Georgian history dates back more than 2,500 years, and Georgian is one of the oldest living languages in the world. Tbilisi, located in a picturesque valley divided by the Mtkvari River, is more than 1,500 years old. Much of Georgia's territory was besieged by its Persian and Turkish neighbors along with Arabs and Mongols over the course of the 7th to the 18th centuries. After 11 centuries of mixed fortunes of various Georgian kingdoms, including a golden age from the 11th to 12th centuries, Georgia turned to Russia for protection. Russia essentially annexed Georgia and exiled the royalty in 1801. Pockets of Georgian resistance to foreign rule continued, and the first Republic of Georgia was established on May 26, 1918 after the collapse of Tsarist Russia. By March 1921, the Red army had reoccupied the country and Georgia became part of the Soviet Union.
Upon Stalin's death in 1953, Georgian nationalism revived and resumed its struggle against dictates from the central government in Moscow. In the 1950s, reforms under Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev included the shifting of economic authority from Moscow to republic-level officials, but the Russian Khrushchev's repudiation of Stalin set off a backlash in Georgia. In 1956 hundreds of Georgians were killed when they demonstrated against Khrushchev's policy of de-Stalinization. Long afterward many Stalin monuments and place-names--as well as the museum constructed at Stalin's birthplace in the town of Gori, northwest of Tbilisi--were maintained. Only with Mikhail S. Gorbachev's policy of glasnost in the late 1980s did criticism of Stalin become acceptable and a full account of Stalin's crimes against his fellow Georgians become known in Georgia.
Between 1955 and 1972, Georgian communists used decentralization to become entrenched in political posts and to reduce further the influence of other ethnic groups in Georgia. In addition, enterprising Georgians created factories whose entire output was "off the books." In 1972 the long-standing corruption and economic inefficiency of Georgia's leaders led Moscow to sponsor Eduard Shevardnadze as first secretary of the Georgian Communist Party. Shevardnadze had risen through the ranks of the Communist Youth League (Komsomol) to become a party first secretary at the district level in 1961. From 1964 until 1972, Shevardnadze oversaw the Georgian police from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, where he made a reputation as a competent and incorruptible official. As party first secretary, Shevardnadze used purges to attack the corruption and chauvinism for which Georgia's elite had become infamous even among the corrupt and chauvinistic republics of the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, a small group of dissident nationalists coalesced around academician Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who stressed the threat that Russification presented to the Georgian national identity. This theme would remain at the center of Georgian-Russian relations into the new era of Georgian independence in the 1990s. Soviet power and Georgian nationalism clashed in 1978 when Moscow ordered revision of the constitutional status of the Georgian language as Georgia's official state language. Bowing to pressure from street demonstrations, Moscow approved Shevardnadze's reinstatement of the constitutional guarantee the same year.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, Shevardnadze successfully walked a narrow line between the demands of Moscow and the Georgians' growing desire for national autonomy. He maintained political and economic control while listening carefully to popular demands and making strategic concessions. Shevardnadze dealt with nationalism and dissent by explaining his policies to hostile audiences and seeking compromise solutions. The most serious ethnic dispute of Shevardnadze's tenure arose in 1978, when leaders of the Abkhazian Autonomous Republic threatened to secede from Georgia, alleging unfair cultural, linguistic, political, and economic restrictions imposed by Tbilisi. Shevardnadze took a series of steps to diffuse the crisis, including an affirmative action program that increased the role of Abkhazian elites in running "their" region, despite the minority status of their group in Abkhazia.
Shevardnadze initiated experiments that foreshadowed the economic and political reforms that Gorbachev later introduced into the central Soviet system. The Abasha economic experiment in agriculture created new incentives for farmers similar to those used in the Hungarian agricultural reform of the time. A reorganization in the seaport of Poti expanded the role of local authorities at the expense of republic and all-union ministries. By 1980 Shevardnadze had raised Georgia's industrial and agricultural production significantly and dismissed about 300 members of the party's corrupt hierarchy. When Shevardnadze left office in 1985, considerable government corruption remained, however, and Georgia's official economy was still weakened by an extensive illegal "second economy." But his reputation for honesty and political courage earned Shevardnadze great popularity among Georgians, the awarding of the Order of Lenin by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1978, and appointment as minister of foreign affairs of the Soviet Union in 1985.
Partly as a result of the conspiratorial nature of antigovernment activity prior to 1989, opposition groups tended to be small, tightly knit units organized around prominent individuals. The personal ambitions of opposition leaders prevented the emergence of a united front, but Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the most widely honored and recognized of the nationalist dissidents, moved naturally to a position of leadership. The son of Georgia's foremost contemporary novelist, Gamsakhurdia had gained many enemies during the communist years in acrimonious disputes and irreconcilable factional splits.
Opposition pressure resulted in an open, multiparty election in October 1990. Despite guarantees written into the new law on elections, many prominent opposition parties boycotted the vote, arguing that their groups could not compete fairly and that their participation under existing conditions would only legitimize continuation of Georgia's "colonial status" within the Soviet system.
As an alternative, the opposition parties had held their own election, without government approval, in September 1990. Although the minimum turnout for a valid election was not achieved, the new "legislative" body, called the Georgian National Congress, met and became a center of opposition to the government chosen in the official October election. In the officially sanctioned voting, Gamsakhurdia's Round Table/Free Georgia coalition won a solid majority in the Supreme Soviet, Georgia's official parliamentary body.
Arguably the most virulently anticommunist politician ever elected in a Soviet republic, Gamsakhurdia was intolerant of all political opposition. He often accused his opposition of treason or involvement with the KGB. The quality of political debate in Georgia was lowered by the exchange of such charges between Gamsakhurdia and opposition leaders such as Gia Chanturia of the National Democratic Party.
After his election, Gamsakhurdia's greatest concern was the armed opposition. Both Gamsakhurdia's Round Table/Free Georgia coalition and some opposition factions in the Georgian National Congress had informal military units, which the previous, communist Supreme Soviet had legalized under pressure from informal groups. The most formidable of these groups were the Mkhedrioni (horsemen), said to number 5,000 men, and the socalled National Guard. The new parliament, dominated by Gamsakhurdia, outlawed such groups and ordered them to surrender their weapons, but the order had no effect. After the elections, independent military groups raided local police stations and Soviet military installations, sometimes adding formidable weaponry to their arsenals. In February 1991, a Soviet army counterattack against Mkhedrioni headquarters had led to the imprisonment of the Mkhedrioni leader.
