closer to meeting international
standards, although several irregularities were noted. In contrast to
previous years, there were fewer reports of harassment or violence against
religious minorities. Police bribery of motorists also decreased
significantly due to an overhaul of the highway police and elimination of
the traditional traffic police.
Internal conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia remained unresolved.
Ceasefires were in effect in both areas, although sporadic incidents of
violence occurred in Ossetia. These conflicts and the problems associated
with approximately 230,000 IDPs from Abkhazia, 12,200 from South Ossetia,
and 2,600 refugees from Chechnya posed a continued threat to national
Section 1
Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports of political killings; however, law enforcement
officers’ abuses officially contributed to one death. NGOs blamed another
death in custody, a suicide, on physical and psychological pressure.
On May 23, Khvicha Kvirikashvili died shortly after being taken home by
police officers following questioning in the police station of
Gldani-Nadzaladevi district in Tbilisi concerning a May 22 burglary. The
Prosecutor General opened an investigation into Kvirikashvili’s death and
found evidence that he was beaten while in the police station. In June,
police officer Roland Minadze was sentenced to 3-month pretrial detention in
connection with Kvirikashvili’s death. A criminal case began on September
21. The trial was ongoing at year’s end.
Killings were committed by elements on both sides of the separatist conflict
in South Ossetia. In August, fighting flared up in South Ossetia, and
several civilians and soldiers died on both sides of the conflict. No deaths
were prosecuted or punished. Partisan violence in Abkhazia significantly
decreased during the year. The Government took concrete steps to arrest
militia partisan groups and curtail their activities; most members of the
partisan organization The Forest Brothers have been arrested.
Both government and Abkhaz forces laid tens of thousands of landmines during
the 1992-93 fighting. There was a reduction in landmine casualties to two
during the year due to migration out of the area and to the activities of
landmine clearing organizations such as the Halo Trust.
b. Disappearance
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
Partisan groups active in Abkhazia engaged in criminal activity and
frequently took hostages to exchange for captured compatriots. Partisans in
South Ossetia also were active during the summer in kidnapping, both to
exchange for captured compatriots and for ransom. Kidnapping for ransom
decreased significantly elsewhere in the country. The MIA reported 18 cases
of kidnapping in the first 10 months of the year and stated that
investigations had resulted in charges in 4 of these cases.
At year’s end, the whereabouts of Chechen refugee Adam Talalov, who
disappeared in 2003, remained unknown.
The investigation into the kidnapping and release of three U.N. military
observers in 2003 remained ongoing at year’s end.
Government and Abkhaz commissions on missing persons reported that more than
1,000 Georgians and several hundred Abkhaz remained missing as a result of
the 1992-94 war in Abkhazia (see Section 1.g.). The International Committee
of the Red Cross (ICRC) assisted joint official efforts to determine the
location and repatriate the remains of the dead. No repatriations had
occurred by year’s end.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution prohibits such practices; however, law enforcement officers
continued to torture, beat, and otherwise abuse prisoners and detainees,
usually to extract money or confessions, and NGOs alleged the problem
increased since the most recent elections. Serious abuses and police
misconduct, such as the fabrication or planting of evidence, also remained
problems. During the year, there were several cases of police officers
brought to trial, dismissed, or demoted for abuses; however, impunity
remained a problem, particularly in outlying regions (see Section 1.d.).
Human rights advocates reported that while allegations of torture of
convicted criminals decreased, allegations of torture in pretrial detention
facilities and in police departments increased during the year. Reported
torture often included beating, electric shocks, and cigarette burns. During
the year, police increasingly brought suspects to police stations, beat or
tortured them, and released them without officially registering the
suspect’s presence at the station.
The investigation into the allegations that police subjected Irakli
Tushishvili to electric shock in MIA custody remained ongoing. Tushishvili
remained in pretrial custody at year’s end.
The most serious incidents of abuse occurred during pretrial detention when
police interrogated suspects. According to human rights observers, those who
suffered such abuse were held routinely for lengthy periods in pretrial
detention to give their injuries time to heal. Police often claimed that
injuries were sustained during or before arrest. Criminal agents within the
prison population also allegedly committed abuses in pretrial detention
facilities. Unlike the previous year, there were no reports of abused
children in the Isolator detention facility; the facility closed during the
On January 10, police officers detained former Deputy Defense Minister Gia
Vashakidze and his associates Eldar Gogberashvili and Beniamin Saneblidze
under suspicion of involvement in the December 2003 kidnapping of banker
Tamaz Maglakelidze. Police officers took them to a local cemetery where they
beat Gogberashvili and Saneblidze in front of Vashakidze. On January 11,
police brought the three men to the Tbilisi City police station where all
were beaten and Saneblidze received electric shocks. After a January 12 bail
hearing, police officers returned them to the police office, where they
continued to beat them and forced them to sign a confession. Police did not
permit a medical examination requested by Saneblidze’s lawyer until 2 weeks
later. There were signs that officers had broken Saneblidze’s nose and
several of his ribs, administered electric shocks to his head and hands, and
burnt cigarettes into his legs. In May, Vashakidze was released from
detention on bail, after diplomatic intervention on his behalf.
On April 24, Sulkhan Molashvili appeared at the General Prosecutor’s office,
where he was taken into 3-month pretrial detention for abuse of power and
misappropriation of money. Molashvili’s lawyers reported that, in detention,
officers beat him, administered electric shocks, and burnt cigarettes into
his back. A medical examination was not administered. According to the NGO
Human Rights Information and Documentation Center, the Prosecutor General
did not begin an immediate investigation against Molashvili, although in
July, the Prosecutor requested an extension of pretrial detention for
investigation purposes. In July, the General Prosecutor opened an
investigation into Molashvili’s injuries that was ongoing at year’s end.
Criminal proceedings against two police officers for extortion and physical
abuse of 15-year-old D. Asaturov and his family remained pending at year’s
There were no developments in the reported 2002 abuse cases.
During the year, the NGO Liberty Institute documented over 1,000 cases of
torture in pretrial detention, although it noted a significant decrease in
torture in prisons since early November.
During the year, the official number of detainees delivered to pretrial
detention facilities with injuries sustained during temporary detention was
136, an increase of 14 percent. Few of these incidents resulted in
Government officials acknowledged that, in the past, MIA personnel routinely
beat and abused prisoners and detainees, and the Government took some steps
to address these problems. Government officials cited a lack of proper
training, poor supervision of investigators and guards, and a lack of
equipment as contributing to the continuation of these practices in law
enforcement facilities.
The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) was responsible for overall administration of
the prison system; however, the law permits MIA personnel to staff the
facilities. During the year, the MIA and MSS transferred all remaining
prisons under their jurisdiction to the MOJ. Isolator Five, a pretrial
detention facility largely used for political prisoners and known for
abusive practices, no longer held prisoners and was shut down during the
year. The MIA only maintained overnight detention facilities at police
stations. The law permits the MIA to conduct investigations among inmates
without judicial approval to gather evidence for trials.
The MOJ maintained a monitoring board of civil society and NGO
representatives, which had the responsibility of reporting on human rights
abuses in detention facilities. Board members had the right to pay
unannounced visits to any detention facility. At the beginning of the year,
the board was abolished and not reestablished until September. Many NGOs
complained that several previous members of the board who were especially
critical of the new Government were not allowed on the new board. The board
members recommenced monitoring in November.
The U.N., the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and many
NGOs, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), continued to report inhumane and
life threatening prison conditions. Abuse and extortion of prisoners and
detainees by prison staff continued. Prison facilities remained unsanitary,
understaffed, and were in desperate need of repair. Continued overcrowding
was a particularly acute problem. Most prison facilities lacked basic
utilities and sanitary facilities. Regional penitentiaries and pretrial
detention facilities were without electricity for months. Payment of guards
and prison staff became more regular, which allegedly decreased corruption.
