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Executive Summary

The constitution provides for an executive branch that reports to the prime minister, a unicameral parliament, and a separate judiciary. The government is accountable to parliament. The president is the head of state and commander in chief. Under the constitution that came into force after December 2018, future presidents are not to be elected by popular vote. Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers described the first round of the October 2018 presidential elections as competitive and professionally administered but raised concerns, including the lack of a level playing field, voter intimidation, and fear of retribution. OSCE observers repeated these concerns after the second round in November 2018 and assessed that candidates “were able to campaign in a free environment; however, one side enjoyed an undue advantage and the negative character of the campaign on both sides undermined the process.” OSCE observers termed the 2016 parliamentary elections competitive and administered in a manner that respected the rights of candidates and voters but stated that the campaign atmosphere was affected by allegations of unlawful campaigning and incidents of violence. They noted election commissions and courts often did not respect the principle of transparency and the right to effective redress between the first and second rounds, which weakened confidence in the election administration.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Security Service of Georgia (SSSG) have primary responsibility for law enforcement and the maintenance of public order. The ministry is the primary law enforcement organization and includes the national police force, the border security force, and the Georgian Coast Guard. The SSSG is the internal intelligence service responsible for counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and anticorruption efforts. There were indications that at times civilian authorities did not maintain effective control of domestic security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary deprivation of life by Russian and de facto authorities in the Russian-occupied Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, including unlawful or arbitrary killing in Abkhazia; arbitrary detentions by the government and Russian and de facto authorities; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary and investigations and prosecutions widely considered to be politically motivated; unlawful interference with privacy; inappropriate police force against journalists; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly, including inappropriate police force against protesters; and crimes involving violence or threats targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

The government took steps to investigate some allegations of human rights abuses, but shortcomings remained, including a lack of accountability for the inappropriate police force used against journalists and protesters during June 20-21 demonstrations and the 2017 abduction and rendition from Georgia of Azerbaijani journalist and activist Afgan Mukhtarli.

De facto authorities in the Russian-occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remained outside central government control and were supported by Russian forces. A 2008 ceasefire remained in effect. Russian border guards restricted the movement of local populations. While there was little official information on the human rights and humanitarian situation in South Ossetia due to limited access, allegations of abuse persisted.

De facto authorities in the Russian-occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia restricted the rights, especially of ethnic Georgians, to vote or otherwise participate in the political process, own property, register businesses, and travel. De facto South Ossetian authorities refused to permit most ethnic Georgians driven out by the 2008 conflict to return to South Ossetia. De facto authorities did not allow most international organizations regular access to South Ossetia to provide humanitarian assistance. Russian “borderization” of the administrative boundary lines (ABLs) increased, separating residents from their communities and livelihoods.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for officials convicted of corruption. While the government implemented the law effectively against low-level corruption, NGOs cited weak checks and balances and a lack of independence of law enforcement agencies as among the factors contributing to allegations of high-level corruption. NGOs assessed there were no effective mechanisms for preventing corruption in state-owned enterprises and independent regulatory bodies. While noting that petty bribery was extremely rare, Transparency International continued to describe corruption as a “serious problem” in the country. The Anticorruption Coordination Council included government officials, legal professionals, business representatives, civil society, and international organizations. On October 3, the minister of justice announced the government had approved its 2019-21 anticorruption strategy.

Corruption: In January, Transparency International described the country’s progress on anticorruption as stalled and noted that authorities had failed to establish independent agencies to investigate cases of alleged corruption and misconduct in the government. In March the OECD reported that the country had made progress in 16 areas, which included implementing its anticorruption action plan and policy coordination. Transparency International continued to describe the country as “vulnerable to high-level corruption,” however, and the OECD reported this required the “urgent attention” of authorities. In June, Transparency International stated that although there was no improvement in government actions to combat high-level corruption, the government was maintaining the fight against petty corruption.

During the pre-election period in 2018, several sets of audio recordings were released purporting to implicate current and former government officials in alleged corruption, torture, and abuse of power. Various parties questioned their authenticity. In one set, former PGO official Mirza Subeliani described himself as the government’s chief “fixer” in the Khorava Street murder case and claimed to have resorted to violence to force witness testimonies in this case and to have employed torture to coerce witness testimony in several other cases. On March 4, the Tbilisi City Court convicted Subeliani of concealing a crime and sentenced him to 13 months in jail, including pretrial detention; he was released on July 8. In another case the head of the Omega Group, a large conglomerate including Iberia TV, alleged that current and former high-level officials had demanded bribes and engaged in violent racketeering, to include the physical abuse of a former minister. As of October the investigation into Omega continued.

As of the end of October, 60 current or former public servants had been convicted of corruption since the beginning of the year.

In July 2018 authorities questioned the former ministers of infrastructure and economy in connection with a high-profile corruption case. Some observers considered the investigations politically motivated; the investigations continued as of December. Although the law restricts gifts to public officials to a maximum of 5 percent of their annual salary, a loophole allowing unlimited gifts to public officials from their family members continued to be a source of concern for corruption watchers. As of October 25, the Anticorruption Agency of the SSSG had detained 13 public servants at the local and central levels for taking bribes. NGOs continued to call for an independent anticorruption agency outside the authority of the SSSG, alleging its officials were abusing its functions.