Gamsakhurdia moved quickly to assert Georgia's independence from Moscow. He took steps to bring the Georgian KGB and Ministry of Internal Affairs (both overseen until then from Moscow) under his control. Gamsakhurdia refused to attend meetings called by Gorbachev to preserve a working union among the rapidly separating Soviet republics. Gamsakhurdia's communications with the Soviet leader usually took the form of angry telegrams and telephone calls. In May 1991, Gamsakhurdia ended the collection in Georgia of Gorbachev's national sales tax on the grounds that it damaged the Georgian economy. Soon Georgia ceased all payments to Moscow, and the central government took steps to isolate the republic economically.
Rather than consent to participate in Gorbachev's March 1991 referendum on preserving a federation of Soviet republics, Gamsakhurdia organized a separate referendum on Georgian independence. The measure was approved by 98.9 percent of Georgian voters. Shortly thereafter, on the second anniversary of the April Tragedy (April 9, 1991), the Georgian parliament passed a declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. Once the Soviet Union collapsed at the end of 1991, Georgia refused to participate in the formation or subsequent activities of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the loose confederation of independent republics that succeeded the Soviet Union.
In May 1991, Gamsakhurdia was elected president of Georgia (receiving over 86 percent of the vote) in the first popular presidential election in a Soviet republic. Apparently perceiving the election as a mandate to run Georgia personally, Gamsakhurdia made increasingly erratic policy and personnel decisions in the months that followed, while his attitude toward the opposition became more strident. After intense conflict with Gamsakhurdia, Prime Minister Tengiz Sigua resigned in August 1991.
The August 1991 coup attempt against Gorbachev in Moscow marked a turning point in Georgian as well as in Soviet politics. Gamsakhurdia made it clear that he believed the coup, headed by the Soviet minister of defense and the head of the KGB, was both inevitable and likely to succeed. Accordingly, he ordered Russian president Boris N. Yeltsin's proclamations against the coup removed from the streets of Tbilisi. Gamsakhurdia also ordered the National Guard to turn in its weapons, disband, and integrate itself into the forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Opposition leaders immediately denounced this action as capitulation to the coup. In defiance of Gamskhurdia, National Guard commander Tengiz Kitovani led most of his troops out of Tbilisi.
The opposition to Gamsakhurdia, now joined in an uneasy coalition behind Sigua and Kitovani, demanded that Gamsakhurdia resign and call new parliamentary elections. Gamsakhurdia refused to compromise, and his troops forcibly dispersed a large opposition rally in Tbilisi in September 1991. Chanturia, whose National Democratic Party was one of the most active opposition groups at that time, was arrested and imprisoned on charges of seeking help from Moscow to overthrow the government.
In the ensuing period, both the government and extraparliamentary opposition intensified the purchase and "liberation" of large quantities of weapons--mostly from Soviet military units stationed in Georgia--including heavy artillery, tanks, helicopter gunships, and armored personnel carriers. On December 22, intense fighting broke out in central Tbilisi after government troops again used force to disperse demonstrators. At this point, the National Guard and the Mkhedrioni besieged Gamsakhurdia and his supporters in the heavily fortified parliament building. Gunfire and bombs severely damaged central Tbilisi, and Gamsakhurdia fled the city in early January 1992 to seek refuge outside Georgia.
A Military Council made up of Sigua, Kitovani, and Mkhedrioni leader Jaba Ioseliani took control after Gamsakhurdia's departure. Shortly thereafter, a Political Consultative Council and a larger State Council were formed to provide more decisive leadership. In March 1992, Eduard Shevardnadze returned to Georgia at the invitation of the Military Council. Shortly thereafter Shevardnadze joined Ioseliani, Sigua, and Kitovani to form the State Council Presidium. All four were given the right of veto over State Council decisions.
Gamsakhurdia, despite his absence, continued to enjoy substantial support within Georgia, especially in rural areas and in his home region of Mingrelia in western Georgia. Gamsakhurdia supporters now constituted another extraparliamentary opposition, viewing themselves as victims of an illegal and unconstitutional putsch and refusing to participate in future elections. Based in the neighboring Chechen Autonomous Republic of Russia, Gamsakhurdia continued to play a direct role in Georgian politics, characterizing Shevardnadze as an agent of Moscow in a neocommunist conspiracy against Georgia. In March 1992, Gamsakhurdia convened a parliament in exile in the Chechen city of Groznyi. In 1992 and 1993, his armed supporters prevented the Georgian government from gaining control of parts of western Georgia.
As discussed above, on April 9, 1991, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia had declared independence from the U.S.S.R. Beset by ethnic and civil strife from independence in 1991, Georgia began to stabilize in 1995. However, more than 230,000 internally displaced persons present an enormous strain on local politics. Peace in the separatist areas of Abkhazia and south Ossetia, overseen by Russian peacekeepers and international organizations, will continue to be fragile, requiring years of economic development and negotiation to overcome local enmities. Considerable progress has been made in negotiations on the Ossetian-Georgian conflict, and negotiations are continuing in the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict.
The Georgian Government is committed to economic reform in cooperation with the IMF and World Bank, and stakes much of its future on the revival of the ancient Silk Road as the Eurasian corridor, using Georgia's geography as a bridge for transit of goods between Europe and Asia.
Georgia has been a democratic republic since the presidential elections and constitutional referendum of October 1995. The President is elected for a term of 5 years; his constitutional successor is the Chairman of the Parliament.
The Georgian state is highly centralized, except for the autonomous regions of Abkhazia and Ajaria, which are to be given special autonomous status once Georgia's territorial integrity is restored. Those regions were subjects of special autonomies during Soviet rule and the legacy of that influence remains. In most locations local elections took place on November 15, 1998, marking the first elections under the 1995 constitution. Candidates from 11 political parties and two political blocks presented candidates.
