June 30, 1999

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL BULLETIN "CONCERNS IN EUROPE"

GEORGIA

Allegations Of Ill-treatment In Detention (update to information in AI Index: EUR 56/02/98 and EUR 01/01/99)

Issues of alleged ill-treatment remained topical during the period under review. In January the General Procurator's Office is said to have reported that during the previous year 700 employees of the law enforcement agencies were disciplined for violations, and that 14 criminal cases had been initiated against police officers for beating detainees under investigation. Unofficial sources have continued to complain, however, that often the prosecution refuses to initiate proceedings, or if they do then such proceedings rarely result in the cases being brought to trial. Giorgi Shiukashvili, for example, alleges that following his arrest in January 1998 on suspicion of stealing wheels he was severely beaten over a period of 15 days in Gldani district police station, Tbilisi, until he signed a confession to that and several other crimes he did not commit. He was then transferred to an investigation prison and was reportedly virtually unable to move for the first two weeks, a condition observed by 18 other detainees in his cell. When his case came to trial in January this year Giorgi Shiukashvili was acquitted and released from custody in the courtroom, reportedly in part because of the allegations of torture. Although a criminal case was said to have been opened against two police officers for physically assaulting him, relatives allege that there have been no vigorous efforts to pursue the prosecution of the officers concerned. They further allege that Giorgi Shiukashvili was briefly detained on 25 May at Mtatsminda district police station, and that an officer there threatened to force him out of Tbilisi unless "he stopped fighting against the police".

On 21 September 1998 three members of the Liberty Institute, a non-governmental organization involved in human rights monitoring, were reportedly beaten in Tbilisi by members of the Special Police Unit (SPU) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Two, journalists named Gogi Kavtaradze and Kote Vardzelashvili, were said to have been physically assaulted, verbally abused and threatened with rape while being transported in an SPU van to Chugureti District Police Station. At the station Kote Vardzelashvili is said to have been assaulted again by the head of the SPU. A third colleague, Sandro Zhuruli, is said to have been beaten by SPU officers after he arrived at the police station seeking information on those detained. Members of the Liberty Institute complained to the prosecutor's office, but no prosecutions were forthcoming as two police officers said to have been in the van denied the allegations. On 10 November 1998 the same SPU head was said to have involved in the beating of another journalist, Aleko Tskitishvili, in front of several bystanders after the reporter tried to enter the Supreme Court building where a major political trial was concluding. In February it was reported that the Mtatsminda district procurator's office had concluded their investigation into the allegations in this case, and that no criminal charges would be brought against the SPU head owing to a lack of evidence.

Among the further allegations of ill-treatment received during the period under review was that six men detained in connection with a robbery near Kutaisi had been ill-treated in police custody in order to obtain confessions. "Political prisoners for Human Rights", a non-governmental (NGO) organization investigating the allegations, named five of the men as Temur Khaburzania, Ramaz Khantadze, Kvantaliani, Giorgadze, Lipartiani (first names of the last three are not known). According to the NGO, on the evening of 24 January 1999 a man was robbed near Kutaisi. He reported the incident to the regional police department of Kutaisi and shortly afterwards policemen from this department, along with colleagues from Tskhaltubo, detained two groups of three men and brought them to the Kutaisi regional police station. When the NGO, alerted by the lawyer of one of the men, arrived in Tskhaltubo on 28 January, two of the men, Ramaz Khantadze and Temur Khaburzania had been released by the court there. They had swellings around their eyes and blood on their clothes and appeared to have been beaten.

In an interview with a correspondent from the newspaper Resonance, Ramaz Khantadze reported that while in custody police officers slapped him in the face, causing his nose to bleed, and beat him in the ribs and shins. He claimed that the investigating officer dictated a confession to him. Temur Khaburzania reported that he had been beaten by police officers in order to force him to confess to the robbery.

The NGO asked to see at least one of the other men still detained. Kvantaliani emerged, but was completely covered up, wearing a hat and scarf and long sleeves. He refused to stay to speak to the NGO representative or his lawyer, although in an earlier interview with his lawyer he had stated that he had been brutally beaten on the legs and feet by a named police officer and had displayed wounds on his legs consistent with this allegation. The police claimed that none of the detainees wished to speak to the NGO or their lawyers. The police deny that any ill-treatment took place, claiming that the men's injuries were caused in a fight among themselves which took place prior to the robbery.

