Staunton, January 5 – The Georgian government maintains the appearance of rule of law by exploiting an increasingly defective administrative law code to deny the citizens of that country their basic due process rights, according to a detailed study by the international watchdog group Human Rights Watch.
In a 41-page report released yesterday, the organization in the words of its author Giorgi Gogia, a senior researcher there , “documents how Georgia’s Code of Administrative Offenses, which governs misdemeanors, lacks full due process and fair trial rights for those accused of offenses under the code” (The full text is at www.hrw.org/reports/2012/01/04/administrative-error).
Moreover, the report specifies that the code, dating from Soviet times, “provides for prison sentences of up to 90 days for violations, but does not require police to inform defendants of their rights promptly or to provide reasons for their detention. Detainees often are not allowed to contact their families.”
And it concludes on the basis of numerous interviews that “lawyers have difficulty finding detainees in custody. Trials are often perfunctory. Detainees often serve their sentences in facilities that were not intended for stays longer than 72 hours and where conditions do not meet international standards.”
The international human rights group decided to study the Georgia administrative code “after the dispersal of a protest on the night of May 26 of last year. At that time, about 150 people were detained, many of whom were not allowed to call their families” because the code does not call for this (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/198807/).
According to Kahka Andzhanaparidze, deputy chairman of the Georgian parliamentary committee on legal affairs, “a majority” of Georgians agree with the conclusion of the report and are pressing for the adoption of an entirely new code, something officials have committed themselves to doing but have not yet completed.
Gogia, the author of the report, says that “it’s in Georgia’s own interests to address the administrative offenses code now” because “if it doesn’t, “recent rulings of the European Court for Human Rights suggest that Strasbourg could find “Georgia in violation of the European Convention,” a step that would undercut Tbilisi’s efforts to integrate with the West.
“People who are arrested shouldn’t have to wait for [such] a reform process to be finished to have their rights respected,” he continues, adding that while “it is encouraging that the authorities are reforming the outdated code … more urgent steps are needed to address the gaps in the law,” lest the powers that be use the code “to lock up” their opponents.
What makes the report especially compelling is that its conclusions reflect interviews with lawyers who “have defended dozens of administrative detainees, six … who served administrative prison sentences, two … fined by the courts …and senior government officials … nearly all of [them] … detained” because of their “relation to opposition political protests.”
This misuse of law for political purposes undermines Georgia’s oft-repeated commitment to democracy and the rule of law, and consequently, those who support those values can only hope that Andzhaparidze is right that the parliament will come up with a new code “in which many questions will be regulated in a new way.”