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Georgia makes progress but human rights concerns remain, says Louise Arbour

TBILISI (OHCHR) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said Thursday, that, while she had seen with her own eyes the progress Georgia had made in a variety of areas, she still had a number of concerns about the treatment of detainees, the living conditions of many of the country’s internally displaced people and the lingering lack of public trust in Georgia’s judicial system.

Arbour, who, during her three-day visit, met with President Mikheil Saakashvili, key ministers, the Ombudsman,  representatives of civil society as well as with the local leadership and civil society in the Abkhazia region, said that one of the principal issues she had raised concerned detention conditions in Georgia.

“Some positive steps have been taken to improve conditions in the country’s detention facilities,” she said, “but further work needs to be done, including with regard to access of persons detained to adequate health service and to find sustainable solutions to overcrowding – such as the development of a probation and parole system.”

Arbour said she appreciated the commitment the government has shown to increasingly look at such alternatives to detention, but added that she was concerned about the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility to the age of 12. She said she hoped this issue would be reconsidered in accordance with international standards.

The UN’s top human rights official praised the government for the judicial reforms it has undertaken in recent years, saying it had “taken important steps towards the establishment of a modern judicial system.” However, she expressed concern about the widespread lack of trust the population still displays in the judicial system and their reluctance to seek redress through the courts. “Only by ensuring a truly independent functioning of the judiciary, can public trust in the judicial system be fully restored,” she said.

The High Commissioner expressed appreciation that Georgia has reported regularly under the six major international human rights instruments it has ratified, and that it has also worked closely with several UN Special Rapporteurs and human rights bodies. She expressed particular appreciation that the Government has ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and encouraged it to establish a National Preventive Mechanism in conformity with international human rights standards.

She also encouraged the government to ratify the Migrant Worker Convention, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Convention on the Protection of Persons against Enforced Disappearances. “I would also encourage the issuing of a standing invitation to the Special Raporteurs,” she said, “as well as the strengthening of national systems to ensure that recommendations by the human rights treaty bodies are fully implemented.”  

With regard to the events of 7 November, Arbour called on the Government “to make public the process and the results of the internal investigation carried out by the Ministry of Internal Affairs as soon as possible, and to inform the public of any systemic failings in addition to the personal responsibility of any public officials involved.”

Arbour also discussed the living conditions of Georgia’s internally displaced people (IDPs) and welcomed the adoption by the government of a new state strategy on IDPs which recognizes the their right of choice by emphasizing that the right to return and the right to settle are not mutually exclusive.

In meetings in Sukhumi and Gali, in Georgia’s Abkhazia region, Arbour urged the Abkhaz leadership to continue working towards sustainable rights-based solutions for internally displaced people, including protection of property rights. She also stressed the importance for education to be provided in relevant mother tongues, and for all local residents to be able to exercise their right to freedom of movement, including access to essential services and employment opportunities.

She also stressed that she was encouraged that the de facto authorities indicated a willingness to continue to cooperate with the UN Observer Mission in Georgia in the effort to maintain a permanent international human rights presence in Gali.
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights-Media Unit
Rupert Colville, Spokesperson, +41.22.917.9767
Praveen Randhawa, Information Officer: + 41.22.917.9602
Yvon Edoumou, Information Officer, + 41 22.917.9383
For inquiries and media requests: press-info@ohchr.org

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