Since surviving assassination attempts in August 1995 and February 1998 by reactionary forces opposed to reform, President Shevardnadze has consolidated his leadership and moved ahead with an ambitious and courageous reform agenda. Elections on November 5, 1995, described as the freest and fairest in the Caucasus or Central Asia, gave him the presidency and resulted in a progressive parliament led by sophisticated reformers.
The Abkhaz separatist dispute absorbs much of the government's attention. While a cease-fire is in effect, more than 230,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were driven from their homes during the conflict constitute a vocal lobby. The government has offered the region considerable autonomy in order to encourage a settlement that would allow the IDPs, the majority of whom are ethnic Georgians from the Gali region, to return home, but the Abkhaz insist on virtual independence.
Currently, Russian peacekeepers, under the authority of the Commonwealth of Independent States, are stationed in Abkhazia, along with UN observers, but both groups have recently had to restrict their activities due to increased mining and guerrilla activity. Negotiations have not resulted in movement toward a settlement. Working with France, U.K., Germany, and Russia and through the UN and the OSCE, the U.S. continues to encourage a comprehensive settlement consistent with Georgian independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. The UN observer force and other organizations are quietly encouraging grassroots cooperative and confidence-building measures in the region.
The parliament has instituted wide-ranging political reforms supportive of higher human rights standards, but problems persist, largely as a result of the unwillingness of certain law enforcement and criminal justice officials to support constitutionally mandated changes. Mistreatment of detainees is a significant and continuing problem, as is corruption within certain state agencies and monopolies. In 1998, increased citizen awareness of civil rights and democratic values has provided an increasingly effective check on the excesses of law enforcement agencies.
The 1995 Constitution provides for an executive branch that reports to the President and a legislature. The President appoints ministers with the consent of Parliament. In April 2000, Eduard Shevardnadze was reelected to a second 5-year term as President in an election marred by numerous serious irregularities. International observers strongly criticized the election, citing interference by state authorities in the electoral process, deficient election legislation, insufficient representative election administration, and unreliable voter registers. The country's second parliamentary elections under the 1995 Constitution were held in 1999 and were characterized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as a step toward Georgia's compliance with OSCE commitments. The civil war and separatist wars that followed the 1992 coup ended central government authority in Abkhazia and Ossetia, and weakened central authority in the autonomous region of Ajara and elsewhere in the country. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the judiciary is subject to executive pressure.
The country has a total population of approximately 5 million. Government efforts to develop a market-based economy have been stifled by corruption and mismanagement. Key exports are scrap metal, manganese, wine, mineral water, and agricultural products. Agriculture represents approximately 30 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), and GDP during the first 6 months of 1994 increased 5.2 percent to $ 1.5 billion (3.08 billion GEL). Per capita GDP for the first half of the year was approximately $324 (666 GEL). According to the Department of Statistics, approximately 52.6 percent of the population live below the poverty level. There was a growing fiscal deficit due to continued low revenue collection. Government salaries and pensions remain in arrears.
Georgia's economic recovery has been hampered by the separatist disputes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a persistently weak economic infrastructure, resistance to reform on the part of some corrupt and reactionary factions, and the Russian and Asian economic crises. Under President Shevardnadze's leadership, the government has nonetheless guided the economy to impressive gains: slashing inflation, meeting most IMF targets through its July 1998 review, and qualifying for economic structural adjustment facility credit status, introducing a stable national currency (the lari), introducing free market prices of bread products, preparing for the second stage of accession to the World Trade Organization (the first stage has already been met), signing agreements that allow for development of a pipeline to transport Caspian oil across Georgia to the Black Sea, and passing laws on commercial banking, land, and tax reform. However, as a result of the fallout from the Russian and Asian economic crises, Georgia has been unable to meet IMF conditions recently.
Georgia's deficit fell from the 1996 rate of 6.2% to 3.6% in 1997. The Government expects to continue reducing the country's deficit to 3% in 1998. President Shevardnadze recently announced that tax revenues have risen dramatically, and recent tax reform, encouraged by the IMF, should lead to further increases. However, Georgia needs to implement its tax legislation and take concrete steps to meet IMF programs. Although total revenue increased from 1996 to 1997, these increases were lower than expected. International financial institutions continue to play a critical role in Georgia's budgetary calculations. Multilateral and bilateral grants and loans totaled 116.4 million lari in 1997 and are expected to total 182.8 million lari in 1998.
There has been strong progress on structural reform. All prices and most trade have been liberalized, legal-framework reform is on schedule, and massive government downsizing is underway. More than 10,500 small enterprises have been privatized, and although privatization of medium- and large-sized firms has been slow, more than 1,200 medium- and large-sized companies have been set up as joint stock companies. A law and a decree establishing the legal basis and procedures for state property privatization should continue to reduce the number of companies controlled by the state.
Due to a lack of investment, Georgia's transportation and communication infrastructure remains in very poor condition. Parliament has set an agenda to start the privatization of the telecommunications industry, although there is still resistance to the plan and Parliament needs to draft implementing legislation.
Georgia's electrical energy sector is in critical condition. Shortages of electricity have resulted in public unrest. In 1998, Georgia began to privatize its energy distribution system and expects to privatize its energy generation system by 2000. Privatization is the only means to generate the capital needed to rehabilitate the sector.
To encourage and support the reform process, the U.S. is joining other donors in shifting the focus of assistance from humanitarian to technical and institution-building programs. Provision of legal and technical advisors is complemented by training opportunities for parliamentarians, law enforcement officials, and economic advisors. The U.S. is increasingly willing to impose conditions on assistance in order to encourage improved performance on key issues and privatization of key sectors, including energy. Georgia continues to depend on humanitarian aid, which is increasingly targeted to most-needy groups.
Georgian agricultural production is beginning to recover following the devastation caused by the civil unrest and the restructuring necessary following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Livestock production is beginning to rebound, although it faces periodic disease. Domestic grain production is increasing, and will require sustained political and infrastructure improvements to ensure appropriate distribution and return to farmers. Tea, hazelnut, and citrus production have suffered greatly as a result of the conflict in Abkhazia, an especially fertile area.