On July 24, the PGO charged TBC Bank cofounders Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze with laundering money in 2008. At that time TBC Bank issued a $16.7 million loan to Avtandil Tsereteli’s companies Samgori Trade and Samgori M. Within seconds of receiving the loan, the companies transferred the same amount to Khazaradze and Japaridze. According to the PGO, TBC Bank released Tsereteli’s companies from financial liabilities in 2012 despite their failure to repay the loans. On August 22, the PGO charged Avtandil Tsereteli with providing support to Khazaradze and Japaridze in the alleged money-laundering scheme. A group of 20 NGOs, including Transparency International/Georgia, the Open Society Fund Georgia, the Atlantic Council of Georgia, and the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, considered the charges against all three men to be politically motivated. In a March interview with Imedi TV, for example, Georgian Dream Party Chair Bidzina Ivanishvili accused Khazaradze of directing an assault against the government. The PGO’s July 24 charges came just weeks after Khazaradze’s July 9 announcement of his intent to establish a civil movement. Khazaradze established the political movement, “Lelo,” and on December 22, launched the movement as a political party. Tsereteli’s son was the owner of TV Pirveli–an independent media outlet that accused the government of attempting to interfere with its operations (see section 2.a.). On October 10, the trial of Khazaradze and Japaridze began and continued as of December.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to submit annual declarations of their income and property for tax inspection; these were posted online. Declarations were not subject to verification, and Transparency International estimated that 16 members of parliament had undeclared assets as of November 2018. The Civil Service Bureau received annual financial declarations from public officials and published them in mid-January.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Domestic and international human rights groups in most instances operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Following what NDI described as “aggressive, personalized, and unprecedented attacks by senior state officials against…civil society organizations and their leaders” in advance of the 2018 presidential election, tensions between the government and leading NGOs continued during the year. NGOs continued to highlight what appeared to be coordinated online attacks from accounts repeating the government’s accusations against them, in particular that civil society was associated with the opposition UNM Party. On November 27, Georgian Dream Party chair Bidzina Ivanishvili accused the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute of political bias in favor of the UNM and criticized the public opinion polls they published.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: While there was little official information on the human rights and humanitarian situation in the Russian-occupied regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia due to limited access, allegations of abuse persisted. In March the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution expressing regret at the refusal of the de facto authorities in the occupied territories to grant unimpeded access to staff members of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and international and regional human rights mechanisms to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In June 2018 the OHCHR reported that de facto authorities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia had not granted them access, despite repeated requests since 2011. The OHCHR stated that the lack of access raised legitimate questions and concerns regarding the human rights of the populations in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Government Human Rights Bodies: NGOs viewed the PDO, which has a mandate to monitor human rights and investigate allegations of abuse and discrimination, as the most objective of the government’s human rights bodies. The amended constitution that came into force in December 2018 limits the public defender to one six-year term in office.

The PDO’s authority does not include the power to initiate prosecutions or other legal actions, but the office may recommend action, and the government must respond. While the office generally operated without government interference and was considered effective, the PDO reported that government offices at times responded partially or not at all to inquiries and recommendations, despite a requirement to respond to information requests within 10 days and initiate follow-up action within 20 days.

The PDO retains the right to make nonbinding recommendations to law enforcement agencies to investigate individual human rights cases. The office must submit an annual report on the human rights situation for the calendar year but may also make periodic reports. The office may not report allegations of torture unless the victim gives clear consent or a monitor from the office witnessed the torture.

In April the prime minister relaunched Georgia’s Human Rights Council, a national coordinating mechanism intended to monitor implementation of the national human rights strategy. The council, which had not met since 2015, brought together government officials at the highest level.

By law the PGO is responsible for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The human rights unit of the PGO monitored overall prosecution and supervised compliance with national and international human rights obligations and standards. The unit reviews statistical and analytical activities within the prosecution system and is responsible for examining and responding to recommendations of national and international institutions involving human rights.

The PGO is required to investigate high-profile cases and other criminal offenses. The office may take control of any investigation if it determines doing so is in the best interest of justice (e.g., in cases of conflict of interest and police abuse cases). In certain politically sensitive cases investigated by the PGO–including the case of Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli and instances of political violence–impunity remained a problem. During the year local NGOs expressed alarm regarding what they considered an increased number of politically motivated investigations and prosecutions (see section 1.e.).

In the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Human Rights Department is in charge of ensuring prompt response and quality of investigation of domestic violence, hate crime, violence against women, human trafficking, crimes committed by or toward minors, and crimes based on discrimination. The ministry’s General Inspection Department investigates cases of human rights abuses by police officers. The PGO’s human rights unit has a mandate to monitor and investigate allegations of abuse and discrimination.

The PGO continued training prosecutors on proper standards for prosecuting cases of alleged mistreatment by public officials.

The effectiveness of government mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse by law enforcement officials and security forces was limited, and domestic and international concern regarding impunity remained high. In July 2018 parliament passed a law establishing an institutionally independent State Inspectorate charged with investigating alleged misconduct by government officials, including in law enforcement. The inspectorate’s mandate entered into force on November 1.

The Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM), which was designed to cover Abkhazia and South Ossetia and includes security actors from the government, Russia, and de facto authorities of the Russian-occupied regions, considered human rights abuses reported in the occupied territories and along the administrative boundary line. Due to a dispute regarding agenda items, however, the IPRM meetings in Gali (Abkhazia) have been suspended since June 2018. Regular IPRM meetings in Ergneti (South Ossetia) have also been suspended, although ad hoc, “technical” meetings continued to take place. In August, South Ossetian participants walked out of an IPRM meeting. De facto authorities in the occupied territories did not grant representatives of the PDO access. The government of Georgia fully supported and participated actively in IPRM meetings.

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