Assessment of activities of the Human Rights Committee of the Parliament of Georgia in commemoration of International Human Rights Day
Celebrating International Human Rights Day annually, the entire world agrees that human rights are one of the values the protection of which is the obligation of the state. This agreement has been reached by the whole world once the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted on December 10, 1948.
The Parliament of Georgia, the highest representative body of the country, is the major authority responsible for the protection of human rights by the state, and the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee (hereinafter the Human Rights Committee) is directly committed to actively and proactively promote the protection of the human rights of all individuals in the country, both through legislation and government oversight. Therefore, the activities and achievements of the committee in terms of human rights protection deserve a separate assessment.
The Human Rights Committee enjoys broad powers in the field of human rights. Nevertheless, the steps actually taken in an effort to protect human rights by the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee in the previous convocation are alarmingly few:
- The Human Rights Committee, with exceptions, did not take part in the implementation of recommendations issued by the Public Defender to Parliament;
- The committee neither introduced legislative initiatives nor exercised other powers (summoning a minister/official, reviewing the activities of an administrative body, overseeing law enforcement, conducting a thematic investigation, etc.) to address the problems highlighted in the Ombudsman's recommendations;
- Despite the challenges in the country in terms of human rights violations, the committee has held only the mandatory minimum of sessions - two meetings per month - from the autumn of 2019 until today;
- In light of gross violations of human rights identified as a result of the dispersal of the protest rally in 2019 and 2020, the committee has not studied the practice of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in dispersing the protests, as well as the practice of granting the victim status to those injured during the dispersal;
- The Human Rights Committee did not hold sittings during the state of emergency, and since May 21, 2020, has never discussed whether the restrictions of human rights introduced by the government were reasonable or not;
- The annual reports submitted by the committee do not offer sufficient information on the committee’s activities performed for the protection of human rights.
In order to mark International Human Rights Day, each of the following analyses has been prepared by our organization regarding the activities of the Human Rights Committee of the Parliament of Georgia. We looked at the following aspects as the assessment criteria to determine to what extent the committee has been active and proactive: 1. The contribution of the committee to the implementation of the recommendations issued to the Parliament of Georgia by the Public Defender - a constitutional body monitoring the protection of human rights; 2. Activities conducted by the Human Rights Committee within the framework of the fall and spring session of 2019.
1. The contribution of the committee to the implementation of the recommendations issued by the Public Defender to the Parliament
During the whole performance of the previous Parliament - from 2016 to 2019 - the Public Defender issued a total of 154 recommendations to the Parliament of Georgia, of which 37 were fully implemented, 24 - partially, and 93 were not implemented at all.
The recommendations that the Parliament has fully or partially executed in almost all cases have been implemented without the participation of the committee, and, in the mere number of cases where the involvement of the committee was observed, it was only limited to the submission of a binding opinion of the committee or the participation of separate members of the committee as the co-authors of draft laws. The ombudsman's recommendations were implemented by Parliament mainly at the initiative of other committees or organized by the government or a specific group of MPs.
The Public Defender’s recommendations to the Parliament concerned mainly legislative amendments to be introduced, the establishment of an inquiry commission into high-profile cases, and setting up specific institutions. In essence, the recommendations strived to strengthen human rights at the legislative and institutional levels, both in the social, economic and cultural spheres, as well as in the areas of a fair trial, life, freedom of speech and expression, and the prohibition of ill-treatment.
The Human Rights Committee failed to participate in the implementation of important recommendations such as those provided by the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences suggesting the necessity to introduce a mandatory quota mechanism.
Despite numerous flawed investigations into high-profile criminal cases, the Human Rights Committee negatively assessed the ombudsman's recommendation requesting to allow the ombudsman's office access to the materials of ongoing investigations into specific types of crimes.
In terms of proactivity, it is noteworthy that the Human Rights Committee not only could submit legislative initiatives, but could also exercise a range of its powers, yet the committee failed to use them to address the issues raised in the ombudsman's recommendations. For instance, since 2019 the committee did not:
- Use the control mechanism for the implementation of normative acts to study individual legislative gaps;
- Conduct a thematic inquiry;
- Summon different accountable persons from the executive body and study issues mentioned in the recommendations of the Public Defender;
- Review specific problems posed in the recommendation by summoning the Minister.
Until 2018 and even now, the committee could study the activities of the administrative body in order to review and respond to the issues highlighted in the Public Defender's recommendations, however, the committee failed to do so.
The Human Rights Committee, like other parliamentary committees, publishes an annual report on the activities of the Committee. The current report of the committee does not provide information on the Human Rights Committee's contribution to the implementation of the ombudsman's recommendations to Parliament. Moreover, the reports do not explain why the Parliament did not accept the recommendations proposed by the Public Defender, which is the direct responsibility of the committee - it is granted a major role in protecting human rights in the country within the parliamentary mandate.
The small contribution by the Human Rights Committee in the field of human rights over the past four years has been exhibited in the following:
- The recommendation on legislative amendments to improve labor conditions, including the establishment of the labor inspectorate, was implemented through the efforts of the committee. Certain members of the committee were co-authors and the committee presented the relevant opinion on the bill. Several members of the Human Rights Committee were among the initiators of the draft bill as well.
- The committee was designated as the leading committee in implementing the legislative definition of sexual harassment and the imposition of sanctions.
2. Activities of the Human Rights Committee during the 2019 autumn and spring sessions
The Human Rights Committee remained dormant during the fall 2019 and 2020 spring sessions. The committee has neither actively nor proactively exercised its powers, which the committee could have employed to actively contribute to the protection of human rights in the country:
- Although most of the statements submitted by citizens to the Parliament during the last two sessions were related to human rights issues, the committee limited itself to holding only a mandatory minimum number of meetings.
- Despite multiple strong allegations of human rights abuses against the Interior Ministry during the June 2019 protest rallies, the Human Rights Committee neither summoned the minister nor studied the practice of dispersing the assemblies by using force.
- Although a number of victims injured by police during the dispersal of the rally were left without the victim’s status, and the Georgian Prosecutor's Office attributed the status to the provision of the law, the Human Rights Committee did not study the law concerning the victim’s status, which the committee could have done in order to strengthen the victims' procedural rights.
- The Human Rights Committee did not hold any sessions during the state of emergency declared in the spring of 2020; Since May 21, 2020, the committee has never discussed whether human rights constraints introduced by the government were reasonable.
“Democracy Index – Georgia” calls on the newly elected Human Rights Committee of the Parliament:
1. To actively exercise the broad powers and instruments granted to the committee by the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament to strengthen human rights situation at the legislative and institutional level and to exercise control over the protection of human rights by the executive government.
2. The Human Rights Committee shall publish an annual report on the implementation of the recommendations presented by the Public Defender to the Parliament covering the following issues:
- What specific steps did the committee take to implement the ombudsman's recommendations for the relevant year?
- What circumstances induced the Parliament to reject the recommendations – with regard to all declined recommendations, respectively.