17 January 2021,   09:24
Human Rights Watch summarizes 2020 events in Georgia

“Political tensions rose in Georgia following the October 31 parliamentary elections. The ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party maintained a parliamentary majority amid allegations of fraud, prompting the opposition to boycott the new parliament. International observers, led by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), concluded that the elections were held in a competitive environment, but marred by “widespread allegations of voter pressure”. Lack of accountability for law enforcement abuses persisted. Other areas of concern included threats to media freedom, disproportionately harsh drug policy, and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Parliament adopted much-needed labor reform, restoring some protections to labor rights.

Parliamentary Elections

Although GD’s electoral victory allowed it to maintain its parliamentary majority, opposition parties rejected the outcome, called for snap elections, and at time of writing, were boycotting their seats in the new parliament. The OSCE found that the vote respected fundamental freedoms but was marred by a “blurring of the border between the ruling party and the state.” Local election-monitoring groups called it “the least democratic and free among elections” held under GD rule. They criticized election-day incidents such as verbal and physical confrontations against journalists and observers, numerous cases of breach of voting secrecy, and vote-buying. On November 8, police used water cannons, without warning, against dozens of peaceful protesters who had gathered outside the central election commission building to protest alleged election violations.

Parliament modified its mixed electoral system following months of protests that started in 2019, and lengthy negotiations between the GD and opposition parties. The reform decreased the number of single-mandate seats and increased proportional representation to 120 deputies in the 150-member legislature.

Gender quotas, introduced via election legislation amendments adopted in July, require women to make up at least 25 percent of candidates proposed by political parties or election blocs.

Lack of Accountability for Law Enforcement Abuses

The State Inspector’s Office, an independent body created in 2018 to investigate abuses committed by law enforcement, became operational in November 2019. By August, the office received over 1,300 reports of alleged abuses by law enforcement and other officials and launched criminal investigations in 168 cases, mostly into abuse of authority, but also inhuman and degrading treatment. In the same period, the Ombudsman’s Office received 68 complaints of ill-treatment by prison staff or police.

Lack of accountability for law enforcement abuses persisted, particularly with regard to incidents that took place before the State Inspector’s Office became operational. The investigation into June 2019 events, when riot police fired rubber bullets and used tear gas against thousands of protesters outside the parliament building in Tbilisi, continued to be largely one-sided. According to the public defender, who was allowed to monitor the proceedings, the investigation “only focused on the offenses committed by rank-and-file police officers but failed to objectively or fully assess command responsibility”, - reads the report.