The monitoring co-rapporteurs for Georgia of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Kerstin Lundgren (Sweden, ALDE) and Titus Corlăţean (Romania, SOC), ending a visit to the country (20-22 November 2017), have welcomed the improvement of the constitutional framework in Georgia as a result of the adoption of the Constitutional amendments. At the same time, they regretted that the introduction of proportional elections, which they consider essential to ensure the pluralism of Georgia’s democratic environment, was postponed until after the next general elections. In this respect, the co-rapporteurs called upon the Georgian parliament to consider adopting additional measures with a view to improving the system of checks and balances and to further strengthen the position of the opposition with regard to the governance of the country.
“In the context of the need to strengthen the system of checks and balances, we expressly call upon the authorities to ensure proper parliamentary oversight and control over the national security services. This is especially important given the reportedly increasing prominence of the security services in the governance of the country, as shown by the planned merger of the Foreign Intelligence and the State Security Services in Georgia,” emphasised the co-rapporteurs.
The co-rapporteurs reiterated their concerns with regard to the abduction of the journalist Afgan Mukhtarli. They were informed about the investigation into his abduction by the office of the Chief Prosecutor and, noting the dismissal of two high-level officials of the state security and border control services of the Ministry of the Interior, exhorted the Chief Prosecutor to continue his investigation into this abduction in full transparency. In the context of the abduction of Mr Mukhtarli, the co-rapporteurs were especially concerned about reports of harassment of other Azeri residents and asylum seekers in Georgia by persons allegedly connected to the Azerbaijani authorities. “Georgia until now has rightfully had an excellent reputation as a safe haven for persons from other countries who fear prosecution for their beliefs and thoughts. Therefore the authorities should fully investigate these allegations and resolutely and promptly put a stop to any harassment of Azeri citizens in Georgia, irrespective of who the victims or perpetrators may be,” stated the co-rapporteurs.
The co-rapporteurs took note of the decision by the Tbilisi City Court to uphold the decision, by the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees of Georgia, not to grant refugee status to Mustafa Emre Çabuk, whose extradition is requested by the Turkish government for alleged links to the Gülen movement. The co-rapporteurs stressed that any decisions with regard to asylum requests or possible extradition should be based only on humanitarian and human rights law, including the European Convention on Human Rights, whose requirements should be fully applied. In that regard, they questioned the use of pre-trial detention for asylum seekers and refugees while their cases are being heard, and asked the authorities to ensure that such measures are taken only in exceptional circumstances.
At the occasion of their meeting with the Public Defender the co-rapporteurs reiterated their strong support for this important institution. Noting that the process for the election of a new Public Defender has started, they called for an open and inclusive election process and urged all political forces in the country to try to agree on a consensual candidate that would have the trust of the Georgian public and be able to maintain the independence and high quality of the work of this institution.
In the framework of their mission, the co-rapporteurs visited the Administrative Boundary Line with the breakaway region of South Ossetia, jointly with the EUMM. On that occasion they wished to reiterate their strong support for Georgia’s territorial integrity and the inviolability of its borders: ”We remain concerned by the on-going borderisation of the ABL. Instead of bringing people together, this process artificially increases tensions and separates people. This is unacceptable.” In this context, the co-rapporteurs welcomed and expressed strong support for the important work of the EUMM in defusing tensions.
During their visit the co-rapporteurs met, among others, with the President of the Republic, the Ministers of Justice and Foreign Affairs, the State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality and the Deputy Minister of the Interior, the Public Defender, the Management Board of the Public Broadcaster, representatives of individual political factions in the parliament and parliamentary committees, as well as representatives of the diplomatic community and civil society In Georgia.
The co-rapporteurs intend to return to the country in the first part of 2018.