Citing excessive detention in Georgia, UN experts urge reform

Citing excessive detention in Georgia, UN experts urge reform

A group of independent United Nations human rights experts has urged Georgian authorities to tackle problems in the country’s judiciary, warning of harsh sentences, a lack of bail and what they called an excessive use of detention.

“The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention urged the Government of Georgia to address problems such as the excessive use of detention in court cases, the use of harsh sentences as punishments, the diminished rights of persons charged with administrative offences and the non-existent use of bail,” the UN office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a press statement.

“The independence of the judiciary was also questioned by the group of independent experts, particularly in relation to plea bargains, at the end of its 10-day mission to the country,” the agency said.

El Hadji Malick Sow, Chair-Rapporteur of the group, cited reports of a 0.1 per cent acquittal rate in Georgia, and said “The extremely low rate of acquittal in Georgia means that a majority of defendants who go through regular procedures often find themselves in detention.”

Prisoners voiced their lack of trust in the judicial system fearing that if they did not concede to a guilty plea, they would end up with an excessively harsh sentence, the agency said.

“The lack of use of bail and the strict zero tolerance policy of the Government contributed to Georgia having one of the world’s largest prison population and alternative measures of detention must be used, particularly in cases where it is clearly justifiable to do so,” Mr. Sow said.

However, the independent expert commended the Government for “the many positive reforms it has initiated in recent years and encouraged effective implementation to further protect against arbitrary deprivation of liberty,” OHCHR stated.

The expert panel visited 11 prisons and other detention facilities in Tbilisi, Batumi and Kutaisi and interviewed in private 158 detainees.

“The working group had hoped to have the opportunity to also visit the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but due to particular circumstances outside its control, this could not be possible,” OHCHR said.

A report from the panel will be presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva next year.