While approximately 30% of the Georgian economy is agricultural, crops spoil in the field because farmers either cannot get their produce to market or must pay costs that drive market prices above those for imported goods. In concert with European assistance, Georgia has taken steps to control the quality of and appropriately market its natural spring water. Georgian viniculture, well supported during Soviet times, is internationally acclaimed and has absorbed some new technologies and financing since 1994.
INCIDENCE OF CRIME
In the first postcommunist years, levels of crime and civil unrest in Georgia were quite high because of the proximity of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, refugee movement and terrorism resulting from the Abkhazian conflict within Georgia, the gap between official wages and living standards, and the government's lack of police authority in many areas of the country. Crime statistics were unreliable, however, because the extent of law enforcement and reporting varied during 1993. Reported crimes dropped from 1,982 in May to 1,260 in July. In late 1993, however, numerous automobile thefts and kidnappings occurred on Georgian highways, and citizen insecurity prompted the proliferation of private detective agencies.
The natural gas pipeline to Armenia was a frequent target of terrorist bombs in 1993, and several government figures apparently were the targets of unsuccessful bomb attacks. The Mkhedrioni, who often were involved in criminal activity, usually escaped police control because the minister of internal affairs was a Mkhedrioni member. In September, Shevardnadze took personal control of the ministry to bolster police authority.
In contrast to the above observations, official data reported to INTERPOL by the government indicate that the crime rate in Georgia is very low compared to more advanced industrialized countries. An analysis was done using INTERPOL data for Georgia. For purpose of comparison, data were drawn for the seven offenses used to compute the United States FBI's index of crime. Index offenses include murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. The combined total of these offenses constitutes the Index used for trend calculation purposes. Georgia will be compared with Japan (country with a low crime rate) and USA (country with a high crime rate). According to the INTERPOL data, for murder, the rate in 1998 was 4.67 per 100,000 population for Georgia, 1.10 for Japan, and 6.80 for USA. For rape, the rate in 1998 was 0.75 for Georgia, compared with 1,47 for Japan and 35.92 for USA. For robbery, the rate in 1998 was 20.27 for Georgia, 2.71 for Japan, and 186.05 for USA. For aggravated assault, the rate in 1998 was 99.5 for Georgia, 15.40 for Japan, and 382.04 for USA. For burglary, the rate in 1998 was 21.08 for Georgia, 187.93 for Japan, and 919.57 for USA. The rate of larceny for 1998 was 59.12 for Georgia, 1198.13 for Japan, and 2886.55 for USA. The rate for motor vehicle theft in 1998 was 0.77 for Georgia, compared with 28.37 for Japan and 505.80 for USA. The rate for all index offenses combined was 206.15 for Georgia, compared with 1709.88 for Japan and 4123.97 for USA.
TRENDS IN CRIME
Between 1995 and 1998, according to INTERPOL data, the rate of murder decreased from 7.22 to 4.67, a decrease of 35.3%. The rate for rape decreased from 0.92 to 0.75, a decrease of 18.5%. The rate of robbery decreased from 32.81 to 20.27, a decrease of 38.2%. The rate for aggravated assault increased from 84.09 to 99.5 per 100,000, an increase of 18.3%. The rate for burglary decreased from 33.33 to 21.08, a decrease of 36.8%. The larceny could not be computed since larceny data were not given by Georgia to INTERPOL for 1995. The rate of motor vehicle theft decreased from 1.63 to 0.77, a decrease of 52.8%. The trend for total index offenses could not be computed, due to the omission of larceny data for 1995; however, downward trends occurred for all crimes for which data were available except aggravated assault during the period 1995 to 1998.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MOI) and the Procuracy have primary responsibility for law enforcement, and the Ministry of State Security plays a significant role in internal security. In times of internal disorder, the Government may call on the MOI or the military. Elected civilian authorities do not maintain effective control over the law enforcement and security forces. Members of the security forces have committed a number of serious human rights abuses. There have been no confirmed reports of political killings by government agents; however, security force abuses reportedly resulted in several deaths in custody. The Constitution forbids the use of torture; however, members of the security forces have continued to torture, beat, and otherwise abuse prisoners and detainees, usually to extract money or confessions. International and domestic observers note that incidents of police abuse increased following the April 2000 presidential elections. Serious abuses and police misconduct, such as the fabrication or planting of evidence, have remained problems. During the year 2001, there were several cases of police being dismissed or demoted for abuses; however, impunity has remained a problem. Many human rights observers have argued that the police increasingly believed that they will not be held accountable for such actions. The most serious incidents of abuse occur in the investigative phase of pretrial detention when suspects are interrogated by police. Human rights observers and lawyers have noted that abuses occur more frequently at the time of arrest and in police stations, rather than in pretrial detention facilities, and have noted that a growing number of confessions are made in police stations. According to human rights observers, those who have suffered such abuse were held routinely for lengthy periods in pretrial detention to give their injuries time to heal. Police often claim that injuries were sustained during or before arrest. Police "agents" within the prison population also allegedly committed abuses in pretrial detention facilities. Pretrial detainees are often kept with convicted prisoners due to overcrowding.
Government officials have acknowledged that Ministry of Internal Affairs personnel in the past routinely beat and abused prisoners and detainees. Government officials have continued to claim that a lack of proper training, poor supervision of investigators and guards, and lack of equipment often have resulted in abuse in all law enforcement facilities. For example, investigators are trained to obtain confessions rather than use physical evidence to assemble a case. After law enforcement agencies expressed concern that the safeguards contained in the new Criminal Procedures Code would make it difficult for them to combat crime, amendments made to the code in 1999 and 2000 reinstated many of their powers.
Human rights advocates reported that allegations of the use of torture, such as electric shock, to extract money or confessions significantly increased during the year 2001. During the year, Human Rights Watch reported that mistreatment and physical abuse of detainees was a major problem. However, some observers noted that when the Ministry of State Security (as opposed to the Interior Ministry) managed an investigation, allegations of physical abuses were rare.
