Following a visit to Tbilisi from 1 to 3 June 2021, the co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for the monitoring of Georgia, Titus Corlăţean (Romania, SOC) and Claude Kern (France, ALDE), have welcomed the political agreement mediated by European Council President Charles Michel that was signed by most political forces in Georgia.
“This agreement covers several important areas that we have been following closely in the context of the Assembly’s monitoring procedure. If implemented fully, and in good faith, this agreement could signify a considerable step forward in the country’s democratic consolidation. All political parties should therefore join efforts to implement this agreement, and those that have not done so should sign it without delay. Georgia is at a crossroads. We urge all political forces and stakeholders to place the national interest, and the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration project, above the interest and strategies of their parties and personalities,” underlined the two co-rapporteurs.
They emphasised the importance of having an impartial and genuinely independent judiciary that has the full trust of Georgian citizens. While welcoming the considerable progress made with reforming the judiciary, the rapporteurs called on the authorities to ensure that the agreed evaluation of the third and fourth waves of judicial reform is based on a truly inclusive process, with the involvement of all relevant stakeholders including civil society. The co-rapporteurs underlined that this evaluation process is also an important opportunity to implement the remaining unaddressed recommendations of the Venice Commission concerning the judiciary, especially as regards the High Council of Justice, whose functioning and low level of public trust remain an obstacle for a genuinely independent judiciary, and a very serious point of concern.
“In this respect we cannot stress enough the importance of a proper selection process for the soon-to-be-vacant non-judge positions on the High Council of Justice. We urge the Georgian parliament to ensure that these candidates are selected in an inclusive, transparent, consensual and merit-based selection process, and to ensure that these persons have support among the stakeholders and political forces that is as wide as possible. This is essential for their legitimacy and the public trust in this important judicial institution,” said the co-rapporteurs.
With regard to the selection of the Supreme Court Judges, the rapporteurs welcomed that practically all recommendations of the Venice Commission with regard to the selection process have now been adopted by the Georgian parliament. However, they regretted that the selection process begun prior to the adoption of these amendments was maintained and not restarted from the beginning, as recommended. “The onus is now on the High Council of Justice to ensure an inclusive, transparent and merit-based selection process in line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission. The candidates should be selected by a broad consensus and have the full trust of the relevant stakeholders. This is essential for judicial independence. Corporatist self-interest should not be allowed to prevail in this respect,” underscored the co-rapporteurs.
The co-rapporteurs also expressed their concern at the recent controversial amendments to the Law on Administrative Offences. They underscored that this Law is a highly deficient Soviet-era code, whose provisions raise questions about proportionality and respect for due process, and several of which have been declared unconstitutional by Georgia’s Constitutional Court. The rapporteurs therefore reiterated their recommendation that a completely new Law on Administrative Offences be drafted, in close consultation with the Venice Commission to ensure that it fully adheres to the highest international standards and norms. They welcomed the clearly expressed political will of the authorities to draft such a new law and expressed their hope that the new parliament would now start the drafting process without delay.
The co-rapporteurs noted the increased importance and attention given to the forthcoming local elections in Georgia as a result of the Michel Agreement. They urged all political forces to ensure that these elections are conducted in a genuinely democratic manner, in line with both the letter and the spirit of the electoral legislation, as well as international standards for democratic elections. The co-rapporteurs welcomed the overall inclusive and consensual manner in which the amendments to the Electoral Code set out in the Michel Agreement were drafted by the parliamentary working group. They called on all political forces to fully implement all recommendations in the forthcoming Venice Commission opinion on these amendments, and to wait with their adoption until after this opinion has been received. Lastly, they expressed their hope that, despite the heightened national political interest in these elections, their relevance for the strengthening of local government and democracy would not be overlooked.
The rapporteurs expressed their deep concern about the humanitarian and human rights situation in the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, including from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. They welcomed the efforts of the Georgian authorities to alleviate this situation and deeply regretted that such efforts were hindered by restrictions imposed by the de facto “authorities” on freedom of movement for civilians and representatives of international organisations between these regions and the rest of the country. In the interest of the populations concerned, the co-rapporteurs therefore reiterated their call on the de facto “authorities”, and the Russian Federation as the country exercising effective control, to lift these restrictions without delay.
The co-rapporteurs intend to visit Georgia again following the local elections, with a view to presenting their report on Georgia’s honouring of its Council of Europe obligations and commitments to the Parliamentary Assembly in the spring of 2022.