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Ombudsman's Human Rights Report Heard in Parliament
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 14 Jun.'11 / 22:41

Public Defender, Giorgi Tugushi, delivered his 2010 human rights report to the Parliament on June 14.

The report was hailed by the lawmakers from the parliamentary minority as “courageous” and “objective”. Lawmakers from the ruling party continued practice of in overall welcoming the report by Tugushi with no or only very mild criticism of the document’s some aspects.

In the beginning of his speech Tugushi expressed “regret” that none of the recommendation and in-depth analysis of some of the laws his office prepared over the legislative pieces deemed to be in contravention of the Constitution, “had not been paid due attention” by the Parliament.

“Unfortunately, none of them have ever been taken into consideration that makes us think that insufficient attention is paid to the discussion of our opinions,” Tugushi told the lawmakers. “I hope that this problem will be eradicated.”

He said that in opening remarks that “instead of advocating” cases of human rights violations reflected in his report, the state agencies should “analyze root causes of each and every such case and take concrete steps” in order to improve the situation.

“Systemic changes are essential in order to eradicate human rights violations reflected in this report,” Tugushi said.

During outlining key points of his report he said that the prison system was remaining “one of the problematic areas.” He said that because of overcrowding in some prisons “conditions there are unbearable.”

He also spoke of cases of mistreatment of inmates. In one case, Tugushi said, when inmates decided to go on hunger strike in Geguti prison last year in protest over death of one prisoner, a special purpose unit was deployed in jail “forcing inmates to take meal” and those who were believed to be organizers of the hunger strike were physically assaulted.

According to the Public Defender’s report 142 inmates, 56% more than in 2009, died last year mainly because of inadequate healthcare system in the penitentiary. About 70% of inmates, who died in 2010, were in the age between 21 and 50.

Tugushi told the lawmakers that tuberculosis remained the major source of death among inmates, as well as improper medical treatment or delays in treatment.

“It was possible to avoid or to significantly minimize negative consequences of the problems persisting in the penitentiary system in terms of healthcare system; but despite of numerous calls by us to address these issues, the ministry [in charge of prison system], instead of tackling those problems, was preoccupied by hiding these problems,” Tugushi said.

44 inmates have died – 25 of them of tuberculosis – in the first three months of 2011. The figure, Tugushi said, represented about 20% increase in death rate of inmates against the same period of 2010.

He said that cases of torture and inhuman treatment of detainees by the police had significantly reduced in Georgia in recent years. He, however, also said that such cases still remained and in one case inhuman treatment of a detainee caused his death after his transfer to a prison cell. Tugushi said the case was not investigated and perpetrators not punished.

During the debates in presence of only about three dozen of MPs, lawmakers from the Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM) said that the report was “an indictment” against some officials, especially of those in charge of the penitentiary and called for launching procedures for sacking of Khatuna Kalmakhelidze, the minister in charge of the prison system. The demand was voted down by the ruling party.
 
MP Giorgi Targamadze, the leader of CDM and of the parliamentary minority, said that the report contained serious cases of human rights violations, including crimes, which were more than just “shortcomings as the ruling party wants to portray them.”

“We should take into consideration that the penitentiary is a special system, where protection of human rights is most difficult,” Davit Darchiashvili, a ruling party lawmakers, said.

Like in recent years, one of the focuses of the debates was what the Parliament’s reaction on the report should be. The Parliament has to take a resolution in response to the annual human rights report. The Parliament is usually reacting on ombudsman’s reports by passing resolutions saying that the Parliament “takes a note” of the report – the same wording has been offered this time by the ruling party.

The parliamentary minority, however, as usually calls on the ruling party to pass a resolution calling on the prosecutor’s office to investigate cases of human rights violations reflected in report. CDM again proposed such a draft resolution, which was also calling on the prosecutor’s office to report back to the Parliament about the investigation after a month.

The Parliament will pass a resolution – most likely the one offered by the ruling party – on Friday.

“We’ve heard thanks and words of appreciation about the work of the Public Defender from the ruling party MPs… But those words of appreciation will not help if no concrete actions are taken to eradicate those grave cases reported by the Public Defender,” MP Giorgi Akhvlediani of CDM said.
 
The ruling party lawmakers said during the debates, that the authorities were ready working on tackling the problems outlined in the report, including on those concerning the penitentiary system.

MP Petre Tsiskarishvili, leader of the parliamentary majority, told the opposition lawmakers that they were making more focus on the penitentiary system and rights of inmates because they were trying score political points.

“You know that inmates have families, who are voters,” he said, adding that while focusing on prison system, they were neglecting such parts of the report which are about children’s rights and slamming situation in orphanages.

“You don’t care about this issue, because you know there is no one behind those children, there are no voters behind them,” MP Tsiskarishvili said.

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