The U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission’s (SPC) Democracy and Governance Working Group met on May 18, 2018 in Washington to commend Georgia’s reforms to date and establish future goals with the aim of securing Georgia’s place as a stable, prosperous, and fully democratic member of the Euro-Atlantic community. The United States welcomed Georgia’s efforts to strengthen its democratic institutions, noting that healthy democracies include functioning checks and balances. Both sides affirmed the importance of political and media pluralism, democratic electoral processes, robust oversight of the security and law enforcement sectors, and judicial independence and accountability.
The United States emphasized that the freedom to participate in the political process is integral to democracy and long-term stability, and that a level playing field is essential to such participation. The sides also underscored how an open, diverse, and credible media environment creates opportunities for honest dialogue and deliberation, which are critical for representative and responsive democratic governance. Both sides agreed that further strengthening political and media pluralism in Georgia is fundamental to ensuring the ability of the citizens to hold their government accountable.
The sides agreed to prioritize reforms to strengthen parliamentary oversight over government ministries, in particular security services and law enforcement entities. The United States pledged its commitment to support such reforms. The United States highlighted the importance of accountability in cases involving alleged wrongdoing by security and law enforcement officials. The sides further agreed that non-governmental institutions play a key role in all democracies and can be partners in Parliament and the government’s reform efforts by providing expertise and oversight.
The United States commended Georgia on its Co-Chairmanship of the Open Government Partnership, noting that Georgia had assumed a leadership position in an international body with global reach. Georgia and the United States further agreed that the Open Government Partnership serves as a powerful tool to improve transparency and accountability, and encourages greater citizen engagement in government decision making and service delivery.
The United States and Georgia recognized the importance of continuing to advance civil service reform with the goal of establishing a professional civil service. Both sides noted positively the progress Georgia has achieved over the past year, including the enactment of a new law governing civil service salaries and the introduction of new rules and procedures governing the civil service. Both sides agreed to continue to advance these critical efforts.
The United States and Georgia also emphasized independence and accountability as critical to a strong, professional, and effective justice system. The United States encouraged Georgia to expeditiously adopt a “fourth wave” of judicial reform that would establish clearer rules of operation for the High Council of Justice while protecting the independence of judges; raise standards for transparency; clarify the criteria for selecting the best possible judges; and better define grounds for disciplinary action against judges.
The United States pledged its readiness to provide expertise and assistance to support the Georgian government’s initiative to adopt commercial chambers within the judicial system, which will enable greater transparency and efficiency in the handling of business-related cases. The United States also announced the appointment of the second Resident Legal Advisor to Georgia as a sign of its commitment to supporting the ongoing justice sector reforms.
The Georgian delegation was led by co-chairs First Deputy Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani and First Deputy Minister of Justice Alexander Baramidze, and included a broad interagency delegation. The U.S. delegation included USAID Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia Brock Bierman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Bridget Brink, and Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Christopher Robinson.
The Strategic Partnership Commission is the primary mechanism for organizing and prioritizing the broad and deepening cooperation between the United States and Georgia. The Commission includes four bilateral working groups on priority areas identified in the Charter on Strategic Partnership: democracy and governance; defense and security; economics, trade, and energy; and people-to-people and cultural exchanges.