A 2002 U.N. Human Rights Commission review cited systemic problems with the
criminal justice and prison systems and continued widespread use of torture
and arbitrary detention by police. The Government had not responded to the
Commission’s recommendations by year’s end.
Attempted suicides and self-mutilation occurred in prisons as protests
against declining prison conditions and human rights violations. There were
also sporadic hunger strikes by prisoners to protest poor conditions,
visitor limitations, and the perceived arbitrary parole policy of the
In 2003, prisoners Givi Rukhaia and Zaal Chikhladze protested the alleged
false charges through 1 day of self-mutilation. Rukhaia mutilated himself
with nails and Chikhladze sewed his mouth shut. An independent investigation
by the Ombudsman supported the prisoner’s contention that police had
extorted money and gold from Rukhaia. An investigation into the case was
ongoing at year’s end.
The prison mortality rate reportedly improved; however, human rights NGOs
claimed that authorities kept official rates artificially low by releasing
terminally ill prisoners or by sending dying prisoners to the hospital.
Observers claimed deaths of prisoners without families usually went
unreported. During the year, there were 28 registered deaths in prison, 1
attributed to suicide and 1 attributed to a beating by a police officer (See
Section 1.a.); the remaining deaths were attributed to health complications.
According to the ICRC, tuberculosis was widespread in the prison system; in
cooperation with the MOJ, the ICRC treated nearly 2,600 infected prisoners
since 1998.
NGOs reported violence among prisoners decreased during the year.
Men and women were held separately. Juveniles were held separately in a
specially constructed facility; however, juveniles were infrequently
separated from other inmates in MIA temporary detention facilities. Pretrial
detainees were often kept with convicted prisoners due to overcrowding.
The ICRC had full access to detention facilities, including those in
Abkhazia, and was allowed private meetings and regular visits with
detainees. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported
bureaucratic delays but no serious problems in obtaining access to prisoners
or detainees; however, local human rights groups reported sporadic
difficulty in visiting detainees, particularly in cases with political
overtones. In March, the human rights unit of the Prosecutor General’s
Office was abolished and not reestablished until October. Since November,
the unit enjoyed free access to prisons to monitor conditions.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the
Government frequently disregarded these provisions.
The MIA and Prosecutor General’s Office have primary responsibility for law
enforcement. The MIA controls the police, which are divided into functional
departments. A separate, independently funded police protection department
under the MIA provides security and protection to private businesses. Public
confidence in the police increased during the year due to a reduction in
corruption. During the year, police received their salaries more regularly.
Impunity, however, remained a problem. In July, the MIA took steps to reduce
police corruption by firing 13,000 officers, disbanding the corrupt traffic
police force, and replacing them with a new patrol police unit consisting of
newly hired officers with higher salaries. Only individuals under age 37
were allowed to apply for this new Patrol. Since then, the widespread
solicitation of bribes from motorists decreased substantially. In November,
the MIA transferred its armed internal troops to the Ministry of Defense.
The MIA announced its intentions to reorganize the remaining 3,000 lightly
armed internal troops into a Gendarmerie, responsible for keeping public
order. In December, the Government announced the merger of the Ministries of
Interior and State Security into a new Ministry of Police and Public Order.
All redundant departments were combined and the Department of Foreign
Intelligence became a stand-alone agency.
While the new Government prioritized rooting out corruption, its efforts
sometimes infringed on the rule of law. For example, between January and
March, the Government arrested a number of high profile, wealthy figures
close to former President Shevardnadze, charged them with abuse of office or
tax arrears, sentenced them to pretrial detention, and fined them a
predetermined sum, which was reportedly deposited in the State treasury.
Detainees were released without charge if they paid. If the individual
refused to pay, he or she remained in isolated pretrial detention and
experienced intimidation. The Government, in effect, used pretrial detention
as a bargaining tactic to induce payment.
Government officials, including President Saakashvili, also made public
comments that gave the impression they supported police brutality and
increased the atmosphere of impunity among police officers. Saakashvili and
other government officials later held several press conferences to publicly
condemn police brutality.
On February 20, law enforcement agents arrested Gia Jokhtaberidze, majority
shareholder in a large telecommunications company and son-in-law of former
President Shevardnadze. Jokhtaberidze was forcibly removed from a departing
airplane in an arrest widely broadcast throughout the country, and
immediately placed in pretrial detention. Commenting on the arrest,
President Saakashvili made public statements that violated due process. In
March, in contradiction to the law, Jokhtaberidze was transferred to
Isolator Number Five. Jokhtaberidze’s lawyers claimed he was repeatedly
threatened. The General Prosecutor offered to drop all charges if
Jokhtaberidze paid $15 million (30 million GEL). On April 26, after payment,
Jokhtaberidze was released from detention with all charges dropped.
Government officials, including the President, and media claimed that the
money was a fine; Jokhtaberidze and his company denied the payment was an
admission of wrongdoing.
An ongoing culture of impunity remained a problem. Despite this, some police
officers were arrested or administratively disciplined in high-profile cases
of physical abuse or deaths in custody. The MOJ maintained a system to
provide for medical examinations of prisoners transferred from police
stations to pretrial detention facilities in order to document injuries that
may have occurred in police custody and to establish baseline medical
condition information for each prisoner that could be used in cases of
alleged prison abuse. Injuries consistent with abuse were documented and
reported to the MOJ authorities, who in turn reported them to the MIA for
investigation. The system functioned effectively.
In general, officers were held accountable for abuses only in extreme cases,
and the Criminal Procedures Code limited a detainee’s ability to
substantiate claims of such abuses (see Section 1.e.). During the year, 179
criminal cases against MIA employees were opened by the Prosecutor General’s
Office. All of these cases were pending at year’s end. Many observers
claimed that prosecutors were frequently reluctant to open a criminal case
against police or they closed a case for lack of evidence. Human rights NGOs
also believed that many instances of abuse went unreported by victims due to
fear of reprisals or lack of confidence in the system.
A defendant may file a complaint of abuse only with the Prosecutor General’s
Office, whose decision cannot be appealed. NGOs claimed that this regulation
hindered their ability to substantiate police misconduct because of the
close ties between the Prosecutor General’s Office and the police.
The Criminal Procedure Code provides for the right of a witness to be
accompanied by a lawyer when being questioned by the police. Police can hold
a witness for 48 hours without bringing charges. Police frequently charged
witnesses as suspects at the end of this period. Human rights observers
continued to allege that police often called a detainee’s lawyer as a
witness, thereby denying him access to his client.
Parliament’s Committee on Human Rights and Ethnic Relations investigated
claims of arrest and detention abuse. The Committee’s chairperson reported a
significant decrease in the number of claims filed during the second half of
the year; however, NGOs did not report a decrease in incidents of torture
until November.
Judges issue warrants and detention orders and, by law, suspects must be
charged within 3 days. Judges have six possible preventive measures to
ensure suspects will appear at trial, including bail, pretrial detention,
and house arrest. In practice, 3-month pretrial detention was always
imposed, which may be extended by 3-month intervals up to 9 months. In
practice, suspects were detained in pretrial detention much longer than
legally permitted. The bail system was rarely used due to fear of being
subject to bribery accusations.
NGOs noted that, if a judge rules that an investigation must be renewed, the
9-month pretrial detention limits are also extended. In practice, as judges
lacked real independence from prosecutors, prosecutors could keep suspects
in jail as long as they liked. The Criminal Code states suspects cannot be
held for a combined period of more than 24 months once a trial has
commenced, which can be extended by the judge to 30 months. Judges sometimes
neglected these stipulations.
Police frequently detained persons without warrants and often planted drugs
or weapons in order to arrest individuals. Police frequently did not allow
witnesses during searches in which they “found” drugs or weapons, and then
forced individuals to sign witness statements. According to one NGO,
approximately 80 percent of all detainees in pretrial detention were being
held on charges of drug or illegal weapon possession.
