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: Main Conclusion
HITS: 2081 | 21-12-2005, 00:17 | Commentaire(s): (0) |
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During the 1990s, BHHRG regularly criticized the Shevardnadze regime for human rights abuses and electoral fraud. However, by 2001, this darling of the West was unexpectedly feeling the heat and the message was clear: regime change was in the air. Paradoxically, by this time, some things were improving in Georgia. All political prisoners (mainly supporters of former president Zviad Gamsakhurdia) had been released, the media was free and television, in particular, regularly broadcast exposés of the regime’s perceived wrongdoings. Finally, in 2003, no doubt aware of the vultures circling above, the government conducted clean parliamentary elections for the first time since 1992. Those who repeatedly point to fraud in this poll overlook the fact that by ‘cheating’ the Citizen’s Union (the government party) only claimed 21% support of the electorate. There was no criticism from the West when Mikheil Saakashvili won a Stalin-style 96% of the vote in the presidential election held in January 2004 and, later in March, when the National Movement party won nearly all the seats in parliament.
Shevardnadze had followed all the Western-imposed ‘reform’ policies since coming to power. Presumably, it was decided that a ‘rotation’ of the cadres was necessary to ensure the succession as the president was, by 2003, in his late seventies. It was disenchanted Shevardnadze insiders who took over and the battle lines were drawn between the old and new elites. Most ordinary Georgians had long ceased to believe in change from the top – this is best reflected by Saakashvili’s changes to the law which removed the need for a 50% turnout in future presidential elections. By 2004, few people were interested in going out to vote any more.
However, the ferocity with which the new regime pursued its enemies has surprised even those predisposed in its favour. Whatever Shevardnadze’s faults, he showed some respect for the niceties of due process and the rule of law. He never went on television to berate suspects awaiting trial nor did his regime take ransom payments to enable alleged criminals to escape justice. From the remarks made by Sulkhan Molashvili to BHHRG, it seems that Shevardnadze himself could have faced arrest in the early days of the Saakashvili government. After the coup, the ex-president (no doubt feeling betrayed by his former patrons) blamed both Soros and the US ambassador, Richard Miles, for facilitating his removal from power. Since then, he has become more circumspect as illustrated by a bland interview he conducted with Russia’s Argumenty i Fakti in July 2005.[1]
Georgia is the home to hundreds of Western-funded NGOs and some human rights groups, notably, Nana Kakabadze’s “Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights” and the Human Rights Information and Documentation Center – have been vocal in their criticism of the new government. Others, like the Young Lawyers and Liberty Institute have begun to add their voices, especially over changes to the organization of elections and abuse of public finances. But few NGOs interact with ordinary people and their bona fides have been damaged by the mass defection from the non-profit sector (where they criticized the Shevardnadze regime) to government where they have become apparatchiks, and even ministers; the Georgian Young Lawyers Association and Liberty Institute are the most obvious examples. However, NGOs have proved to be a very lucrative milch cow for many children of the elite in Georgia and elsewhere in the former Communist bloc. With $70 m. promised to Georgia by the US in 2006 for “democracy assistance” there is no sign that this agreeable (but, unproductive) way of life will cease.
There is also some cooperation between opposition parties although, again, parties like the Republicans contain members who supported the ‘Rose Revolution’. There is no reason to believe that life for ordinary Georgians would improve if they were to come to power even if they leant on the president to tone down some of his more florid rhetoric and wayward behaviour. All are committed to the Western-imposed, reform agenda.
The European Union and the Council of Europe have criticized the Georgian government’s ham-fisted approach to law and order, but in a nuanced way. Without the political backup from senior member governments they can only indulge in periodic hand wringing. Georgia is a member of the Council of Europe; unlike Russia, for example, there have been no calls for its suspension for abuse of power, abandonment of due process and cruel and inhuman treatment of prisoners.
Sulkhan Molashvili and his lawyers are understandably grateful for the intervention of the CoE’s Matyas Eőrsi. But, when Mr. Molashvili’s trial started on 28th July, Eőrsi had left and the CoE had no representative in Tbilisi. Similarly, the EU’s rule of law project ended a week before the trial commenced. Many ‘political’ prisoners, including Molashvili, have appealed to the ECHR over their treatment by the Georgian authorities and seem confident of success. But, BHHRG would urge caution: to date, the ECHR has ruled in only two cases (out of 57) from Georgia. Both of them had a distinctly political tinge – one ruling backed a case brought by an opponent of Aslan Abashidze and the other criticized Georgia for deporting Chechen refugees to Russia where they were deemed to be terrorists.
Establishing proper democracy in Georgia seems to be of no concern whatsoever to the main players, the US and UK. Their real concerns revolve around advancing and protecting Western energy interests in the Caspian region while positioning themselves to further corrode the power and influence of Russia, even within Russia itself. The real story since Saakashvili came to power is the militarization of Georgia; the increase in defence spending that has led to the importation of military hardware, including large numbers of Kalashnikov rifles as well as other Soviet-era equipment. Every day there are reports of terrorist activities in the North Caucasus region, especially in North Ossetia, Dagestan and Chechnya. The arms bazaar in Georgia means that there is an unlimited amount of weaponry which can be made available to insurgents who want to conduct destabilizing operations around and within Russia’s borders.


[1] Inna Obraztsova “Ex-President of Georgia Shevardnadze, “We love Russia as Much as America” Argumenty I Fakty http://mosnews.com/interview/2005/07/06/shevardnadze.shtml.

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