We wish to express our concern over the disclosure by the Minister of Justice of Georgia Tea Tsulukiani of the footage of the monitoring of the National Preventive Mechanism of Public Defender of Georgia and unconstructive criticism aimed at the expert of this mechanism. This action, on the one hand, grossly violates the principles enshrined in Georgian legislation, and on the other hand, contradicts the international obligations undertaken by Georgia. We believe that this action of the Georgian Minister of Justice should serve as a basis for raising the issue of her political responsibility.
The National Preventive Mechanism is today the only body authorized to enter penitentiary and temporary detention facilities without special permission and to examine the legal status of persons held there. Accordingly, the National Preventive Mechanism is the only source of information on the situation in closed institutions, including the penitentiary.
It should be stressed that when defining the authority of experts of the National Preventive Mechanism, Georgia’s organic law on the Public Defender of Georgia is based on the principles set out in the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture. One of the most important commitments that Georgia has undertaken by signing this document, set out in Article 20 of the Protocol, concerns the confidentiality of the meetings of the person deprived of liberty and the expert of the National Preventive Mechanism. According to this article, the states undertake to grant the National Preventive Mechanism “with the opportunity to have private interviews with the persons deprived of their liberty without witnesses, either personally or with a translator if deemed necessary, as well as with any other person who the national preventive mechanism believes may supply relevant information;” That monitors have “the liberty to choose the places they want to visit and the persons they want to interview.”
In accordance with the Organic Law “On Public Defender” Article 19, paragraph three, “the meetings of the Public Defender of Georgia / a member of the Special Preventive Group with detainees, prisoners or persons whose liberty is otherwise restricted, convicted persons, persons in psychiatric facilities, old people’s and children’s homes shall be confidential. Any kind of eavesdropping and surveillance shall be prohibited.”
Based on all the above-discussed, even if the representative of the National Preventive Mechanism decides to interview the prisoner under video surveillance, it is strictly inadmissible to make such footage public and this grossly violates the principles set forth above.
It should be noted that in recent years, not only the Public Defender but also the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture have spoken about the deterioration of the situation in Georgia’s penitentiary system. The report reflecting the latter’s 2018 visit provides extremely disturbing information on the increasing incidences of violence among the prisoners and the appearance of so-called “watchers” in penitentiary institutions, this greatly affecting the incidences of mistreatment, and also creates a serious obstacle for obtaining information from the victims and witnesses of the perpetuated violence by the law enforcement and the Public Defender.
In addition to the above, it should be also stressed that, after integrating the penitentiary system into the Ministry of Justice, by and large, this agency no longer issues public information, and the current Minister of Justice, Ms. Tea Tsulukiani, bears responsibility for this. The Public Defender’s report refers to the systematic failure to provide public information. This is also confirmed by many NGOs whose area of interest is the penitentiary system.
Institute for Democracy and Safe Development (IDSD)
Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF)
Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI)
Rehabilitation Initiative for Vulnerable Groups (RIVG)
Transparency International Georgia (TI)
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)
Article 42 of the Constitution
Psycho – Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture “Empathy”
Human Rights Center