By Sopho Verdzeuli
I represent the “Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC),” a non-governmental organization based in Tbilisi, Georgia. My speech focuses on the judiciary and law enforcement agencies for the “Coalition for Independent and Transparent Judiciary” and religious freedom for EMC.
- The Independence of the Judiciary (On behalf of the Coalition)
Despite some recent improvements, concerns remain over the independence, impartiality and political neutrality of the Georgian judicial system. Concerns also remain over the qualifications of judges and lack of sensitivity towards certain groups.
Despite the criticism of the Venice Commission the government went ahead and implemented a three-year probation period for newly appointed judges. This impedes the independence of judges, transparency in the appointment process and weakens confidence in the judicial system.
We recommend the Government:
- Create institutional guarantees that ensure the independence and political neutrality of the judiciary;
- Implement democratic, transparent and participatory procedures for the selection of High Council of Justice and the Supreme Court members and open and democratic procedures for court administration, case distribution, and judge evaluation;
- Implement the findings of the Venice Commission in relation to the fundamental reforms in appointment of judges and abolish the 3 year probation period for judges;
- Ensure effective reform to disciplinary liability of judges;
- Ensure creation of a qualified, sensitive and human rights-based judicial system.
- Law enforcement agencies (On behalf of the Coalition)
Despite recent reforms, deep concerns remain over the independence and political neutrality of law enforcement agencies, including the Prosecution, Police and Security forces. The main challenge in this regard is the low autonomy and high risk of political influence over these forces, as is apparent in their actions.
For example, in numerous cases, especially during the run up to elections, the law enforcement agencies were involved in politically motivated violations, such as arbitrary arrests, detention and intimidation. As such many of their activities were perceived as politically motivated. As a result societal trust in the system remains extremely low.
In addition, lack of effective institutional mechanisms encourages violations and abuse of power. This is aggravated by the impunity of law enforcement agencies.
We recommend the Government:
- Create an independent investigative mechanism for law enforcement agencies, as recommended and supported by the Public Defender, local NGOs and the UN Human Rights Committee;
- Create and implement an effective system for preventing the use of excessive force by law enforcement agencies;
- Ensures total independence and political neutrality of law enforcement agencies through appropriate constitutional and legislative changes;
- Further reform system of appointing/dismissing the Chief Prosecutor, strengthening individual prosecutors, and democratizing internal management procedures at law enforcement agencies;
- Implement fundamental reforms to internal disciplinary bodies and procedures;
- Increase the level of qualifications for law enforcement bodies in their dealings with vulnerable groups;
- Increase transparency of law enforcement agencies and access to information to ensure effective communication with the public.
- Religious Freedom and Secularism (On behalf of EMC)
Despite previously accepting UPR recommendations on religious freedom, the Government has refused to implement them. Challenges still remain including the non-secular financing of the Orthodox Christian Church, discriminatory legislations, ineffective investigation of religious intolerance crimes, the problem of restituting the assets confiscated during the Soviet Era, and the intolerant and discriminatory environment in public schools.
The government fails to distance itself from the Church, which increases Church’s dominance on political and public processes and essentially hinders equal policies and practices towards different minority groups including religious organizations, women, LGBT community and other vulnerable groups.
Since the government transition in 2012, the situation has worsened. For example, there have been numerous cases of religious violence. In all cases state actions were ineffective. Police either acted as a passive observer and failed to react in a timely and effective manner, or repressed religious minorities and used excessive and disproportionate force against them.
To respond to these challenges the government established a State Agency on Religious Affairs, which distributes finances and material goods to four religious denominations. This practice creates a control mechanism over these four religious groups. It is apparent that the government views religious and ethnic minorities as a security risk.
The model of direct financing grants absolute privileges to the Orthodox Church. In 2014, the Government started compensating the Islamic, Judaic, Roman Catholic, and Armenian Apostolic Confessions for the damages suffered during the Soviet Period. However, this compensation which involves direct funding violates the principle of secularism and discriminates against other religious groups by failing to include them.
Indoctrination, proselytism and discrimination in public schools also remain a systemic challenge. The educational system fails to ensure secularism, equality and multiculturalism.
EMC recommends the Government:
- Fully investigate violence motivated by religious intolerance and work towards eliminating results of religious conflict;
- Align state policies on the protection of religious freedom with human rights standards;
- Review the strategy and mandate of the State Agency on Religious Affairs to prevent control over or intervention in the autonomy of religious organizations;
- Esure secular, equal and multicultural environment in public schools and create independent and effective monitoring mechanisms;
- Review the existing models of financing for the Orthodox Church and 4 other religious groups and their compliance with the principles of equality and secularism;
- Support the equal representation and employment of religious minorities in local governments and state agencies;
- Create religiously neutral state agencies and prohibit hate speech;