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Harsh sentencing, prosecutor’s role and low acquittal rate raise concerns about arbitrary detention in Georgia

TBILISI (24 June 2011) – The United Nations 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 independence of the judiciary was also questioned by the group of independent experts, particularly in relation to plea bargains, at the end of its ten-day mission to the country.

“The fact that about 90% of cases that go through the court resort to plea bargain arrangements with minimal intervention from judges is alarming,” said El Hadji Malick Sow, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group. “The principle of equality of arms between the prosecution and defence is a fundamental pre-requisite of a fair trial. Various parties interviewed, including lawyers, held the view that judgments often favour the prosecution over the defence.”

Mr. Sow also pointed to the 0.1% acquittal rate in Georgia: “The extremely low rate of acquittal in Georgia means that a majority of defendants who go through regular procedures often find themselves in detention,” he said.

According to the expert panel, prisoners that were interviewed strongly believed that a plea bargain was their only option as there would be minimal chances of getting an acquittal. 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 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 noted.

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.

In relation to information received regarding recent protests, the Working Group urged the Government to ensure that the rights of its citizens to freedom of expression, association and assembly were rigorously protected.

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.

During its mission, the Working Group met with high level authorities from the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of the State. Meetings were also held with representatives of the bar association, civil society members and representatives of UN agencies and international organizations.

A final report on the visit shall be presented to the Human Rights Council in 2012.

The former Commission on Human Rights established the five-member Working Group in 1991 to investigate allegations of arbitrary deprivation of liberty. Its mandate was extended in 1997 to cover the issue of administrative custody of immigrants and asylum-seekers.

(*) The Chair-Rapporteur is Mr. El Hadji Malick Sow (Senegal). The other members are Mr. Mads Andenas (Norway); Ms. Shaheen Sardar Ali (Pakistan); Mr. Roberto Garretón (Chile) and Mr. Vladimir Tochilovsky (Ukraine).

Learn more on the mandate and activities of the Working Group at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/detention/index.htm

OHCHR Country Page – Georgia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/GEIndex.aspx 

For more information and media requests, please contact Mr. Miguel de la Lama, Secretary of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (Tel. +41 79 444 71 52 / email: mdelalama@ohchr.org) or write to wgad@ohchr.org.

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