BHHRG

About BHHRG

The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
* Examining issues relating to press freedom and freedom of speech
* Reporting on conditions in prisons and psychiatric institutions

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Georgia 2005: The Council of Europe
HITS: 2006 | 21-12-2005, 00:09 | Commentaire(s): (0) |
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In 1999 BHHRG urged caution when it became clear that Georgia was on course to join the Council of Europe as there were no signs that the shortcomings in Georgia’s human rights record had been addressed. Apologists claimed that membership of the organization would provide much-needed oversight of institutions, like the prison service. In 2002/3 the CoE did conduct an investigation into Georgia’s prisons although its report was ‘sat on’ by the Georgian authorities and only appeared in July, 2005.[1] Although its criticisms of the system are harsh, the medicine prescribed is always tame, namely, more ‘human rights education’ and ‘training’. Nevertheless, many ‘political’ prisoners now in custody in Georgia are pinning their hopes on the outcome of their appeals to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). As well as Molashvili, former Minister of Energy, David Mirtskhulava who was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in March 2005 for abuse of power, has launched an appeal to Strasbourg, as has Zurab Chankotadze.
 The CoE’s legal arm, the Venice Commission, has also criticized Georgia over the government’s unilateral reduction of Adjara’s autonomous status as well as the decision not to allow direct election of local mayors, including the powerful post of mayor of Tbilisi. It has also raised the issue of the high (7%) threshold for parties to enter parliament. But, Saakashvili has always treated the CoE with contempt, ever since its previous director-general, Walter Schwimmer, tried to diffuse the row over Adjara’s status and the best way to handle Aslan Abashidze in 2004. BHHRG reported at the time:
“What the president had said was that Schwimmer was an “arrogant bureaucrat” with a “bloated salary.” Soon it became clear that Saakashvili had, in effect, declared the CoE’s permanent representative in Georgia, Plamen Nikolov, “persona non grata” and expelled him from the country. Days after the 20th June Adjaran parliamentary elections, the CoE announced Schwimmer’s replacement as Secretary General by Terry Davis, a British New Labour politician. Presumably Washington viewed Davis as more reliable, despite, or rather because, he was the rapporteur who had ushered Shevardnadze’s (corrupt and fraudulent) Georgia into the Council of Europe in 1999 over Abashidze’s objections to its human rights record.”[2]
Since then, Saakashvili has upped the rhetoric even more, boosted by the Bush visit: “Georgia has been recognized as a democratic country by the leader of a superpower and it does not need anyone else’s recommendations”. That is how the Georgian president commented on a Council of Europe recommendation for Georgia to have elected mayors. “We do not need anyone else’s recommendations. What did the leader of the free world say? Georgia is an example to everyone, a beacon. Let us stop being provincial, living according to someone else’s recommendations. Second, our democratic system is developing. We are currently one of the most democratic states in the region, the most democratic in the region and one of the most democratic in the world. As regards local self-government, we will have one of the best systems in Europe.”[3]
Meskhetian Turks. One of the conditions imposed upon Georgia when it entered the Council of Europe in 1999 was to allow the return of c. 400,000 Meskhetian Turks and their descendents who had been deported from Georgia by Stalin in 1944. The Meskhetians were dispersed all over the USSR but many were sent to the Ferghana Valley region of Kyrgyzstan from where they were expelled in 1990 after violent rioting; many moved to Krasnodar in the Russian North Caucasus region. At the time, there was no indication that significant numbers wanted to return to Georgia – apart from anything else, their former places of residence were in some of the most impoverished areas of the country, near the Turkish border. This is an area populated by ethnic Armenians who suffer severe economic deprivation and are less than eager at the prospect of an influx of people.
In 1999, BHHRG interviewed Guram Sharidze, an MP and Chairman of the Parliamentary Migration Committee who opposed the resettlement project. Mr. Sharidze’s suspected that the death of his son in mysterious circumstances was somehow connected with this campaign. The Group interviewed Mr. Sharadze again in April 2005. He said that while Walter Schwimmer had been in charge of the Council of Europe the issue had died down – apart from anything else there was no funding for such an undertaking. Sharadze claimed that millions of dollars which had been given to Georgia already for the project had disappeared. However, when Terry Davies took over from Schwimmer in 2004, demands that the Georgian government implement the resettlement policy returned to the top of the agenda – Davies was the rapporteur who recommended that Georgia be admitted to the CoE. Recently, the policy has been altered – for the worse. Now, those returning will be able to live anywhere in Georgia and not confined to their former places of residence – to sweeten the pill, the returnees are now referred to simply as Meskhetians – the ‘Turk’ label has been dropped.
The Council of Europe’s demands seem completely unrealistic. Georgia has a massive level of unemployment which has actually increased since the Saakashvili regime came to power. Recently, Foreign Minister Salome Zourabishvili begged Western countries not to return failed asylum seekers and illegal immigrant workers to Georgia as the country couldn’t absorb them.[4] In July 2005, BHHRG was told that Meskhetians living in Azerbaijan are not poor and had “everything there”. On the other hand, returnees would be “peasants” who would just work the land and make no claims on the government.
Some, like Sharadze, harbour darker conspiracy theories about the policy – for example, that it is deliberately designed to dilute Georgia’s ethnic, Orthodox identity. However, the Council of Europe is a formalistic body, obsessed with politically correct notions - like ethnic inclusion. The actual impact of such policies is often ignored, while the host country’s bureaucrats are able to claim millions of dollars for their implementation.
While the CoE promotes the rights of the Meskhetians who, at present, do not live in Georgia other minorities are having their rights reduced. For example, future candidates for membership of local electoral precincts will have to speak fluent Georgian. This will mean that Georgia’s Armenian and Azeri minorities (who have been educated in their own languages) will be unable to have representatives on local commissions in both Samtskhe Javakheti (where Armenians make up c. 90% of the population) and Kvemo Kartl where there is a large Azeri minority.


[1] See report at: http://www.cpt.coe.int/documents/geo/2005-12-inf-eng.htm,
[2] See, “The Rose Revolution ploughs on” www.oscewatch.org,
[3] Georgian president brushes aside Council of Europe call for elected mayors, Imedi TV, 2nd June, 2005, www.bbcmonitoringonline.com,
[4] M. Alkhazashvili, “Mass return of migrants discouraged by government”, The Messenger, 9th August, 2005.

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