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A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper


Agenda for Reform: Human Rights Priorities after the Georgian Revolution

A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, February 24, 2004

After the November 23, 2003 revolution, which led to the formation of a new government and the election of Mikheil Saakashvili as president, an opportunity has opened to make real progress on human rights in Georgia. The new government must seize this opportunity by making respect for human rights the core of its reform program. Without this emphasis on human rights, abuses common during the ten-year Shevardnadze period risk becoming further entrenched.  
Saakashvili came to power on the promise of reform, and his team is now focusing intensely on the fight against corruption, raising the standard of living, and respect for human rights. Partly because of this, the new government currently enjoys not only enormous domestic support, but also considerable international economic and political support, which has increased dramatically since the change of power.1  
The new government faces a huge challenge to deliver on the reforms it has promised. The country has been declared one of the most corrupt in the world,2 is desperately short of money,3 and has a record of persistent and widespread human rights abuses. The population suffers from unemployment, grinding poverty, and a lack of basic services, such as a regular supply of electricity.4 In order to significantly improve the lives of the Georgian population, the government must make long-term, fundamental reforms. However, although the government has outlined a variety of plans for significant reforms, it also appears to be reacting to pressure to show quick results. In their anti-corruption campaign this has led to the use of harsh methods that appear effective and popular, but that violate the government's human rights obligations.  
The Saakashvili government has inherited a legacy of human rights abuse from the Shevardnadze era. In the past four years, religious intolerance has become widespread, and the government has fostered a climate of impunity for hundreds of attacks on religious minorities. Torture in pre-trial detention is common and the criminal justice system fails to protect the victims of abuse. Chechen refugees in Georgia are vulnerable to forced repatriation to Russia, where they face serious threats to their lives, safety and freedom. Journalists have faced sporadic violent attacks.  
Human Rights Watch has documented patterns of human rights abuse in Georgia since before its independence from the Soviet Union. In this briefing paper we summarize long-standing issues, and flag concerns that have increased with the government's anti-corruption agenda.5 The briefing paper makes recommendations on improvements in the above areas to the government and the international community, in particular the Council of Europe, the European Union (E.U.), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the United States government. Human Rights Watch urges the international donor community to ensure that assistance programs reflect a realistic assessment of the reform process and are conditioned on the government's human rights record.6 Civil society groups, foreign governments, and international organizations must carefully monitor the current transition period and promptly raise concerns and offer advice to the government to ensure that internationally accepted human rights standards are being observed.  

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