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Georgia has come a long way, but more needs to be done – UN Special Rapporteur on torture

TBILISI (19 March 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, today praised the Government of Georgia’s positive accomplishments in the treatment of prisoners since the October 2012 parliamentary election. However, he cautioned, “there is still room for improvement and a need for anchoring.”

“The impact of measures adopted in this time period is visible and even quantifiable,” Mr. Méndez said at end of his official mission to the country, the first visit in ten years by an independent expert tasked by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on the use of torture and other cruel or inhuman treatment or punishment, and advise Governments worldwide.

“In less than three years, the Georgian authorities have managed not only to introduce extensive policy changes, but also to implement radical changes in the mentality of its staff throughout the entire chain of command,” he noted.

The human rights expert tried to include Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia during his eight-day visit, but the respective de facto authorities there did not grant him access from Georgia. However, he visited to both Eastern and Western Georgia, where he carried out unannounced calls to places of detention such as police stations, temporary detention isolators, pre-trial facilities and penitentiaries.

“Through numerous testimonies, I found convincing evidence that the use of corporal punishment and forced confessions has been effectively abolished,” Mr. Méndez said. “In addition to this, the Government has done away with overcrowding and, in turn, with many of its detrimental consequences by significantly diminishing its prison population, while investing in new and better prison infrastructure.”

Overall, the Special Rapporteur found acceptable cell conditions, adequate provision of food and medical care, and a reasonable access to phone calls with families. However, the independent expert identified important room for improvement in other areas.

“It strikes me that pre-trial prisoners - who ought to enjoy the presumption of innocence - are kept in cells for 23 hours per day and are not allowed to make phone calls nor receive family visits – sometimes for many months,” he said. “Also, their one hour access to unsatisfactory open areas is unnecessarily restrictive.”

While prisoners in semi-open and closed establishments enjoy the right to make phone calls and receive visits on regulated terms, Mr. Méndez recommended that frequency of such phone call and visits, respectively, be heightened. Additionally, he identified a general absence of meaningful work opportunities and activities offered to this group and expressed particular concern with regards to prisoner serving long and life sentences.

“In terms of medical attention,” he specified, “I am pleased to find that efforts are made to document physical and psychological trauma”. But, he also noted an overall lack of consistency in the documentation and recommended an enhanced effort to ensure compliance with international standards, as set out in the Istanbul Protocol for the effective investigation of torture and ill-treatment.

“Much more needs to be done to promote accountability for torture and ill-treatment, and fulfil the right of reparations for victims,” the Special Rapporteur underscored. “There have been significant prosecutions and convictions for the torture and abuse of the recent past, but a large legacy remains and hundreds of victims still demand an effective remedy.”

Mr. Méndez urged the authorities to consolidate the reforms of the past two years as State policy “to ensure there will never be a regression to the use of torture.” In his view, “this must be done by further legislation and policy directives, and especially through a firm commitment to breaking the cycle of impunity for torture.”

“I encourage the Government to include all relevant stakeholders in this process and take into account as many views and concerns as possible in the decision on how best to organize the institutional, procedural and jurisdictional resources to ensure accountability for torture and to prevent future mistreatment,” he stated.

During his information-gathering visit, the Special Rapporteur met with relevant authorities in the executive, the judiciary, parliamentary committee members, national human rights institutions, civil society, international and regional organizations and detainees.

The Special Rapporteur will present a country report with his observations and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in March 2016.

(*) Check the 2005 report on Georgia by the former Special Rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak: http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G05/160/45/PDF/G0516045.pdf?OpenElement

Mr. Juan E. Méndez (Argentina) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in November 2010. Mr. Méndez has dedicated his legal career to the defense of human rights, and has a long and distinguished record of advocacy throughout the Americas. He is currently a Professor of Law at the American University – Washington College of Law and Co-Chair of the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Torture/SRTorture/Pages/SRTortureIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Georgia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/GEIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests please contact: Sonia Cronin (+41 79 444 3993 / scronin@ohchr.org) or Petrine Leweson (+41 79 444 4078 / pleweson@ohchr.org) or write to sr-torture@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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