On January 9, police raided the home of Zaza Ambroladze, entering without a
warrant and not allowing witnesses to the search. The police claimed to find
an illegal automatic weapon and placed Ambroladze under 3 months pretrial
detention. This event sparked large street protests that were violently
dispersed (see Section 2.b.). Several months later, the court sentenced
Ambroladze to 2 years’ imprisonment for illegal possession of arms.
Ambroladze’s lawyer’s appealed the ruling to the regional appellate court.
On August 2, police raided the office of independent newspaper Khalkhis
Gazeti. No search warrant was presented and no one was allowed to witness
the search. Police claimed to find drugs and detained the newspaper’s editor
Rezo Okruashvili, a critic of the Government. On August 4, Okruashvili was
sentenced to 3 months pretrial detention. After signing a confession,
Okruashvili was released pending trial. Okruashvili claimed he was beaten
and forced to sign the confession and appealed the charge.
Detainees had difficulty obtaining objective medical examinations in a
timely manner, which made it difficult to establish the cause of injuries.
Only a state employed forensic medical examiner, which in most cases was an
employee of the Ministry of Health’s Judicial Medical Expert Center, could
testify about injuries. Human rights advocates routinely criticized the
state forensic examiners as biased in favor of the Prosecutor General and
stated that permission for an independent forensic medical examination was
rarely granted.
Police often failed to inform detainees of their rights and denied them
access to family members and lawyers. Some observers charged that police
also conducted interrogations in apartments outside police stations to avoid
registering detainees. While suspects officially were charged within 3 days
of registration, observers claimed that police frequently delayed
registering detainees for long periods in order to seek bribes or to allow
time for injuries inflicted by the police to heal. Police reportedly
approached suspects’ families and offered to drop charges in exchange for a
bribe. Correct legal procedures were observed more often when a detainee was
charged and registered formally.
The Criminal Procedure Code grants witnesses the right to legal counsel;
however, this right was only occasionally observed in practice. It was
common police practice to label detained suspects as “witnesses” in order to
deny them access to a lawyer. In January 2003, the Constitutional Court
ruled that 5 changes had to be made to the criminal code, including that
detainees must have the right to a lawyer during the first 12 hours of
detention, and that thereafter, the detainee must have at least 2 hours
daily access to a lawyer. In October, Parliament passed an amendment to the
Criminal Procedural Code allowing suspects access to a lawyer immediately
upon detention. The other points of the Constitutional Court’s ruling have
not been implemented.
The Constitution provides for a 9-month maximum period of pretrial
detention, mandates court approval for detention over 72 hours, and imposes
restrictions on the role of the prosecutor (see Section 1.e.). These
provisions were often overlooked, and prosecutors continued to exert undue
influence over criminal procedures.
The Criminal Procedure Code calls for detainees to be charged within 72
hours. MOJ figures for the year showed that, for the Tbilisi pretrial
detention center, only one detainee was registered in violation of the
72-hour deadline. The most serious incidents of police abuse occurred in the
investigative phase of pretrial detention, when police interrogated suspects
(see Section 1.c.).
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, in
practice, judicial authorities continued to experience pressure from the
executive branch and powerful outside interests. The judiciary did not
exercise full independence, and judicial impartiality was limited. Many NGOs
complained that judicial authorities often acted as a rubber stamp for
prosecutors’ decisions and that the executive branch exerted undue
influence. Investigators often planted or fabricated evidence and extorted
confessions in direct violation of the Constitution. Judges were reluctant
to exclude evidence obtained illegally if the Prosecutor General objected.
Courts continued to convict on the strength of confessions that may have
been extracted under torture. Bribery decreased as salaries for judges
President Saakashvili and other government officials often made public
statements concerning the guilt of detained suspects in high-profile
corruption cases before a trial had commenced, thus exerting undue influence
on impending court cases, as judges felt pressured to uphold the President’s
The Council of Justice administered the three-tiered court system. The
Council has 12 members, 4 selected from within each branch of government. To
reduce incompetence and corruption, the law has established a three-part
testing procedure for working and prospective judges administered by the
Council. All judges, including Supreme Court judges, are required to take
Council-administered exams. At the lowest level are district courts, which
hear routine criminal and civil cases. At the next level are regional (city)
courts of appeal, which serve as appellate courts for district courts. The
regional courts also try major criminal and civil cases, review cases, and
either confirm verdicts or return cases to the lower courts for retrial. The
Supreme Court acts as a higher appellate court but is the court of first
instance for capital crimes and appeals from the CEC. Regional managing
judges continued to monitor the performance of lower courts throughout the
A separate Constitutional Court arbitrates disputes between branches of
Government and rules on individual human rights violation claims; it
generally demonstrated judicial independence. The Court interpreted its
function in human rights case narrowly, agreeing to rule only in cases in
which human rights were violated as a result of specific articles of law.
Furthermore, the Constitutional Court was significantly weaker than the
Supreme Court, and its rulings were sometimes not enforced.
The Constitution identifies the Prosecutor General’s Office as part of the
judicial system, and there were calls from legislators and others to move
the Office into the executive branch. Court orders were rarely enforced.
According to the Constitution, detainees are presumed innocent and have the
right to a public trial. A detainee has the right to demand immediate access
to a lawyer and the right to refuse to make a statement in the absence of
counsel. Officers must inform detainees of their rights and notify their
families of their location as soon as possible. However, these rights were
not fully observed in practice. Authorities frequently did not permit
detainees to notify their families of their location, and local police
authorities limited lawyers’ access to detainees. Lengthy trial delays were
common. Defense counsel is not required to be present at pretrial hearings,
and defendants and their attorneys regularly complained that they were not
notified of scheduled hearings. The Criminal Procedures Code does not
require the police to allow a lawyer to enter a police station unless hired
by a detainee. Juries were used. Defendants have the right to appeal and to
access evidence.
Attorneys were assigned to defendants unable to afford legal counsel, upon
the recommendation of the prosecutor’s office by the Office of Legal
Assistance, a part of the state-controlled Bar Association. In certain
cases, defendants were pressured or coerced by prosecutors to accept a
state-appointed attorney or other attorneys who did not vigorously defend
their interests. However, in general individuals who could afford to pay
were able to obtain the attorney of their choice in both criminal and civil
cases. The prosecutor’s office not only had control over state-appointed
lawyers it also determined whether to grant a defendant’s request to change
lawyers. Several NGOs provided free legal services in Tbilisi for victims of
human rights violations.
Prosecutors continued to direct investigations, supervise some judicial
functions, and represent the state in trials. They also continued to exert
disproportionate influence over judicial decisions. The Criminal Procedure
Code prohibits the judge who signed a warrant from hearing the case;
however, this rule frequently was disregarded outside of Tbilisi, since few
regions had more than one judge.
International and local human rights organizations varied on estimates of
how many political prisoners were in the country, reporting from 0 to 20.
The Parliamentary Human Rights Committee and Ombudsman claimed that there
were no official political prisoners in the country; however, many
individuals, including members of the former paramilitary group
“Mkhedrioni,” Zviadists (followers of the deceased former president
Gamsakhurdia), and several high-ranking officials from the previous
government, considered themselves political prisoners. According to human
rights observers, some Zviadist prisoners never took up arms and should be
considered political prisoners. In 2003, the Interim President appointed
former Gamsakhurdia Minister of Finance Guram Absandze as Deputy State
Minister charged with reviewing all cases against Zviadists, with the aim of
releasing them. Over 20 of the group were released this year.
In November 2003, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg
began reviewing the case of Tengiz Asanidze, who was pardoned by President
Shevardnadze in 1999, but was still held in prison by the Ajaran government
in contradiction to the central authorities. On April 8, the ECHR ruled that
Asanidze should be released and fined the Georgian government approximately
$202,500 (150,000 euros) and an additional $6,750 (5,000 euros) for legal
fees. In accordance with the ruling, Asanidze was released and paid.