The Constitution forbids wire tapping of telephones and other forms of interference in an individual's private life without court approval or legal necessity; however, in practice law enforcement agencies and other government bodies occasionally monitored private telephone conversations without obtaining court orders. The Government stated that state security police and state tax authorities entered homes and work places without prior legal sanction in emergency cases as permitted by the Criminal Procedures Code. Police sometimes stopped and searched vehicles without probable cause in order to extort bribes.
The Georgian internal security agency with the closest ties to Moscow was the Georgian branch of the Committee for State Security (Komitet gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti--KGB). Beginning in 1990, the anticommunist independence movement exerted direct pressure on the Georgian KGB to accept independence. The first confrontation between Moscow and the Gamsakhurdia government came over appointments to top security posts in the republic. In November 1990, the Georgian parliamentary Commission on Security broke the tradition of Moscow-designated KGB chiefs by naming its own appointee. When Gorbachev threatened dire consequences, Gamsakhurdia simply left the chairmanship vacant but named his candidate first deputy chairman and thus acting chairman. At that point, top Georgian KGB officials voiced support for Gamsakhurdia and protested Gorbachev's interference, signaling a service commitment to Tbilisi rather than Moscow.
As late as mid-1991, Moscow continued financing activities of the Georgian KGB and provided part of the budget of the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs, which ran domestic intelligence and police agencies. Meanwhile, by 1991 the opposition to Gamsakhurdia was accusing the president of using the Georgian KGB to investigate and harass political enemies.
In May 1992, the Georgian KGB, which in the interim had been renamed the Ministry of Security, was formally replaced by the Information and Intelligence Service. The new agency, formed on the organizational foundation of the old KGB, was headed by Irakli Batiashvili, a thirty-year-old philosophy scholar who had been a National Democratic Party delegate to the National Congress.
The Constitution includes provisions to protect citizens against arbitrary arrest and detention; however, authorities frequently disregarded these provisions. The Constitution provides for a 9 month maximum period of pretrial detention, mandated court approval of detention after 72 hours, and imposes restrictions on the role of the prosecutor. These amendments generally are observed; however, prosecutors maintain undue influence over criminal procedures.
Judges issue warrants and detention orders, and by law, suspects must be charged within 3 days. Judges may extend pretrial detention by 3-month intervals up to 9 months. NGO's stated that the amendments to the old Soviet Code (maximum 18 months detention) made the pretrial detention period less arbitrary; however, international and domestic observers have noted that such detention usually is longer--sometimes up to 2 years--because this protection routinely was interpreted to include only the Procuracy's investigative period, not the defense's investigative period. Police frequently detain persons without warrants. There is no bail system available to detainees. At 2001 year's end, there were 8,676 persons in custody, including both prisoners serving sentences and approximately 2,500 suspects held in pretrial detention.
A Criminal Procedures Code and other legislation to implement constitutional protections and restrict the powers of the Procuracy and the police was passed by Parliament in 1997; however, implementation was delayed until May 1999. Following enactment of the New Criminal Code in June 1999, the Criminal Procedures Code was amended substantially. A number of amendments sought to harmonize the Criminal Procedures Code with the new Criminal Code; however, several amendments significantly weakened protections against arbitrary arrest and detention. Specifically the changes imposed severe restrictions on a detainee's access to the courts in the pretrial period. Before these amendments were enacted, a defendant could complain directly to the court prior to a trial regarding abusive actions committed by the police or the Procuracy during a criminal investigation and could request medical examination; however, under the amended provisions, a defendant can file a complaint of abuse only with the Procuracy. The Procuracy's decision cannot be appealed to the courts. NGO's claimed that this regulation hinders their ability to substantiate police misconduct because of the close ties between the Procuracy and the police. The amendments also eliminated the right of a witness to be accompanied by a lawyer when being questioned by the police. The police can hold a witness for 12 hours without being charged. Police frequently charged witnesses as suspects at the end of this period. Human Rights Watch reported in 2000 that police often called a detainee's lawyer as a witness, thereby denying him access to his client.
Detainees have difficulty obtaining objective medical examinations in a timely manner. If a medical examination is not conducted within 3 to 4 days of an incident; it may be difficult to establish the cause of injuries. Only a state-employed forensic medical examiner, which in most cases is an employee of the Ministry of Health's Judicial Medical Expert Center, can testify about injuries. Human rights advocates routinely criticized the state forensic examiners as biased in favor of the Procuracy, and stated that permission for an independent forensic medical examination rarely was granted.
Police often have failed to inform detainees of their rights and have prevented them access to family members and lawyers. Some observers have charged that police also conducted interrogations in apartments outside the police stations to avoid registering detainees. While officially suspects are charged within 3 days of registration, observers claim that police frequently delayed registering detainees for long periods in order to seek bribes; according to international and domestic observers, at times the police attempted to extort money from suspects in exchange for not registering an arrest. Police reportedly approached suspects' families and offered to drop charges in exchange for a bribe. Correct legal procedures were observed more often once a detainee was charged and registered formally.
Authorities often have held prisoners who were tortured and abused in police stations and pretrial detention for lengthy periods in order to give their injuries time to heal.
When Georgia was part of the Soviet Union, the Supreme Court of Georgia was subordinate to the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union, and the rule of law in Georgia, still based largely on the Soviet constitution, included the same limitations on personal rights. Beginning in 1990, the court system of Georgia began a major transition toward establishment of an independent judiciary that would replace the powerless rubber-stamp courts of the Soviet period. The first steps, taken in late 1990, were to forbid Supreme Court judges from holding communist party membership and to remove Supreme Court activities from the supervision of the party. After the overthrow of Gamsakhurdia, the pre-Soviet constitution of 1921 was restored, providing the legal basis for separation of powers and an independent court. Substantial opposition to actual independence was centered in the Cabinet of Ministers, however, some of whose members would lose de facto judicial power.
In 1993 the Supreme Court had thirty-nine members, of whom nine worked on civil cases and thirty on criminal cases. All judges had been elected for ten-year terms in 1990 and 1991. Shevardnadze made no effort to replace judges elected under Gamsakhurdia, although they had been seated under a different constitutional system. The Supreme Court's functions include interpreting laws, trying cases of serious criminal acts and appeals of regional court decisions, and supervising application of the law by other government agencies.
