Human Rights violations in the Republic of Georgia and the attitude of the international community

From many reports of international human rights organisations it is made clear that in the last eight years there were continuous violations of human rights in the Republic of Georgia. All basic human rights, as described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of December 10, 1948, were violated in a more or less serious degree.

The present population of the Republic of Georgia is estimated to be about 3,5 million people. More than a million Georgians live in exile. For the estimated 3,5 million Georgians who still live in their homeland, there is a police force of about 200.000 persons: one policeman or -woman for every 17,5 inhabitants. The members of this police force get a monthly salary from 200 and more lari (about US $ 100 and more), while the largest part of the population has an average monthly income of about 10-15 lari (US $ 5-8). It means that a relative big part of the state budget has to be spend to maintain this police force. For a country which has a foreign debt of about US $ 1.485 billion (as of October 1997), this is an enormous waste of money and makes clear that the present government does not feel too secure of its support among the population, in spite of election-results that try to show the opposite.
When we speak about human rights in the Republic of Georgia, then we have to make a division in different categories:

1. human rights in the social field.
According to the Universal Declaration everyone has the right to life (Article 3) and the right to a standard of living for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care [...] (Article 25).
When we look at the average income of the largest part of the population in the Republic of Georgia, compared with the costs of living, then we see that this income is far below the poverty line, as accepted by international standards. To buy the necessary food, to pay for housing, medical care and education, a minimum income of at least 200 lari (US $ 100) should be necessary.
The Republic of Georgia has received many loans from different organisations like IMF, World Bank and USAID, but it is unclear what has been done with this money. The national debt of the Republic of Georgia weighs heavy upon the population, especially because it has resulted in an enormous rise in prices.

2. human rights in the political field.
There are more than 100 political prisoners in the Republic of Georgia. Their cases have been manipulated and many prisoners were tortured to get illegal confessions. The articles 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11 and 12 of the Universal Declaration are continuously violated in the Republic of Georgia. According to Amnesty International in its 1999-Report about Georgia 'there were numerous reports of torture and ill-treatment in detention'. In the Ortachala-prison in Tbilisi three inmates have to share one bed, many prisoners are seriously ill without necessary medical treatment.

The Republic of Georgia strives to be a member of the European Union. The present government is presenting itself to the outside world as democratic, but the contrary is true. There is no freedom of press in the Republic of Georgia (Universal Declaration, Article 19) and the repression against the population is strong. One can be arbitrary arrested by police or special security forces, and nobody takes responsibility for these arrests.

Exhaustingly, all these facts, all these violations of human rights and many more have been described in numerous reports of various human rights organisations. I have visited the Republic of Georgia in 1997, 1998 and 2000, and I have been the witness of human rights violations myself. I even was almost arrested when I was an observer of a peaceful manifestation in the centre of Tbilisi on the 26th of May, 1997.

When we look at the number of reports that have been published about human rights violations in the Republic of Georgia, then we can suppose that these facts are wellknown in the internatioČ nal community. When human rights are violated anywhere in the world, then we see reactions from the international community. Some countries were punished by a boycot of trade, other countries were deprived of any international help, some countries were even invaded or bombed.

But in the case of the Republic of Georgia the international community remained deathly silent. After the coup d'Útat of 1991-92 and the great repression that followed many Georgians were forced to leave their country, but in various cases they were not recognised as political refugees according to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (28 July 1951) and the following Protocols (1967). Various governments simply did not believe, or refused to recognise, that the popular former minister of foreign affairs of the Soviet-Union, generally known in the West as a 'democrat' and 'advocate of perestrojka', had turned into a cruel violator of human rights in his homeland, the Republic of Georgia.

When heads of state are planning official visits to Beijing, then the human rights in the People's Republic of China are always on the agenda. Some countries are still boycotted for their real or supposed violations of human rights, but apparantly for the Republic of Georgia the international community handles a different standard. In July 1999 the IMF agreed to a new loan to the Republic of Georgia of US $ 115 million. The only condition was that the 1999 state budget should be cut by 16 million lari.

Also in July 1999 the Turkish military offered $ 3.7 million to assist the Georgian Defense Ministry and border guards. In June 1999 they already gave $ 1.7 million and in 1998 $ 5.5 million for the same purpose. In these deals nobody spoke about human rights or violations, although we also cannot say that Turkey is a great defender of human rights itself.

At the 6 October 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva was announced that the Republic of Georgia has fulfilled all preconditions and that the WTO favours the Georgian membership in the international organisation.

On the 8th of November 1999 the head of the Roman Catholic church, pope John Paul II, meets Shevardnadze in Tbilisi. Of course they did not speak about human right in the Republic of Georgia.

The United States of America are promoting themselves as the defenders of human rights all over the world. Still Clinton and Shevardnadze have good relations, and not once has Clinton openly spoken about violations of human rights in the Republic of Georgia. We also did not hear such kind of remarks from the European Union or from any other part of the world. There is an enormous gap between the theory of human rights on one side, and the condemnation of violations of human rights on the other side. When we look at the international policy of condemnation of violations of human rights in different countries in the world, then it is clear that these condemnations depend on economic profits or the strategic position of a country.

For example, it is wellknown that in Karimov's Uzbekistan all human rights are seriously violated. However this did not restrain multinationals like Mercedes, Coca Cola and Daewoo to establish large production plants in Uzbekistan, because as a result of Karimov's dictatorship labour peace is guaranteed.

In the geopolitical situation in the Transcaucasus Georgia is a wanted partner of the Western world. The fate of the Republic of Georgia is that it has a strategic position in the world, especially when we speak about Caspian oil and gas from TurkmeČ nistan. But also the present situation in the Russian Federation urges the Western world to have closer ties with the Republic of Georgia as a buffer between Russia and the West, between Islamic fundamentalism from Iran and Turkey and the West and as a spring-board for future military sanctions against those countries that really or supposedly are violating human rights. Still the United States of America have the last word in this issue and their policies towards different countries in the world are paraphrased in George Orwell's classic words: 'All countries are equal, but some are more equal than others'. And which equality possesses the Republic of Georgia is obscured by the interests of 'higher politics'. But this is no guarantee for something as basically as human rights...

Bas van der Plas,
general-secretary Netherlands Helsinki Union.
Text written for the conference Batumi 2000.