The Government permitted international human rights and domestic
organizations to visit political prisoners, and some organizations did so
during the year.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Constitution prohibits such actions without court approval or legal
necessity; however, in practice, the Government occasionally monitored
private telephone conversations without obtaining court orders. The
Government stated that security police and tax authorities entered homes and
workplaces without prior legal sanction. In contrast to last year, traffic
police no longer stopped and searched vehicles for bribes.
g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal
Internal conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia remained unresolved.
Cease-fires were in effect, and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and
joint peacekeeping forces, respectively, were present in both areas,
although sporadic incidents of violence occurred in Abkhazia, in the
neighboring Georgian region of Samegrelo, and in South Ossetia. These
conflicts and the problems associated with the current numbers of
approximately 230,000 IDPs from Abkhazia, 12,200 from South Ossetia, and
2,600 refugees from Chechnya posed a continued threat to national stability.
In 1993, Abkhaz separatists won control of Abkhazia, and most ethnic
Georgians were expelled from or fled the region. A Russian peacekeeping
force has also been in South Ossetia since 1992 as part of a joint
peacekeeping force with Ossetians and Georgians. The Government had no
effective control over Abkhazia or South Ossetia during the year. In July
and August, a flare-up in the Ossetian conflict caused 17 MIA and MOD
casualties and an unknown number of deaths on the Ossetian side. The
conflict deescalated before year’s end.
There was limited information on the human rights situation in Abkhazia and
South Ossetia due to limited access to these regions. The U.N. Human Rights
Committee (UNHRC) Office in Abkhazia reported continuing modest improvements
in the human rights situation. However, systemic problems in the criminal
justice system, in particular the failure to conduct impartial
investigations and to bring alleged perpetrators to trial, sustained a
climate of impunity. Limited access to qualified legal counsel aggravated
the situation. The Parliamentary Human Rights Office remained concerned at
the length of pretrial detentions and violations of due process in
individual cases. Since 2002, an independent legal aid office in the Gali
district of Abkhazia provided free legal advice to the population.
A Human Rights Commission established by the nonrecognized government of
South Ossetia continued to operate. The South Ossetian Human Rights
Commission worked in close collaboration with the Commission for Human
Rights in the Autonomous Republic of North Ossetia in the Russian Federation
and the representative of the President of the Russian Federation for Human
In October, two Ossetian members of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces were shot
by partisans.
NGOs reported a deterioration in the human rights situation in the
autonomous region of Ajara under the region’s President, Aslan Abashidze. In
May, following public protests of Abashidze’s attempt to manipulate
parliamentary elections and tense negotiations with Tbilisi, Abashidze fled
for Moscow in May, which led to the restoration of Ajara to central
Government control and a decline in human rights abuses, particularly
concerning the press and freedom of association.
Section 2
Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however,
there were some incidents of government obstruction. Journalists were able
to publish wide-ranging and extremely critical views of officials and their
conduct; however, criticism of the Government in the media decreased during
the year due to increased self-censorship. A law on broadcasting was passed
in December converting the State television channel, Channel 1, into a
public television channel. The law allows the new channel state funding for
one more year, as well as commercial funding. Competitors complained that
their lack of analogous state funding during this period would put them at a
There were approximately 200 independent newspapers in circulation. After
the November 2003 “Rose Revolution,” the Government privatized the
previously state-owned news agency Sakinfo. The press frequently criticized
senior government officials; however, few editorially independent newspapers
were commercially viable. Typically, newspapers were subsidized by and
subject to the influence of patrons in politics and business. Several
newspapers were reputable sources of information, although lack of financial
resources limited their circulation.
Following privatizations during the year, there were seven independent
television stations in Tbilisi, three with national coverage–Channel 1,
Rustavi-2, and Imedi. An international NGO estimated that there were more
than 45 regional television stations outside of Tbilisi, 17 of which offered
daily news. While these stations ostensibly were independent, a lack of
advertising revenue often forced them to depend on local government
officials for support; however, some regions, such as Samtskhe-Javakheti and
Kutaisi, had relatively independent media. After the resignation of Aslan
Abashidze, former President of the autonomous region of Ajara, the region
ceased jamming the national television stations. There were two independent
newspapers in Ajara, and Ajara also received the national independent
newspaper 24 hours.
While there were no physical attacks on media representatives during year,
state tax authorities occasionally harassed independent newspapers and
television stations. Journalists stated that they were vulnerable to
pressure from authorities, as well as from business and societal elements.
Media outlets complained that commercial firms refused to advertise on
certain channels critical of the Government for fear of losing the
Government’s favor.
Compared to 2003, physical harassment of the media decreased, although
self-censorship increased, likely due to a desire to please the new
government. There were some reports of legal harassment of media outlets by
the financial police.
Although most journalists had regular access to government officials and
agencies, a few government officials denied journalists access to public
briefings. For example, the Minister of Interior temporarily blocked the
television station Kavkasia access to the Ministry and to his public
briefings. The mayor of Poti prohibited television cameras from public
briefings and effectively blocked interviews of local government officials.
In December, the mayor of Poti was arrested on unrelated charges. The
Government also used financial pressures to influence media outlets and
sometimes sent financial tax investigators to investigate critical journals.
In February, on the eve of parliamentary discussions of constitutional
amendments proposed by the President (see section 1.e.), three of the most
popular nightly political talk shows were temporarily canceled, reportedly
due to “reformatting.” Commentators reported government officials exerted
pressure on the channels to cancel programming.
Early in the year, Iberia TV ceased news operations following a high-profile
raid on the station by the General Prosecutor’s office, which raided all
subsidiary media and nonmedia businesses owned by the parent company, Omega
Group. The Prosecutor’s office cited financial fraud as grounds for the
raid. Omega Group’s owner, then Member of Parliament Zaza Okuashvili, who
allegedly had close ties to Aslan Abashidze, fled the country. Omega Group’s
other media operations, Media News Agency, the newspaper Akhali Epoka, Omega
magazine, and a printing house went out of business.
During the March parliamentary elections, in Ajara, the regional government
under Aslan Abashidze did not allow opposition candidates media access or
television time. Opposition gatherings were also violently suppressed or
attacked, and opposition offices were ransacked. On March 5, unidentified
men in masks beat reporter Vakhtang Komakhidze at a border checkpoint and
confiscated his tapes, camera and notes. Komakhidze was later hospitalized
for several weeks (see Section 3).
On July 15, the Government passed a new law on defamation, which states
comments made in Parliament, court cases, and during political debates can
no longer be considered libel. The law also moves the burden of proof to the
accuser, and places entire companies, rather than individual reporters, as
defendants in a court case. In practice, the Government did not use libel
laws to inhibit journalism during the year.
In July 2003, head of the Georgian Railway Akaki Chkhaidze won a libel suit
against independent television station Rustavi-2 for information broadcast
on a program linking him to bribery scandals. The station was ordered to pay
$480,000 (1 million GEL) in moral damages. The station appealed the decision
to the Supreme Court and the fine was reduced to $50,000 (104,166 GEL).
Stations desiring benefits and better working relations with authorities
practiced increased self-censorship. In November, a dispute broke out
between the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) Patriarchate and reformist
seminary students and priests. Media coverage was initially intense. In
October, in a press conference, President Saakashvili called on the media to
be more responsible in their coverage of this dispute. Immediately, all
reporting on this dispute disappeared. However, no direct government
harassment was reported.
The Government did not restrict access to the Internet. The Government did
not restrict academic freedom.
Media in the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia remained
tightly restricted by their respective de facto governments.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly; however, both the
Government and local authorities restricted this right in practice. The
Government dispersed several peaceful demonstrations and arrested
participants for disrupting the peace.
The law requires political parties and other organizations to give prior
notice and obtain permission from local authorities to assemble on a public
thoroughfare. Most permits for assemblies were granted without arbitrary
restriction or discrimination; however, according to the law, the Government
has the right to disperse any assembly that is “a disruption of the public
order.” No mechanism is designated to determine what constitutes a
disruption of the public order. As a result, in contrast with previous
years, the police often used this imprecision to justify violently
dispersing several peaceful protests.