The postcommunist judicial system has continued the multiple role of the procurator general's office as an agency of investigation, a constitutional court supervising the application of the law, and the institution behind prosecution of crimes in court. In 1993 the procurator general's office retained a semimilitary structure and total authority over the investigation of court cases; judges had no power to reject evidence gained improperly. Advocates of democratization identified abolition of the office of procurator general as essential, with separation of the responsibilities of the procurator general and the courts as a first step.
All parties in Georgia agreed that judicial reform depended on passage of a new constitution delineating the separation of powers. If such a constitution prescribed a strong executive system, the head of government would appoint Supreme Court judges; if a parliamentary system were called for, parliament would make the court appointments. In early 1994, however, the constitution was the subject of prolonged political wrangling that showed no sign of abating. At that point, experts found a second fundamental obstacle to judicial reform in a national psychology that had no experience with democratic institutions and felt most secure with a unitary, identifiable government power. Reform was also required in the training of lawyers and judges, who under the old system entered the profession through the sponsorship of political figures rather than on their own merit.
Until the Gamsakhurdia period, regional courts were elected by regional party soviets; since 1990 regional courts have been appointed by regional officials. After the beginning of ethnic struggles in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, regional military courts also were established. The head of state appoints military judges, and the Supreme Court reviews military court decisions. The Tbilisi City Court has separate jurisdiction in supervising the observance of laws in the capital city.
Under Gamsakhurdia Georgia had continued to function under the Soviet-era constitution of 1978, which was based on the 1977 constitution of the Soviet Union. The first postcommunist parliament amended that document extensively. In February 1992, the Georgian National Congress (the alternate parliament elected in 1990) formally designated the Georgian constitution of February 21, 1921, as the effective constitution of Georgia. That declaration received legitimacy from the signatures of Jaba Ioseliani and Tengiz Kitovani, at that time two of the three members of the governing Military Council.
In February 1993, Shevardnadze called for extensive revisions of the 1921 constitution. Characterizing large sections of that document as wholly unacceptable, Shevardnadze proposed forming a constitutional commission to draft a new version by December 1993. According to Shevardnadze's timetable, the draft would be refined by parliament in the spring of 1994 and then submitted for approval by popular referendum in the fall of 1994.
Currently, the legal system of Georgia based on civil law system and the Constitution of Georgia provides for an independent judiciary; however, in practice the judiciary often does not exercise full independence, and judicial impartiality is limited. The judicial reform process, completed in 1999, resulted in the appointment of some better qualified judges; however, observers agreed that judicial authorities continued to experience pressure from the executive branch and powerful outside interests. Investigators routinely planted or fabricated evidence and extort confessions in direct violation of the Constitution. Judges were reluctant to exclude evidence obtained illegally if the Procuracy objected.
Other results of the judicial reform effort were inconclusive. Judicial incompetence and corruption, including the payment of bribes to judges, still was a problem. Although there were reports by several trial attorneys and local NGO's in Tbilisi that some cases were being handled in a more expeditious manner since reforms, progress outside of Tbilisi was not as marked. Observers commented that although judges were better educated, they are hindered by lack of practical experience. Human rights organizations point to judge's limited experience in case law as a contributing factor. Due to the Government's fiscal crisis, at times judges' salaries have gone unpaid up to 6 months, creating an incentive for corruption. Pressure from extensive family and political and economic interest groups was extensive, and bribery was common.
The law established a three-tier court system. At the lowest level are district courts, which hear routine criminal and civil cases. At the next level are regional ("city") courts of appeal, which serve as appellate courts for district courts. The regional courts also try major criminal and civil cases, review cases, and either confirm verdicts or return cases to the lower courts for retrial. The Supreme Court acts as a higher appellate court and remains the court of first instance for capital crimes and appeals from the Central Election Commission. Judges have enacted a judicial code of ethics; however, some observers have alleged that the Supreme Court's decisions are subject to political and other undue influences. In December the Supreme Court implemented a system of regional managing judges to monitor the performance of lower courts throughout the country.
A separate Constitutional Court arbitrates constitutional disputes between branches of government and rules on individual claims of human rights violations. The Court has interpreted this latter function narrowly, agreeing to rule only in cases in which the complainant alleged that the violation was sanctioned by law. The court only considers one case at a time. The Court's rulings have demonstrated judicial independence.
The Council of Justice administers the court system. The Council has 12 members, 4 selected from within each branch of government. The law establishes a three-part testing procedure for working and prospective judges administered by the Council. The testing procedure was designed to reduce judicial incompetence and corruption; according to observers, this process began during the year. In 1998 the Constitutional Court ruled that sitting judges could not be removed, thereby hampering the Government's attempts at judicial reform. The Parliament responded with a law stating that judges' terms would not be renewed beyond the end of the year if they did not take and pass the examination, thereby observing the decision of the Constitutional Court, yet forcing the judges to qualify themselves through examination. All judges take the exams.
A total of 5 examinations were administered by the end of 1999, and approximately 250 judges had passed. There are two exams given each year. In January 11 out of 173 judges passed. In December the Council of Justice reported that 13 out of 86 applicants passed the first round and 7 out of 13 passed the second round of examinations in January and December. At the district level, especially in extremely rural or mountainous regions, it has been difficult to find candidates who have passed the exam who are willing to fill these positions. Supreme Court judges are required to take the examination. In 2000 the President nominated and the Parliament ratified the appointment of 12 new Supreme Court Justices, 10 of whom passed the judicial exams, and 2 of whom were appointed pursuant to Article 20 of the law on the Supreme Court, which provides that "distinguished legal specialists" may be appointed.
Aside from the judicial system, law enforcement as a whole still has not undergone significant reform. Payment of bribes to policeman and Procuracy officials reportedly is common. The Procuracy is identified as part of the judicial system in the Constitution, and there were calls from legislators and others to move the Procuracy into the executive branch.
