The South Caucasus Network of Human Rights Defenders

Reports on Human Rights Practices Georgia:
The constitution of the Georgian republic provides for an executive branch that reports to the president, a unicameral Parliament, and an independent judiciary. The country has a population of approximately 4.6 million. President Mikheil Saakashvili was reelected in January 2008 in an election that international observers found consistent with most Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) democratic election commitments; however, the OSCE also highlighted significant problems, including widespread allegations of intimidation and pressure, flawed vote-counting and tabulation processes, and shortcomings in the complaints and appeals process. These and other problems continued into the parliamentary elections in May 2008, which international observers concluded were uneven and incomplete in their adherence to international standards. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.

The main human rights abuses reported during the year included at least one suspected death due to excessive use of force by law enforcement officers, politically motivated kidnappings and assaults, poor prison conditions, abuse of prisoners, including juveniles, arbitrary arrest and detention, politically motivated imprisonment, excessive use of force to disperse demonstrations, pressure that appeared politically motivated on owners of property, lack of due process, government pressure on the judiciary, and senior-level corruption in the government. Respect for media freedom declined, and there were cases of government interference with the rights of assembly and association. While three months of protests by the nonparliamentary opposition were generally held peacefully, there was a clear imbalance in protest-related incidents--crimes against government officials were investigated and solved quickly, while this was not the case for crimes committed against nonparliamentary opposition activists. There were some cases of restrictions on religious freedom and a lack of progress on such religious problems as the determination of ownership of disputed churches and the unequal status of non-Georgian Orthodox religions. Abuse of women and children, trafficking in persons, and societal discrimination and prejudice against persons based on their sexual orientation were also reported.
Significant human rights achievements included the passage of a reformed criminal procedure code providing for fair trial protections and for the introduction in Tbilisi of a limited jury trial system; and passage of an amended election code calling for the first direct election of the Tbilisi mayor.

De facto authorities in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, supported by several thousand occupying Russian troops, remained outside the control of the central government. In August 2008 Russia officially recognized the independence of both territories. Pursuant to "bilateral" agreements between Russia and the de facto authorities, Russian border guards began controlling the administrative boundaries of the two regions in May and restricted the movement of the local population. A cease-fire remained in effect in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, although incidents of violence occurred in both areas. Deprivation of life, abduction, and arbitrary arrest and detention continued to be serious problems. Except where otherwise noted, figures and other data do not include the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The de facto authorities in Abkhazia continued to restrict the rights, primarily of ethnic Georgians, to vote, to participate in the political process, and to exercise basic rights such as property ownership, business registration, and travel permission. Ethnic Georgians also suffered harassment by Abkhaz and Russian forces, forced conscription in the Abkhaz "army," a lack of funding for basic infrastructure maintenance, and limitations on Georgian-language instruction in the Gali district schools.

In August 2008 the de facto authorities in South Ossetia adopted a policy of refusing to permit ethnic Georgians driven out during and after the conflict return to South Ossetia unless they renounced their Georgian citizenship and took the "citizenship" of the "Republic of South Ossetia"; in practical terms this often meant accepting a Russian passport. With the exception of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), international organizations were not allowed regular access to assess the condition of the local population or to provide humanitarian assistance.
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