On January 11, protestors blocked the Tbilisi-Kutaisi highway to protest the
detention of Zaza Ambroladze (see section 1.d.). Police violently dispersed
the protest and pursued demonstrators into the forest, kicking them and
beating them with clubs before apprehending them. Seven demonstrators were
sentenced to 3 months pretrial detention for disrupting the public order. At
year’s end, these activists remained in detention and no trials had begun.
On July 1, riot police violently broke up a peaceful protest in front of
Tbilisi City Hall, beating the 40 to 50 earthquake victims who were on a
hunger strike due to the lack of funding for house reconstructions.
On September 2, 500 riot police violently dispersed a peaceful protest in
the Batumi central market protesting the removal of the market to a new
location. Riot police beat and kicked several participants, including M.P.
Koba Davitashvili, then loaded participants into vans; 11 participants were
charged and placed in 3 month pretrial detention for disrupting the public
order. All 11 remained in detention awaiting trail at year’s end.
The Constitution provides for freedom of association, and the Government
generally respected this right in practice. Authorities granted permits for
registration of associations without arbitrary restriction or
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, in practice,
local authorities sometimes restricted the rights of members of
nontraditional religious minority groups. There were fewer reports of
violence against minority religious groups this year, but several groups
continued to report intimidation by local authorities.
The Constitution recognizes the special role of the GOC in the country’s
history but stipulates the separation of church and state. A constitutional
agreement (Concordat) signed by the President and the Georgian Orthodox
Patriarch gives the GOC legal status and states that, with the consent of
the GOC, the Government can issue permits or licenses for the use of
official symbols and terminology of the GOC, as well as for the production,
import, and distribution of worship articles. The tax code grants tax
exemptions only for the GOC. Although several churches signed formal
documents with the Orthodox Patriarchate agreeing to the Concordat, they
noted that a controversial article allowing GOC authority over construction,
as well as restitution issues, was not in the original agreed-upon document.
Some nationalist politicians continued to use the issue of the supremacy of
the GOC in their platforms and criticized some Protestant groups,
particularly evangelical groups, as subversive. Jehovah’s Witnesses in
particular were the targets of vocal attacks from such politicians.
There are no laws regarding the registration of religious organizations. The
GOC remained the only religion with legal status in the country, although
some religions registered affiliated NGOs. This lack of legal status
prevented religions from renting or registering property; many groups
registered property under an individual or affiliated NGO, although this
complicated ownership issues and exposed individuals to personal liability.
The new Government has not addressed a previous draft law to allow for
registration or proposed other changes. Unregistered religious groups are
not officially permitted to rent office space, acquire construction rights,
import literature, or represent the international church, although many
religious groups accomplished these goals through their locally registered
NGOs. Unregistered religious groups were also subject to an administrative
In late 2003, the new Government allowed the registration of the Jehovah’s
Witnesses NGO The Watchtower Bible Society. Jehovah’s Witness Groups
reported that since then, unlike in previous years, there has been no
violent persecution and they have had no difficulties in importing their
While less harassment was reported during the year, minority religions
continued to report intimidation from local government authorities and
obstructions to constructing worship halls. The Catholic Church, True
Orthodox Church, Baptists, Armenian Apostolic Church, and Protestant
denominations had difficulty in building churches during the year.
The Roman Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church were unable to
secure the return of churches closed or given to the GOC during the Soviet
period. The Jewish community also experienced delays in the return of
property confiscated during Soviet rule, including a former synagogue that a
2001 Supreme Court ruling instructed the Government to return.
The Ministry of Education requires all 4th grade students to take a
“Religion and Culture” class, which covers the history of major religions.
Many parents complained of teachers focusing solely on the Georgian Orthodox
Church. The Church has a consultative role in all curriculum development.
Regular and reliable information regarding separatist-controlled regions,
including South Ossetia, was difficult to obtain. An Abkhaz presidential
decree bans Jehovah’s Witnesses. A number of members of Jehovah’s Witnesses
were detained in the last few years; however, according to a representative
of Jehovah’s Witnesses, none were detained during the year.
Despite a general tolerance toward minority religious groups traditional to
the country–including Catholics, Armenian Apostolic Christians, Jews, and
Muslims–citizens remained very apprehensive towards Protestants and other
nontraditional religions, which were seen as taking advantage of the
populace’s economic hardships by gaining membership by providing economic
assistance to converts. Some members of the GOC and the public viewed
non-Orthodox religious groups, particularly nontraditional groups or sects,
as a threat to the national Church and the country’s cultural values and
argued that foreign Christian missionaries should confine their activities
to non-Christian areas. Reputable and repeated public opinion polls
indicated that a majority of citizens believed minority or nontraditional
religious groups were detrimental to the state and that prohibition and
outright violence against such groups would be acceptable to limit them.
Since 2000, the Government has prosecuted a criminal case against Father
Basili Mkalavishvili, an Orthodox priest, whose followers engaged in a
number of violent attacks on nontraditional religious minorities; however,
the investigation has proceeded very slowly. In 2003, Father Mkalavishvili’s
case was suspended due the Government’s inability to keep order in the
court, and Father Mkalavishvili went into hiding. In March, riot police
stormed the church where Father Mkalavishvili was hiding out, arrested him
and several of his supporters, and placed them in 3-month pretrial
detention. Father Mkalavishvili’s trial began on September 13 and was
ongoing at year’s end. Though his arrest was welcomed, many NGOs criticized
the excessive force used to apprehend him.
Unlike in previous years, there were no violent attacks against
nontraditional religious minorities by Basilists.
In June 2003, an ultra-Orthodox mob blocked the streets in front of a
Pentecostal minister’s house where services were being conducted and refused
to let parishioners through. Church members were threatened with violence.
Police were present but did not allow the parishioners to enter the street.
At year’s end, the Pentecostal group still had not been allowed access to
this meeting house. The same Pentecostal group filed a suit in the
Constitutional Court, complaining that they were denied legal registration
as a religious group in contradiction with the Constitution, in which
freedom of religion is guaranteed.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2004 International Religious Freedom
d. Freedom of Movement within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and
The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government generally
respected them in practice. Freedom of movement was restricted in the
separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The de facto governments
of Abkhazia and South Ossetia did not allow their citizens to exit their
respective regions and their internal movement was also often obstructed by
police checkpoints. Many who did enter other parts of the country were
denied reentry into the separatist regions. Ethnic Mingrelians living in the
Gali region of Abkhazia were allowed movement throughout the rest of the
country, but were not allowed in other parts of Abkhazia.
The law prohibits forced exile, and the Government did not employ it.
Following a 1999 presidential decree to repatriate and rehabilitate
approximately 275,000 Meskhetian Turks relocated during the Soviet period,
there has been no additional legislation to allow for repatriation of
Meskhetian Turks. There was some official and public opposition to their
repatriation. There were 643 Meskhetians living in the country, most of whom
had citizenship. There were no repatriations during the year.
There were approximately 244,800 persons displaced at years end, due to
conflicts in the separatists regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well
as hostilities in Chechnya. IDPs occupied hotels, hospitals, and other civil
buildings in Tbilisi, or lived in private homes with relatives or friends
throughout the country, particularly concentrated in Tbilisi, Zugdidi, and
The 1994 agreement between Russia, Georgia, Abkhazia, and the U.N. High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on repatriation in Abkhazia called for the
free, safe, and dignified return of the approximately 230,000 IDPs and
refugees driven from Abkhazia to Tbilisi and the western part of the
country. The Abkhaz separatist regime prevented such repatriation and
unilaterally abrogated the agreement. In 1999, the Abkhaz separatist regime
unilaterally invited IDPs to return to Gali but did not adequately ensure
their safety. The move did not significantly affect IDPs, who continued to
travel back and forth to the area to tend their property. As many as 40,000
persons were estimated to be living in Gali on a more or less permanent
basis, depending on the security situation.