According to the Constitution, a detainee is presumed innocent and has the right to a public trial. A detainee has the right to demand immediate access to a lawyer and the right to refuse to make a statement in the absence of counsel. Officers must inform detainees of their rights and notify their families of their location as soon as possible. However, these rights are not observed fully in practice. Authorities frequently do not permit detainees to notify their families of their location, which is in violation of the June amendments to the criminal procedure code that specifically provide that if a witness so requests his lawyer can attend his questioning, who may in turn notify family members. However, local police authorities limited lawyers' access to detainees. Defense attorneys and family members often have difficulty obtaining permission to visit clients. Investigators seldom inform individuals of their rights. Lengthy trial delays were common. Defense counsel is not required to be present at pretrial hearings, and defendants and their attorneys regularly complained that they were not notified of scheduled hearings. Under the Criminal Procedures Code, the police are not obliged to allow a lawyer to enter a police station unless hired by a detainee. During the year, the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and National Minorities created a card listing a citizen's rights in case of arrest. The committee has distributed approximately 30,000 printed cards to students, NGO's, and visitors to the committee.
The Criminal Procedure Code adopted in 1999 significantly weakened many constitutional protections designed to circumscribe the powers of the Procuracy, increase the rights of defense attorneys, and enhance the independence of the judiciary. Prosecutors continued to direct investigations, supervise some judicial functions, and represent the state in trials. Prosecutors continued to wield disproportionate influence over judicial decisions. The Criminal Procedure Code prohibits the same judge who signed a warrant from hearing the case; however, this rule frequently was disregarded outside of Tbilisi since few regions have more than one judge.
In instances where defendants were unable to afford legal counsel, attorneys were assigned to a case upon the recommendation of the Procurator's Office by the Office of Legal Assistance, a part of the state-controlled Bar Association. In certain cases, defendants were pressured or coerced by procurators to accept a state-appointed attorney or other attorneys who do not vigorously defend their interests. However, in general individuals who could afford to pay were able to obtain the attorney of their choice in both criminal and civil cases. The Procuracy not only has control over state-appointed lawyers; it also determines whether to grant a defendant's request to change lawyers. However, several NGO's provided free legal services for those whose human rights were violated in Tbilisi. The quality of attorneys varies dramatically. In addition the licensing of forensic medical examiners does not ensure competence.
Prison conditions are inhumane and life threatening. Prison facilities are unsanitary, overcrowded, and understaffed, and are in desperate need of repair. Most prison facilities lack proper ventilation, plumbing, lighting, waste disposal, or sanitary medical facilities. Regional penitentiaries and pretrial detention facilities were without electricity for months. Guards and prison staff are not paid in a timely manner, if at all. According to human rights observers and government officials, the problem was exacerbated by the transfer of responsibility for prison administration to the Ministry of Justice before the Ministry was prepared to assume these responsibilities. Overcrowding has remained a major problem; however, some facilities, such as in Zugdidi, are at only 50 percent capacity, while Tbilisi facilities sometimes have 16 or more persons to a cell typically designed for 10 to 12 persons. During the year, 298 persons were pardoned compared to 777 pardoned in 2000. Abuse and extortion of prisoners and detainees by prison staff has continued.
During the year 2001, former Justice Minister Saakashvili attempted to address overcrowding in the country's prisons by accelerating the construction of a new prison facility in Rustavi near Tbilisi. Saakashvili implemented a program in which scrap metal from prison facilities was sold to finance construction of this facility. The new facility, which opened on September 5, holds 1200 prisoners and has larger cells and modern conveniences. While the new prison will help to alleviate overcrowding, conditions in other facilities have not significantly improved. During the year, Saakashvili fired some corrupt administrators, released some inmates to reduce overcrowding, and took steps toward creating a prison inspection system that would include NGO participation; however, Saakashvili resigned in September and in October was elected to parliament in a byelection.
Torture and physical abuse of prisoners is a problem and leads to deaths in custody.
The prison mortality rate reportedly is high; however, human rights NGO's claim that authorities have kept the official rates artificially low by releasing prisoners who were terminally ill or by sending prisoners to the hospital when they were dying. Observers claim that deaths of prisoners without families usually goes unreported. The OSCE noted an increase in the number of prison deaths in the first 3 months of 2000 after the transfer of authority to the Ministry of Justice; most deaths were attributed to illness, usually tuberculosis. During the year 2001, there were 27 registered deaths in prison, 9 of which were attributed to tuberculosis. According to the ICRC, tuberculosis is widespread in the prison system. The ICRC continued a joint program with authorities to reduce the incidence of tuberculosis. According to the ICRC, the incidence of tuberculosis is 200 times higher in detention facilities than the general public. In cooperation with the Ministry of Justice, the ICRC has treated nearly 1,300 infected prisoners since 1998, with a 70 to 75 percent cure rate.
Observers have reported an increase in violence among prisoners, sometimes resulting in deaths. The increase was attributed to the insufficient and demoralized guard staff. One observer stated that the failure to pay guard staff and the loss of promotion possibilities due to the penitentiary reform created a staffing problem. Some human rights groups claim that rape by inmates or prison guards is common.
Responsibility for the prisons was transferred from the Ministry of Internal Affairs to the Ministry of Justice in January 2000. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for overall administration of the prison system; however, the law permits MOI personnel to continue to staff the facilities. The MOI maintains several of its own cells in various prisons. Other legislation permits the MOI to conduct investigations without judicial approval among inmates to gather evidence for trials. Observers noted little change in prison conditions; however, advocates noted an improvement in access for family members and telephone privileges since the transfer.
Attempted suicides and self-mutilation were more frequent in prisons as conditions declined and human rights violations increased during the year 2001. There were several instances of prisoners sewing their mouths shut during hunger strikes to protest prison conditions and unfair trial practices. For example, in March Zviadist prisoners sewed their mouths shut during a hunger strike and appealed to the Parliament's Human Rights Committee Chairwoman Elene Tevdoradze and Rusudan Beridze, Deputy Secretary of the National Security Council. The prisoners later ended their strike.
A prisoner in Zugdidi began a hunger strike in early August claiming that local police had fabricated his case. His case was not reviewed, and he was denied medical treatment for nearly a month. Many hunger strikers are self-proclaimed political prisoners from the former Gamsakhurdia government, former National Guard, or former Mkhedrioni implicated for crimes committed during the civil war. The Ministry of Justice has no procedures for dealing with hunger strikers and leaves cases to the jurisdiction of prison authorities.