Three men complained to Elene Tevdoradze, of the parliamentary Commission on Human Rights, about alleged ill-treatment in March while held at investigation-isolation prison No. 5 in Tbilisi. On 11 May she met with one of them, Adin Musayev, while he was in the republican hospital. He alleged that over two nights around 20 to 24 March law enforcement officials beat him, placed a gas mask over his head and turned the air supply off, subjected him to electric shocks and finally threatened him with rape using a bottle and filmed him in this position.

Failure To Implement Law On Civilian Alternative To Military Service (update to information in AI Index: EUR 01/01/99)

Amnesty International again approached the Georgian authorities about their failure to implement the law on alternative service, which should have come into force from 1 January 1998. It is reported, for example, the Georgian authorities have yet to establish any decision-making procedures for applying the civilian alternative to compulsory military service. Amnesty International also expressed concern about other aspects of the law itself, which appear not to conform to recommendations by international bodies of which Georgia is a member. The organization understands, for example, that the new legislation does not make absolutely clear that any alternative service should be completely civilian in nature and separate from military structures. In Chapter 3, Article 18, for example, the law stipulates that "after demobilization from alternative non-military labour service citizens are enlisted in the reserve until 50 years of age", suggesting that they may be liable to subsequent mobilization within the military.

Amnesty International also understands that although the law provides for the possibility for those performing alternative service to transfer to military service, there is no corresponding provision for those performing military service to transfer to an alternative civilian one (for example should they develop a conscientious objection following conscription).

In addition the organization is concerned that the length of alternative labour service, at 36 months, is a year longer than the 24 months set for compulsory military service - the law already stipulates that "the nature of the alternative non-military labour service must conform with the difficulties of the general military service" (Chapter 1, Article 2). Amnesty International sought clarification on the reasons why alternative labour service is 12 months longer, including what measures were taken to ensure that this length is not punitive.

Fair Trial Concerns - Guram Absandze

Amnesty International approached the Georgian authorities about the case of Guram Absandze, a minister in the government of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who was forcibly returned to Georgia from Russia on 19 March 1998 (the organization had opposed his return, see AI Index: EUR 01/02/98, Russia entry). The charges against him reportedly include embezzlement, relating to his previous term as a minister in the Gamsakhurdia government, as well as treason and banditry in connection with the attempted assassination of President Eduard Shevardnadze on 9 February 1998 and events in the west of Georgia in 1992 and 1993.

During the period under review the prosecution completed the case against Guram Absandze, and 12 co-defendants, and passed a reported 71 volumes of material on the case to the Supreme Court on 14 May 1999 for a trial date to be set. However, Guram Absandze's defence lawyer claimed that he and his client had time to review properly only 10 of those 71 volumes before the expiry of a time limit of 12 April. The lawyer, Malykhaz Dzhangirashvili, also alleged that his requests for an extension of the time limit were turned down three times, and that on 4 May he was excluded from taking a further part in the investigation by the official heading it.

Amnesty International sought further information on these allegations, and on what mechanisms for appeal may exist for the defendants if convicted given that the case was set to be heard by the Supreme Court of Georgia as court of first instance.

Concerns In The Disputed Region of Abkhazia

Detention Of The Crew Of The Alioni

On 3 or 4 April the crew of a Georgian fishing boat named Alioni, from the port of Poti, were detained by Abkhazian border guards for allegedly "violating the sea border of Abkhazia", and taken to Sukhumi. The only female member, Nato Kvirkvelia, was released on or around 15 April, but the remaining nine crew members were still in detention at the end of the period under review. According to reports received by Amnesty International, the captain and the chief mechanic of the Alioni were to be charged with illegally entering Abkhazian waters, and the remaining crew with fishing illegally in a conservation area. It was unclear, however, when and what formal charges were laid, if any. Moreover, officials from the Abkhazian side were quoted as saying that the crew members could be released without any further legal proceedings, in exchange for four Abkhazian civilians said to have been captured in the Gali region by Georgian irregular armed forces.

In approaching the Abkhazians, Amnesty International sought further details on what provisions had been made to ensure that the men detained had been informed promptly and in a language which they understood of the nature and cause of the charges against them, and whether they had been granted access to a defence lawyer of their own choice. The organization's main concern, however, was that if the nine crew members were indeed being held without formal charge, with their release conditional on an exchange for others, then in effect they were being held in the capacity of hostages. International standards prohibit the taking or holding of hostages in all circumstances.