The 1992 ethnic conflict in South Ossetia also created tens of thousands of
IDPs and refugees. In 1997, the UNHCR began a program to return IDPs and
refugees; however, both sides created obstacles that slowed the return.
During the year, the South Ossetian separatists continued to obstruct the
repatriation of ethnic Georgians to South Ossetia, although some families
returned. Meanwhile, South Ossetia continued to press for the return of all
Ossetian refugees to South Ossetia rather than to their original homes in
other regions of the country. The Government recognized the right of
Ossetian refugees to return to their homes but was unable to facilitate
returns, due to its limited authority in South Ossetia. Government
opposition to the return of illegally occupied homes has prevented the
return of Ossetian refugees to Georgia proper. Approximately 2,700 persons
were reported to be still dislocated from recent hostilities at year’s end.
The Government inconsistently paid stipends to IDPs of approximately $7 (14
GEL) per person per month and subsidized some monthly allocations of
electricity. Subsidies were paid more frequently in Tbilisi than elsewhere
in the country. IDPs also were not afforded the right to vote in local
elections (see Section 3).
During the year, approximately 1,000 IDPs housed in Tbilisi hotels were
effectively “bought out” through the Government’s privatization of the
hotels. IDPs received $7,000 (14,000 GEL) by the private investors to move
elsewhere, which the Government maintained was adequate compensation. IDPs
who accepted the buy out maintained their refugee status and government
stipends, but lost their right to a place in a collective center (shelter).
Absent a likely imminent return to their homes and a coordinated government
IDP policy, observers interpreted this status as temporary assimilation.
The law provides for the granting of asylum and refugee status in accordance
with the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967
Protocol, and the Government has established a system for providing
protection to refugees. In practice, the Government provided some protection
against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where they feared
persecution. The Government cooperated with the office of the UNHCR and
other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seeks.
During the year, the Government processed approximately 4,000 refugee cases
and granted refugee status to approximately 2,500.
The Ministry for Refugees and Accommodation was responsible for the
screening and registration of refugees and new arrivals. Since the outbreak
of hostilities in Chechnya, the Government has admitted an estimated 4,000
to 5,000 refugees from the conflict. Since then, many have returned or
resettled. There are currently 2,500 registered refugees from Chechnya in
the country. Chechen refugees settled in the Pankisi Valley in the eastern
part of the country. International humanitarian organizations assistance to
refugees in the Pankisi Valley was sporadic. During the year, approximately
2,500 Chechen refugees were living in the Pankisi Valley and 35 in Tbilisi.
The majority of the Chechen refugees lived with the local Kist population;
only 15 percent were sheltered in communal centers.
Chechen refugees remained vulnerable to abuse, including police harassment
and threats of refoulement.
Section 3
Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their
The law provides citizens with the right to change their government
peacefully, and citizens exercised this right through periodic elections,
held on the basis of universal suffrage; however, poor organization by
authorities, inaccurate voter registers, and lack of transparency in vote
counting and tabulation and other flaws marred elections over the past three
years. The irregularities in the November 2003 parliamentary elections led
to peaceful mass protests, which resulted in President Shevardnadze’s
resignation in November 2003 and the assumption of the post of Interim
President by Parliament Speaker Nino Burjanadze. The Supreme Court
subsequently annulled the results of the November 2003 parliamentary
contests. In January, Mikheil Saakashvili was elected President in the
constitutionally mandated presidential election. Repeat parliamentary
elections were held on March 7. President Saakashvili’s National Movement
Party won 133 of the 150 proportional seats. The only other party to win
proportional seats was the New Rightists, headed by David Gamkrelidze, who
won 17 seats.
On February 6, Parliament passed a series of constitutional amendments that
strengthened the power of the executive relative to the Parliament and
judiciary. According to international observers and civil society groups,
both the amendments themselves and the manner in which they were adopted
were problematic. Authorities ignored the constitutional provision for a
1-month debate period prior to adoption. NGOs criticized that the amendments
increased the powers of the president at the expense of the Parliament and
of judges. The amendments gave the president power to dismiss Parliament if
it fails to approve the state budget, or the appointment of the prime
minister or other ministers or in times of crisis. In addition, Parliament
must accept or reject the budget in its entirety and does not have power to
change separate line items in the budget.
The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)
reported that the January presidential election demonstrated notable
progress, although it also noted that time constraints limited
administrative improvements to previous elections. ODIHR noted a continued
lack of separation between state administration and political party
structures and the tendency to misuse state administration resources. The
voter register also continued to be incomplete and sometimes inaccurate.
There was also notable political imbalance in the election administration at
all levels and election commissions displayed a lack of impartiality. The
National Movement and Democrat Parties (the allied parties of Saakashvili
and Burjanadze, respectively) selected 10 out of 15 members of the Central
Election Commission (CEC). Both parties provided regional election
committees with material resources and campaign literature. While the OSCE
reported the voting process itself as excellent in the majority of regions,
there were significant irregularities in Kvemo Kartli, the southernmost
region of the country, bordering Azerbaijan and Armenia, where vote count
and tabulation violations and ballot stuffing were reported.
The worst irregularities were recorded in Ajara, where no pre-election
registration was conducted and little to no campaigning occurred. Regional
authorities maintained until late 2003 that elections would not take place
on their territory, as they believed annulling the November 2003 election
was illegitimate. In December 2003, unknown men physically assaulted a
student leader active in a pro-election Public Committee. Journalists were
prevented entry into Ajara, and authorities blocked transmission of
television supporting the new Government. The election did take place;
however, turnout was low. After the election, several civil activists and
their relatives were detained.
International observers deemed the March parliamentary elections the most
democratic since independence, with voter registration procedures further
improved, including the addition of a consolidated computerized database;
however, there continued to be a lack of political balance and independence
in election commissions. During the election, international observers
noticed a number of irregularities, including campaign material on display
in several polling stations, implausible voter turnout (over 100 percent) in
certain regions, and an unusually high percentage of invalid votes.
Significant voting irregularities again took place in Kvemo Kartli,
including ballot stuffing and proxy voting.
Ajara remained the largest problem in the parliamentary elections. Then
Ajara President Abashidze initially threatened to prevent the region from
participating in Georgia’s national parliamentary elections, voter
registration information was inaccurate, and officials refused to cooperated
with officials of the CEC. NGOs reported that violence against the
opposition was higher than in previous elections. Opposition gatherings were
violently suppressed or attacked, opposition offices were ransacked, and no
television time was given to opposition parties. On March 5, unidentified
men in masks beat reporter Vakhtang Komakhidze at a border checkpoint and
confiscated his tapes, camera, and notes. Komakhidze was later hospitalized
for several weeks. Such abuse reportedly prompted large-scale
demonstrations, which were linked to Abashidze’s ouster in May.
The separatist governments of Abkhazia and South Ossetia held periodic
elections. International organizations, including the U.N. and the OSCE, as
well as the Government did not recognize the Abkhaz presidential elections
held in October. In 2001, the unrecognized separatist government held
presidential elections in South Ossetia, resulting in the defeat of the
incumbent and a peaceful transfer of power.
Local elections, held on June 2, were the first elections to be conducted
under a new election code, which significantly tightened election rules to
prevent fraud. International observers noted that although the election
process was chaotic, with numerous errors in voter lists, the elections were
not seriously hampered by fraud. Election results mirrored polling data
running up to the election.
There were no government restrictions on political party formation beyond
registration requirements; there were 20 registered political parties, a
vast reduction from the previous year due in part to the vast popularity of
President Saakashvili’s National Movement Party.
