Wednesday, December 28, 2011

GLYA Report on Human Rights, Violations of May 26, 2011, Tbilisi Georgia

What Really Happened May 26 in Tbilisi Georgia?

By I.G. Chopan

On Friday 23rd December the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) formally launched a new report on human rights violations observed during the dispersal of the anti-government demonstrations of 26th May, which, as the report confirms, constituted nothing more than the peaceful assembly regarded as a democratic right in Western countries, a right safeguarded, at least in theory, by the Georgian constitution.

The report is entitled Analysis of Facts of Human Rights Violations During and Related to the Dispersal of the May 26 Assembly. Its launch in Tbilisi was the conclusion of a series of human rights related events held by GYLA in the latter part of this year.

The report points out that the events of May 26th were the culmination of an ongoing campaign of restrictions of the right to peaceful assembly guaranteed by various international treaties Georgia is a signatory to, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as Georgia’s own constitution. Prior to that day over 100 individuals had been illegally detained, and illegally tried, for alleged offences related to either attending a peaceful assembly or attempting to organize one, including assemblies planned for the May 21st-25th period. GYLA maintains that even if the events of the day itself are set aside, these detentions and trials need to be investigated, as there was no legal basis for them or for the conditions in which those arrested were detained.

The May 26th assembly was designed to clash with the annual Independence Day military parade. GYLA notes that it could be feasibly argued that the parade was in the public interest and holding it could be deemed to take precedence over allowing the assembly to take place, particularly when this was specifically designed to disrupt the celebrations of the parade, even if only to a small degree. However, no attempt had been made during the previous assembly, the day before, to negotiate a resolution of this clash of events, and the state must bear responsibility for this, as it was not the business of demonstrators to make decisions concerning the parade, such as its details or route. GYLA argues that as the state failed to use other means of ensuring the parade could take place before resorting to dispersing the assembly, the dispersal was, in itself, disproportionate, regardless of the way it was carried out.

The manner of the dispersal is also described as disproportionate. It is noted that prior to using force the police blocked the main exits, meaning that if anyone wanted to leave the assembly for any reason, even if they had decided they did not agree with it and did not want to support it, there was no way they could escape the violence which ensued. GYLA also points out that as a result of the violent dispersal of the assembly at least five people lost their lives and many others were injured, a violation of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights which obliges the state to plan the dispersal of an assembly in such a way that life is not threatened.

Furthermore, the investigation into these deaths was highly questionable, the presumption of innocence of those counteraccused of crimes was violated and their right to a fair trial compromised. GYLA contrasts this with the situation which should exist in Georgia under the terms of its constitution and the international treaties it has signed and notes that there is no effective means of controlling the actions of the police due to deficiencies in Georgian legislation.

The report was compiled by using internationally accepted methodology. Nevertheless, much material was not made available to the investigators, including that on the whereabouts of a number of people reported missing after the dispersal, why certain journalists were allowed to report the events without hindrance and others not, why detained persons were moved around without the families being informed, etcetera. In some cases state agencies did not make important information available, in others people involved in the events felt it unsafe to cooperate. However, even given these limitations, and their consequences for the standard of proof which could be obtained, the report paints a clear picture of a state which violated the human rights of many of its citizens in clear contravention of the wording, spirit and principles of Georgia’s own laws, quite far from any international standard.

GYLA illustrates its report with photographs of those physically beaten by police and the bodies of people killed during the dispersal, as witnessed by contributors to the report, deaths which the Georgian government has alleged did not occur. It calls on all the human rights violations outlined in detail in the report to be fully and impartially investigated and those responsible be held criminally responsible.

"As for assessing the thoroughness of the conducted investigation, GYLA mentions that none of the witnesses interviewed by the working group    (Ian Carver, Jeffrey K. Silverman, Otar Tskhadadze) were ever interrogated by the official governmental investigation."

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