A recent report by Amnesty International, Georgia: Torture and Ill-Treatment Still a Concern After the Rose Revolution, highlighted many of the abuses. Acts of torture at detention centers include electric shock, cigarette and candle burns and placing gun barrels in the mouths of detainees and threatening to fire. Prosecutions of suspected instigators have lagged or failed to materialize, while detainee victims often opt for silence rather than inform prison officials and face likely reprisals, the report claimed.
At a February 2 presentation of the report in Tbilisi, Amnesty International representatives stressed the need for the government to renew a national action plan on penal reform, which expired at the end of 2005. However, they also noted that the government has already been taking steps in the right direction.
The report identifies "extensive" prison monitoring performed under the aegis of the public defender's office, various legal amendments and the incarceration of 10 individuals charged with torture or physical abuse of prisoners as among the successes for penal reform since the 2003 Rose Revolution.
"We get the impression that the recommendations by international organizations are being taken seriously by the authorities," said Nicola Duckworth, director of Amnesty's Europe and Central Asia Programme. "But it is one thing to talk about reforms and another thing to actually implement them."
Controversy mars some of the positive developments cited by Amnesty International. A new 21-member prison monitoring council, formed in August 2004, was supposed to submit quarterly reports to the Justice Ministry and bi-annual reports to the president concerning conditions in Georgia's prison system. The absence of council representatives from several human rights organizations that have criticized President Mikheil Saakashvili's administration, however, has prompted charges that the government never intended the council to act as a true advocate for reform.
"This council was a very ineffective tool," commented Human Rights Information & Documentation Center Executive Director Usha Nanuashvili, "[President] Saakashvili is just playing a political game. He's saying
John Mackedon is a Tbilisi-based writer who works for the online publication Civil Georgia.