Government corruption decreased significantly in the executive branch, but
remains widespread in the judicial branch and in some law enforcement
agencies. During the year, as opposed to previous years, most government
officials received salaries in a timely manner, reducing corruption
significantly. In February, Parliament passed an anticorruption bill that
introduced major changes to the criminal and criminal procedure codes. The
new legislation allowed the Prosecutor’s Office greater flexibility in
charging officials with criminal bribery, cancelled immunity for law
enforcement agency officials, authorized in absentia proceedings against
officials who fail to appear in court, and introduces the use of
plea-bargaining, as well of undercover recordings made by journalists in
In October, the Parliament adopted a new Code of Conduct, which established
ethical norms to govern Parliamentarians in an effort to strengthen public
accountability and provided a set of benchmarks for the public to measure
their elected representatives’ performance.
The Office of the Anticorruption Bureau was closed and its materials were
transferred to a new office with the NSC, which investigated fraud, waste,
and abuse.
The Government instigated several high profile arrests of former government
officials on corruption charges, though NGOs claimed that arrest and
interrogation methods compromised government dedication to the rule of law
and due process (see Section 1.d.). Observers also criticized the Government
for using harsh detention conditions as a form of pressure and a negotiating
tool in these cases, often to extract payment.
The law provides for public access to government meetings and documents;
however, few citizens or journalists employed it. The Government often
failed to register freedom of information act requests, and although the law
states that a public agency shall release public information immediately or
no later than 10 days, the release of requested information could be delayed
indefinitely and was sometimes ignored. A requesting party has no grounds
for appeal.
There were 22 women in the 235-seat Parliament. Female Speaker of
Parliament, Nino Burjanadze, served as Interim President from November 2003
until presidential elections in January, when she returned to Parliament as
Speaker. The majority head of Parliament was also a woman, and women held
important committee chairmanships and ministerial posts.
There were 8 members of minority groups (5 Armenians and 3 Azeris) in the
235-seat Parliament.
During the March parliamentary elections, the CEC provided ballots, manuals,
and voter education materials in Azeri, Armenian, and Russian in areas with
a concentration of national minorities. Training of election commissions was
provided in minority languages as well; however, in some instances, training
in Azeri-populated areas was conducted in Russian, and commission members
reportedly had difficulties. Generally, national minorities were
underrepresented on election commissions, even in areas where they were the
majority population.
Section 4
Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental
Investigations of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally
operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their
findings on human rights cases. While some NGOs enjoyed free access and
close cooperation with the Government, others complained of discrimination
from government members.
Unlike in the previous year, no NGO members were arrested while observing
An investigation of a 2002 attack on the Liberty Institute, the country’s
leading human rights organization, remained ongoing.
The law provides for the Ministry of Finance to access the funding records
of international NGOs, alarming some in the NGO community; however, no NGOs
complained of the Government using this provision in practice.
The UNHRC and the OSCE Mission’s joint human rights office in Abkhazia
operated sporadically due to security conditions but provided periodic
findings, reports, and recommendations.
NGOs viewed the Office of the Public Defender, or Ombudsman, as the most
objective of the Government’s human rights bodies. The constitutionally
mandated office monitored human rights conditions and investigated
allegations of abuses. The position remained vacant for most of the year,
until September. The Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and Civil
Integration, as well as the National Security Council’s human rights
advisor, also had the mandate to investigate claims of abuse. The Prosecutor
General Office’s human rights unit focused on curbing pretrial detention
abuses and trafficking in persons. This position was abolished early in the
year and then reestablished in August. The Government maintained a
constructive relationship with several NGOs, although it restricted
government access to some who had fallen out of the Government’s favor.
The NGO Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights was denied access to
detention facilities, a right it enjoyed under the previous government. In
December, informational commercials on police torture prepared by Former
Political Prisoners for Human Rights were pulled from all television
channels. Channel representatives claim that the advertisements were pulled
on the order of the Ministry of Security. The Ministry claimed it merely
gave a recommendation and left the choice to the channels.
Section 5
Discrimination, Societal Abuse, and Trafficking in Persons
The Constitution recognizes that all citizens are to be considered equal
before the law, regardless of race; color; language; sex; religion;
political and other opinions; national, ethnic, and social belonging;
origin; property and title; and place of residence; however, in practice,
discrimination was a problem.
Societal violence against women was a problem. There are no laws that
specifically criminalize spousal abuse or violence against women, although
the Criminal Code classifies rape, including spousal rape, and sexual
coercion as crimes. In 2003, 795 crimes were registered against women,
including 18 murders, 24 attempted murders, 52 rapes, and 41 attempted
rapes; the remainder consisted of battery, assault and lesser crimes.
Domestic violence was reportedly one of the leading causes of divorce but
was rarely reported or punished because of social taboos and because it is
not illegal according to the Criminal Procedural Code. Police did not always
investigate reports of rape. A local NGO operated a shelter for abused
women, and the Government operated a hotline for abused women but did not
provide other services.
The kidnapping of women for marriage occurred, particularly in rural areas,
although the practice continued to decline. Such kidnappings often were
arranged elopements; however, at times abductions occurred against the will
of the intended bride and sometimes involved rape. Police rarely took
actions in these cases even though the Criminal Code criminalizes
Prostitution is not a criminal offense. Prostitution was widespread,
especially in the capital of Tbilisi. Several NGOs claimed that prostitution
increased during the year, due to continuing poor economic conditions.
Trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation was a problem
(see Section 5, Trafficking).
Sexual harassment and violence against women in the workplace was a problem.
The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace; however, it was rarely
The Constitution provides for the equality of men and women; however, in
practice, this was not enforced. Women’s access to the labor market had
improved; however, overall women remained primarily confined to low-paying
and low-skilled positions, regardless of professional and academic
qualifications. As a result, many women sought employment abroad. Salaries
for women continued to lag behind those of men. According to the U.N.
Development Program (UNDP), employers frequently withheld benefits connected
to pregnancy and childbirth.
A number of NGOs promoted women’s rights, including the women’s group of the
Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, the Women’s Center, and Women for
Democracy. Women’s NGOs took an active role in the presidential and partial
parliamentary elections during the year, engaging candidates on issues of
The law provides for the protection of children’s rights and welfare;
however, funding shortages limited government services. Primary and basic
education is compulsory from age 6 or 7 to age 14, and provided up to age
16. Education was officially free through high school, and most children
attended school; however, in some places schools did not function or
functioned sporadically because teachers were not paid and facilities were
inadequate, particularly in winter when some schools could not afford to
heat buildings. Many schools lacked libraries or blackboards. Many parents
were unable to afford books and school supplies, and most parents were
obliged to pay some form of tuition or teachers’ salaries; in some cases,
students were forced to drop out due to an inability or unwillingness to
pay. Bribery was endemic in the education system to ensure acceptances,
recommendations, and good grades. Attendance in 2002 was assumed to be about
90 percent.
Free health care was available only for children over age 3.
There were some reports of abuse of children, particularly street children,
although there was no societal pattern of such abuse.
Incidents of sexual exploitation of children were reported, especially among
girls. Child prostitution and pornography are punishable by imprisonment for
up to 3 years. There were unconfirmed reports of trafficking in children
(see Section 5, Trafficking), street children and children living in
orphanages were allegedly particularly vulnerable. The Ministry of Internal
Affairs sponsored a Center for the Rehabilitation of Minors, which regularly
provided medical and psychological assistance to child and adolescent
victims of prostitution before returning them to guardians.
Difficult economic conditions broke up some families and increased the
number of street children. A local NGO estimated that there were
approximately 1,500 street children in the country, with 1,200 concentrated
in Tbilisi, due to the inability of orphanages and the Government to provide
support. The private voluntary organization Child and Environment and the
Ministry of Education each operated a shelter; however, the two shelters
could accommodate only a small number of street children. No facilities
existed outside of Tbilisi. The Government took little other action to
assist street children.
There were no confirmed reports of police violence against street children
this year.
Orphanages were unable to provide adequate food, clothing, education, and
medical care; facilities lacked heat, water, and electricity. The staff was
paid poorly, and wages were many months in arrears. Staff members often
diverted money and supplies provided to the orphanages for personal use. The
Government offered education grants and tutoring, including the option of
enrolling in military school, to some children who left orphanages.
Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits trafficking in persons; however, the country was a source,
transit point, and destination for trafficked persons.
The Criminal Code prohibits trafficking in persons, including minors, for
the purposes of sexual, labor, and other forms of exploitation. The basic
penalty is from 5 to 12 years’ imprisonment, with maximum penalties of 20
years for aggravated circumstances. A memorandum of understanding between
the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Ministry of State Security led to
greater cooperation, joint operations, and a number of arrests and charges
under trafficking statutes. No convictions had been reached by year’s end.
In December, a new Plan of Action was adopted by Presidential Decree that
established an ad hoc Interagency Commission against Trafficking under the
auspices of the National Security Council of the country. The human rights
unit of the NSC remained the government-wide antitrafficking point of
The Government dissolved an MIA antitrafficking unit, which received foreign
funding, and merged it with the antikidnapping unit, claiming it would give
the unit more ability to coordinate casework and exchange information with
investigators. In October, the MIA antitrafficking unit was reestablished
with two branches, one in Tbilisi and one in Batumi. Following the December
merger of the MIA and MSS, a Department of Special Operations on Trafficking
and Illegal Migration with a staff of 50 was being established within the
new Ministry of Police and Public Safety.
The country cooperated with other regional countries to uncover trafficking
rings and assisted in the repatriation of trafficked persons discovered in
transit through the country.
On June 22, Georgian police took 14 Uzbek women into custody who were being
trafficked to Dubai. Through the assistance of the acting Ombudsman, the
women were temporarily housed in an NGO facility, then an empty police
shelter for children; 12 of the victims were repatriated and 2 remained in
the shelter due to fraudulent documents, until they escaped 2 months later.
All 14 were eventually repatriated. Ashot Hovhannesian, a citizen, was
charged with organizing the human trafficking network and sentenced to 3
months pretrial detention. Tbilisi local police handled the case
exclusively. Police investigators did not have victims sign the intelligence
oath necessary for testimonies to be used in court. At year’s end, the case
was still pending.
Women were trafficked from the country to Turkey, Israel, United Arab
Emirates, the United States, and Western Europe to work in bars,
restaurants, or as domestic help. Many worked in the adult entertainment
sector or as prostitutes. There also was evidence that Russian, Ukrainian,
and Central Asian women were trafficked through the country to Turkey,
sometimes using fraudulently obtained passports. Georgian victims most
likely come directly from the impoverished former industrial centers of
Poti, Kutaisi, Rustavi, and Tbilisi. Local NGOs report that men were
trafficked to Russia, Greece, Spain, Portugal, and other destinations to
work in construction and manual labor. There were unconfirmed reports of
trafficking in children, street children and children living in orphanages
were allegedly particularly vulnerable.
Jobs abroad offered through tourism firms or employment agencies often lured
victims. Many of the women working in the adult entertainment sector as
prostitutes were informed, or led to believe, that they would be employed as
waitresses in bars and restaurants or as domestic help.
There were no government programs to help victims; however, several NGOs
provided assistance to victims. One internationally funded NGO operated a
trafficking hotline that offered psychological support and assistance,
though only a small percentage of the callers identified themselves as
victims of trafficking. The Government conducted some antitrafficking
training for police in the regions and maintained an OSCE-funded working
group with the NGO community to draft the new Plan of Action and additional
legislation including protections for victims’ rights.
The Ministry of State Security instituted and adhered to a policy protecting
the identity of victims and made numerous public statements that victims of
trafficking would not be held liable for their crimes associated with having
been trafficked, such as illegal border crossing, if they provided
significant information about the crime of trafficking.
The Government did not conduct any public awareness campaigns during the
year, although multiple NGOs continued informational brochures and local
television public announcement campaigns.
Persons with Disabilities
Discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education,
access to health care, or in the provision of other state services was a
problem. There is no law or official provision mandating access to buildings
for persons with disabilities and very few, if any, public facilities or
buildings were accessible. The law mandates that the Government ensure
appropriate conditions for persons with disabilities to freely use the
social infrastructure and to ensure proper protection and support and
provide special discounts and favorable social policies for persons with
disabilities, particularly veterans; however, in practice, a lack of funding
precluded much assistance. Most persons with disabilities were supported by
family members or by international humanitarian donations. Societal
discrimination against persons with disabilities existed.
National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities
The Government generally respected the rights of ethnic minorities in
nonconflict areas but limited self government.
The Constitution stipulates that Georgian is the state language. Ethnic
Armenians, Azeris, Greeks, Abkhaz, Ossetians, and Russians usually
communicated in their native languages or in Russian. Both Georgian and
Russian were used for interethnic communication. School instruction in
non-Georgian languages was permitted. The new Parliament did not take up a
language law drafted under the previous Government that would make Georgian
compulsory for government employees. The State Language Chamber organized
free language courses for government employees in regions inhabited by
ethnic minorities, conducted in coordination with and through funding from
the OSCE. Armenians, on occasion, complained that they were being forced to
learn Georgian.
Section 6
Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law provides for the right of citizens to form and join unions, and
workers exercised this right in practice.
The principal union was the Georgian Trade Union Amalgamation (GTUA), which
was the successor to the official union during the Soviet period. The GTUA
consisted of 31 sectoral unions and claimed 500,000 members, although
active, dues-paying membership was lower. During the year, prosecutors
initiated a criminal investigation of the president of the GTUA that
reportedly was related to efforts by the government to induce the GTUA to
divest itself of substantial real estate and other assets unrelated to the
essential functions of a labor federation, which the GTUA inherited from its
Soviet-era predecessor. There were two additional unions: The Free Trade
Union of Teachers of Georgia Solidarity (FTUTGS) and the Independent Trade
Union of Metropolitan Employees.
The law prohibits discrimination by employers against union members, and
employers may be prosecuted for antiunion discrimination and forced to
reinstate employees and pay back wages; however, the GTUA and its national
unions reported frequent cases of management warning staff not to organize
trade unions. Some workers, including teachers, employees of various mining,
winemaking, pipeline, and port facilities, and the Tbilisi municipal
government reportedly complained of being intimidated or threatened by
employers, including their public sector employers, for union organizing
activity. Observers also claimed that employers failed to transfer
compulsory union dues, deducted from wages, to union bank accounts. The
Ministry of Labor investigated some complaints but took no action against
any employers.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law allows workers to organize and bargain collectively, and some
workers exercised these rights; however, the practice of collective
bargaining was not widespread.
The law provides for the right to strike with some restrictions, and workers
exercised this right in practice.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children;
however, there were reports that such practices occurred (see Section 5).
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for
The Labor Code governs all labor issues, including child labor, and the
worst forms of child labor are criminal offenses carrying steep penalties.
According to the law, the minimum age for employment of children is age 16;
however, in exceptional cases, children may work with parental consent at
ages 14 and 15. Children under age 18 may not engage in unhealthy or
underground work, and children between ages 16 and 17 are subject to reduced
working hours. The Ministry of Health, Social Service, and Labor was
responsible for enforcing laws regulating child labor; however, the actual
enforcement of these laws was questionable due to a general lack of
resources. Child labor was not considered a serious problem.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The national minimum wage for public employees was $4.50 (9 GEL) a month,
which did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family.
There was no mandated minimum wage for private sector workers, although the
lowest wage actually paid was $10 (20 GEL), which also did not provide a
decent standard of living. Average wages in private enterprises for 2003 was
$65 (126 GEL) monthly; in state enterprises, $58 (113 GEL). In general,
salaries and pensions were insufficient to meet basic needs for a worker and
family. Unreported trade activities, assistance from family and friends, and
the sale of homegrown agricultural products often supplemented salaries.
The old Soviet Labor Code, still in effect with some amendments, provides
for a 41-hour workweek and for a weekly 24-hour rest period. The labor code
permits higher wages for hazardous work and permits a worker to refuse
duties that could endanger life without risking loss of employment; however,
in practice, these protections were rarely, if ever, enforced.