On August 14, 2001, a riot broke out in Tbilisi's Detention Facility 5 after an inmate took two hostages, demanded a meeting with then-Justice Minister Saakashvili, and demanded a live broadcast regarding mistreatment and prison conditions. According to press reports, the warden disarmed the inmate and restored order.
The ICRC had full access to detention facilities, including those in Abkhazia, and access included private meetings with detainees and regular visits. The OSCE reported bureaucratic delays but no serious problems in obtaining access to prisoners or detainees; however, local human rights groups reported increasing difficulty in visiting detainees, especially in cases with political overtones.
Violence against women is a problem. There are no laws that specifically criminalize spousal abuse or violence against women, although the Criminal Code, in force since June 2000, classifies marital rape and sexual coercion as crimes. According to a poll conducted in 1998 by the NGO Women for Democracy, younger women reported that spousal abuse occurs frequently but rarely is reported or punished because of social taboos against raising the problem outside of the family. Spousal abuse is reportedly one of the leading causes of divorce. Domestic violence continued to rise as economic conditions became more difficult. Police did not always investigate reports of rape. A local NGO operating a shelter for abused women and the Government established a hot line for abused women, but has provided no other services. There are anonymous telephone services that assist rape victims, but no shelters, specialized services, or other mechanisms to protect or assist them.
The kidnaping of women for marriage has continued to occur, especially in rural areas, although the practice continued to decline. Such kidnapings often are arranged elopements; however, at times these abductions occurred against the will of the intended bride, and sometimes involved rape. Police rarely took actions in such cases.
Prostitution is not a criminal offense, and trafficking in women for the purpose of prostitution is a problem. Police officers reportedly beat and raped prostitutes.
There was no societal pattern of abuse of children, but difficult economic conditions have broken up some families and increased the number of street children. It is estimated that there are more than 2,500 street children in Tbilisi due to the inability of orphanages and the Government to provide support. The private voluntary organization Child and Environment operates a shelter, and the Ministry of Education operates a second shelter; however, the two shelters can accommodate only a small number of the street children. Outside of Tbilisi, no such facilities exist. Street children often survive by turning to criminal activity, narcotics, and prostitution. Police increasingly harassed and abused street children with impunity. The Government took little other official action to assist street children.
The Isolator detention facility for street children in Gldani is overcrowded, and children frequently are abused by other children and guards. For example, in August 2000, the police detained an 11-year old boy in Tbilisi who was trying to sell a sheet of aluminum. After being taken to the juvenile detention center, police reportedly knocked out one of his teeth. He reported seeing other children being beaten. His parents were not notified, and he was not released until after his parents and neighbors held a protest.
The lack of resources has affected orphanages as well. Children have received inadequate food, clothing, education, and medical care; facilities lacked heat, water, and electricity. The staff is paid poorly, and wages were many months in arrears. The staff often diverts money and supplies provided to the orphanages for its own use. Orphan children in government institutions were not eligible for foreign adoption.
The Criminal Code states that child prostitution and pornography are punishable by imprisonment up to 3 years.
TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS
The law does not prohibit specifically trafficking in persons, although trafficking can be prosecuted under laws prohibiting slavery, forced labor, illegal detention, and fraud; the country is both a source and transit country for trafficked persons. It is not generally a final destination for trafficked persons.
Georgian women primarily are trafficked from the country to Turkey, Greece, Israel, and Western Europe to work in bars, restaurants, or as domestic help. Many work in the adult entertainment sector or as prostitutes. Men typically are trafficked to the same countries to perform construction work. There also was evidence that Russian and Ukrainian women have been trafficked through Georgia to Turkey, sometimes using fraudulently obtained Georgian passports. There have been reports of Russian and Ukrainian women being sent to beach resorts in the summer months to work as prostitutes. Trafficked persons often are lured by jobs abroad offered through tourism firms and the media; employment agencies falsely advertised jobs as au pairs, models, and housekeepers. For example, many of the women working in the adult entertainment sector as prostitutes are informed, or led to believe, that they actually would be employed as waitresses in bars and restaurants or as domestic help.
A government program for combating violence against women included a proposal for measures to eliminate trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation; however, it has not been implemented due to budgetary constraints.
There are no other government policies that address the problem of trafficking; however, there have been some prosecutions of traffickers. Prosecutors have used the fraud statutes in several trafficking cases.
There are no Government programs to help victims; however, there are several NGO's involved in combating trafficking and aiding its victims. In 2000 the NGO Women Aid Georgia received international funding and launched a widespread public information campaign to educate women about the dangers of trafficking. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) also works on trafficking issues in the country. Victims who had returned to the country reported problems resuming to normal life.
Although presently a secondary route for transiting narcotics, Georgia's geographic location as part of the emerging Eurasian transit corridor creates the potential for increased trafficking. Counternarcotics is a low priority for Georgia's corrupt and inefficient law enforcement agencies which focus their efforts on threats to political stability. The U.S. is currently providing training and equipment for Georgian Border Guards and Customs Service. Georgia became a signatory to the 1988 UN convention in August 1998 and works with the UN Drug Control Program (UNDCP).
At this time, Georgia is a secondary transit route for drug shipments from Central Asia to Europe. Its geographic location makes Georgia a key element of a Eurasian transit corridor, and thereby a potential major drug route. Local involvement in drug trafficking remains limited, but cigarette and alcohol smuggling are major criminal activities. Interdiction efforts are hampered by Georgia's lack of control of sections of its territory and all its borders, some of which are under separatist and/or Russian control. Recent training programs and equipment provided under a U.S. land border/law enforcement assistance program will enable Georgia to take over responsibility for its borders from the Russians. Border guards and Customs officials remain poorly paid and have been especially liable to corruption. Although Georgia is not a significant producer of narcotics or precursor chemicals, a small amount of marijuana is grown and it has the technical capacity to produce precursor chemicals.
Internet research assisted by Felicia J. Barker