August 11, 2004: Headlines: COS - Georgia: NGO's: Eurasia Net: RPCV John Mackedon says Georgia's Rose Revolution is going through a turbulent period

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Georgia: Peace Corps Georgia : The Peace Corps in Georgia: August 11, 2004: Headlines: COS - Georgia: NGO's: Eurasia Net: RPCV John Mackedon says Georgia's Rose Revolution is going through a turbulent period

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RPCV John Mackedon says Georgia's Rose Revolution is going through a turbulent period

RPCV John Mackedon says Georgia's Rose Revolution is going through a turbulent period

RPCV John Mackedon says Georgia's Rose Revolution is going through a turbulent period

John Mackedon: 8/11/04

Georgia's Rose Revolution is going through a turbulent period. President Mikheil Saakashvili's efforts to restore Georgia's territorial integrity have caused tension to rise in the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. At the same time, discontent over Saakashvili's governing style is building in Tbilisi.

International attention is focused on how Saakashvili handles the challenges presented by South Ossetia and Abkhazia. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

Less publicized, though no less important for Georgia's democratization process, is Saakashvili's approach to domestic political dilemmas. While trying to reestablish Tbilisi's authority in separatist regions, Saakashvili is simultaneously waging a vigorous domestic struggle to stamp out corruption and firmly establish the rule of law. In pursuing those lofty goals, however, critics contend that the president is using authoritarian means.

Representatives of Georgia's non-governmental sector are among the most vocal critics of Saakashvili's domestic practices - an ironic twist given that Saakashvili relied heavily on the NGO sector in his successful drive to force former president Eduard Shevardnadze from power last November. A significant number of top officials now serving in Saakashvili's administration were prominent civil society actors during the Shevardnadze era. The presence of such officials in government, however, has not been able to squelch the concern over the administration's actions.

An open letter issued in early July by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) to Javier Solana, a top European Union official, expressed concern about a "gap" in the Saakashvili administration's statements on human rights and its actual practices. The letter went on to voice concern over recently adopted constitutional amendments "that have challenged the republican-style balance of powers" by increasing Saakashvili's authority. It also accused the Saakashvili administration of various rights violations. To help support the assertion, the letter cited a July 1 incident in which security forces used force to break up a sit-in at Tbilisi City Hall being carried out by earthquake victims seeking disaster relief.

In addition, FIDH accused Georgian officials of failing to protect the rights of those accused of crimes. "The increasing number of [cases of] torture, inhuman and humiliating treatment, as well as arbitrary detentions also remain matters of deep concern for FIDH," the letter said.

Controversy has continued to build in August, with Saakashvili facing accusations of trying to stifle press freedom. An incident that galvanized presidential critics was the August 2 arrest of Revaz Okruashvili, the editor of the newspaper Khalkhis Gazeti, on drug possession charges. Okruashvili's newspaper has published articles highly critical of Saakashvili's policies. He was released under a "procedural agreement" reached between the defendant and Georgian prosecutors, the Kavkasia-Press news agency reported August 6.

During a public appearance on August 5 in Washington, Saakashvili rejected criticism about the free-speech climate in Georgia. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

In a July interview with the British Broadcasting Corp, Saakashvili acknowledged the dissatisfaction with his methods, but he scoffed at the notion that he was taking Georgia in an authoritarian direction. "Although things are not perfect, we are developing," Saakashvili said. "Free media and fair elections rule out the existence of a dictatorial regime."

At home, Saakashvili has not shied away from confronting criticism raised by local NGO activists. Referring to the violent dispersal of the July 1 sit-in, Saakashvili told NGO representatives in a recent speech that the government had a right "not to allow the blocking of the entrance of the Mayor's office…or the paralysis of government entities." The president did, however, go on to concede that "the government should not use excessive force to prevent this." Saakashvili also stressed in the speech that "mechanisms of cooperation with you [the NGO sector] are a special channel for us, for our government."

Allegations of improper treatment of prisoners have proven more problematic for the president. A case that helped stir the torture controversy involved Sulkhan Molashvili, the former chairman of the State Audit Agency, who claimed that he was burned with cigarettes and subjected to electric shocks while in official custody on corruption charges. Officials have vehemently denied torturing Molashvili, but NGO representatives appear to treat the government's statements with skepticism. "It makes no difference whether or not he [Molashvili] is guilty, the government should employ all procedural norms, and this does not include torture," said Zaza Rukhadze, a representative of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association.

Further complicating the issue, the new Minister of Justice, Giorgi Papuashvili, abolished a commission responsible for monitoring conditions in the Georgian penal system. The commission was created during Saakashvili's stint as justice minister in Shevardnadze's administration. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive].

The decision provoked an outcry from NGO activists. "The former head of the Justice Department in Shevardnadze's regime [Roland Giligashvili] attempted to abolish this [monitoring council], but he failed. But Papuashvili was able to do it," said Nana Kakabadze, head of the group Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights and one of Saakashvili's harshest critics.

In an effort to ease the criticism coming from the NGO sector, Saakashvili in early August issued a decree restoring the monitoring council. This commission, comprising 21 members from various NGO and Civil Society groups, will submit quarterly reports to the Justice Ministry and bi-annual reports to the president concerning rights conditions in the country's prison system.

Editor's Note: John Mackedon is a Tbilisi-based writer. He works for the on-line publicatin Civil Georgia, and formerly served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the country.

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Story Source: Eurasia Net

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Georgia; NGO's



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