An independent United Nations human rights expert today said a number of legislative amendments adopted in late December last year by the Georgian Parliament are restricting the freedom of association.
UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai also voiced alarm at the increasing climate of fear and intimidation against opposition parties, labour unions and members of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Georgia.
“It is clear that all these restrictive efforts have been put in place to deliberately prevent and restrict certain individuals from standing in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.” – Mr. Kiai
Mr. Kiai says the role of freedom of association in this context is to give hope to any political party that it can genuinely compete in elections.
He cites that in the case of Georgia, there is an unequal political playing field.
Mr. Kiai recently finished an eight-day mission to the country.
He noted that the situation of labour unions is one operating in a very difficult environment. He heard there have been allegations of dismissals of public and private employees for supposedly supporting opposition parties.
“Georgian labour laws provide for easy dismissal of workers, with no requirement to provide reasons, as long as the minimum monthly compensation is paid.” -Mr. Kiai
He notes that these laws can inhibit the freedom to form, organize and operate trade unions. He explains that employers can find excuses to fire workers who try to form and operate trade unions which they may not want.
Mr. Kiai also recalls on the events of 26 May last year where police resorted to excessive use of force to disperse an assembly in Tbilisi, the capital.
He further calls for an investigation of those responsible for the violence.
“A new, independent and transparent investigation must be undertaken with the participation of all stakeholders – which include opposition leaders, civil society representatives, the Government and representatives from the international community to ensure that all views and perspectives are taken into account, and that there is accountability for the clear excessive use of force that occurred. In the absence of that, the perception of impunity and dissatisfaction towards the Government will prevail.” -Mr. Kiai
Lack of use of bail and the strict zero tolerance policy of the Government has contributed to Georgia having one of the world’s largest prison population.
The country’s judiciary has been known for harsh sentences, a lack of bail and what they called an excessive use of detention.