Alleged Ill-treatment

During the period under review Amnesty International also raised several cases in which it was alleged that Abkhazian forces had been involved in the ill-treatment, robbery or deaths of ethnic Georgians. The organization stressed it was aware that many reports on events from the Gali district, for example, could be extremely polarized, and welcomed any assessment or clarification of these events from the Abkhaz side including, if the reports were accurate, what steps were being taken to ensure comprehensive and impartial investigations, with the results made public and those responsible brought to justice.

Allegations received included the following. Two Georgian families, that of Revaz Djakhia in the village of Saberio and that of Djaniko Markhulia in Parto Nokhori, Gali district, were said to have been robbed and beaten on 7 January by Abkhazian gunmen. At around the same time the residents of Charcha village reported that they were threatened with deportation unless they provided regular food and a monthly payment to Abkhazian forces. On 6 May 1999 it was reported that Abkhaz forces had arrested brothers Mamuka and Manuchar Darsania, who had travelled from Zugdidi to the village of Mziuri in the Gali district, as well as two other men related to them who were named as Omar Gvagvalia and Raul Badzaghua. The four men were said to have been taken to Sukhumi remand prison, where Mamuka Darsania was reportedly ill-treated during questioning about his alleged involvement with Georgian irregular armed forces.

Activities Of Georgian Irregular Forces
(update to information in AI Index: EUR 56/02/98)

During the period under review Amnesty International again approached the Georgian authorities about concerns relating to the activity of illegal Georgian armed formations in and around Abkhazia.

Such formations are said to have been responsible for the abduction of Abkhazian service personnel and civilians, and for holding them as hostages. For example it was reported that the bodies of three Abkhazian civilians named as Eduard, Shota and Arutan Gvaramia were said to have been found on 18 January this year. The three men, from the village of Bedia in Tqvarcheli district, were said to have been taken hostage in December 1998 in the village of Churburkhinji, Gali district. The Abkhazian authorities claimed Georgian illegal armed groups were responsible, and that at that time three Abkhazian servicemen from the Gali Commandant's Office were still being held as hostages by such groups. There were also reports of four Abkhazian civilians said to have been abducted by Georgian illegal armed groups in the Gali district and to be held by them as hostages in Georgian-controlled territory, whose release the Abkhazians were reportedly seeking in exchange for the crew of the fishing vessel Alioni (see above). The Abkhazian side further alleged that the details of these four men are known to the Georgian State Commission for Prisoner Exchanges, who had proposed their exchange for three ethnic Georgians sentenced to 13 years' imprisonment in Abkhazia.

Amnesty International is aware that the Georgian authorities have repeatedly denied any links with or support, financial or otherwise, to illegal armed groups. The organization is also aware of the difficulties in identifying members of semi-clandestine, illegal armed formations, and many measures being taken may, for security reasons, remain secret. However, beyond a simple denial of any connections between the government and armed formations, Amnesty International has received no indication of substantive measures being taken to investigate the alleged complicity of some of those in authority in Georgia in the arming and operation of these groups, or of concrete steps being taken to apprehend known individuals who have claimed involvement. The organization has again urged that all appropriate steps be taken to ensure that anyone within Georgian jurisdiction responsible for human rights abuses in Abkhazia is apprehended and brought to justice.

The Return Of The Civilian Population
(update to information in AI Index: EUR 56/02/98)

The security situation remained tense, in part as a result of the activities of irregular armed groups - including mine laying - and of general lawlessness. On 1 March the Abkhazian side unilaterally began implementation of a refugee return programme to the Gali district, but this was regarded with reservations by the international community and the Georgian side owing to the perceived lack of guarantees for the safety and security of the returnees. In a statement on 7 May, the United Nations Security Council demanded that both sides put a stop to the activities of armed groups and establish a climate of confidence allowing refugees and displaced persons to return. The Council reaffirmed the imprescriptible right of all refugees and displaced persons affected by the conflict to return to their homes in secure conditions.

Ratifications:

On 22 March 1999 Georgia acceded to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aimed at abolition of the death penalty

On 17 June Georgia signed Protocol Six of the European Convention on Human Rights, which outlaws the death penalty.