Russia not cooperating in investigating war crimes says Georgian Deputy Minister of Justice Aleksandre Baramidze
Sunday, 21 April, 2013 – THE OSLOT TIMES EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEWS –
Editor in Chief of The Oslo Times Mr. Hatef Mokhtar (R) in exclusive session with the Deputy Minister of Justice of Georgia Aleksandre Baramidze (L)
First of all, The Oslo Times (TOT) is honoured and privileged to be able to hold this session with you. We greatly appreciate your finding time for us within your busy schedule.
Our first question to you is:
TOT: It was said many times that the Georgian Judicial system is highly politicized, because of which a 15 member judicial commission was formed last year to separate the two systems and minimize the interference by reforming it. What were the reasons for the politicization of the country’s judiciary?
Aleksandre Baramidze: Over the nine years the previous government led by President Saakashvili kept judiciary under its strict control. You mentioned a 15 member judicial council. In fact, it was not established last year as you said. It existed under the Saakashvili government too. Simply, the way how it was composed was very undemocratic. And it’s not just me who’s saying this. It is the Venice Commission who said that. Just one example would shed light on what we are talking about.There were two brothers sitting in one judicial council; one of them was and still is the President of the Supreme Court and, at the same time, he presides over the judicial council; the other one was the chairman of the parliamentary committee for legal affairs. How it can be in a democracy that the people from the same family maintain control over the two government branches? Some statistical data tell the true story about the Georgian judiciary. The conviction rate in criminal cases amounted to 99.8%.What that means is that whatever prosecution would allege before the court would be automatically adopted as an established fact. Similar figures could be found in pretrial detention matters. When prosecutor wanted someone to be remanded he would easily get a writ from the court.
TOT: As dpy. Minister of Justice, what are the measures you have planned or introduced to reform the judicial system of the country?
Aleksandre Baramidze: First of all, we started by reforming the judicial council, a body that is responsible for appointment and dismissal of and filing disciplinary charges against judges. Needless to say, it is one of the most important institutions in a national judicial system. The draft law that we proposed to the parliament was examined by the Venice Commission. And we are proud that the Venice Commission welcomed the most important aspects of our proposal. What is going to be changed? President will no longer have a power to appoint his agents in the judicial council. The parliament will no longer have a power to appoint its own members in the council but instead will have to choose non-judge members from the civil society. What that means is that the executive will lose all and the legislature a big deal of its control over the judiciary. That’s how in our opinionthe de-politicization of judiciary may be achieved. The parliament already passed the law and more bills aimed at further democratization of judiciary will be coming soon.
TOT: In a brief war with Russia, there were reports about war crimes committed by the invading Russian forces and Ossetia rebels. What progress has been made towards bringing justice to the families of war victims who were abused and displaced during the conflict?
Aleksandre Baramidze: Unfortunately, the Government of Georgia no longer can exercise effective control over two major parts of its territory because they have been occupied by military force of a foreign state. Many Georgians despite their ethnic origin were killed, tortured and/or forcibly evicted from their homes. About 140 Georgian villages were destroyed. Obviously Russia is not cooperating with us in investigating these crimes. But we are awaiting the decision of the European Court of Human Rights where Georgia has filed a complaint against Russia.
TOT: You started a project named E-democracy, for which you were about to sent some recommendations to the Venice Commission last year. What were the said recommendations and how would they benefit the reforming of the judicial system of Georgia?
Aleksandre Baramidze: What we sent to the Venice Commission is our draft law which aims to reform the high judicial council. And as I said, the draft law was mostly very much welcomed by the Venice Commission. There were some critical remarks in the commission’s opinion which were taken into account and adequately addressed in the revised draft which was eventually adopted by the Georgian Parliament.
TOT: Georgia is a developing democracy that has lot to achieve in order to fulfil the goal of becoming a real democracy and a practising one in all forms.
a.) What are the obligations that Georgia still faces in introducing complete democratization of the national system and its related structures?
b.) What have been Georgia’s major achievements in moving on the path of democracy so far?
Aleksandre Baramidze: Undoubtedly, the biggest achievement towards further democratization of the national legal system was the recent amendments to the Constitution whereby the president will no longer have an unfettered power to choose the cabinet of ministers after having disbanded the cabinet and the parliament. The president may still disband the cabinet and the parliament but the dismissed cabinet will continue functioning until the new parliamentary elections are held and the new parliament approves the new cabinet. We believe that this amendment will restore a necessary constitutional balance between the executive and legislative branches which was seriously damaged by the previous government back in 2004. A big deal of constitutional reform is ahead though and we are thinking of setting up a constitutional commission which will hopefully develop a fair and balanced model which would mostly acceptable for the Georgian public.I already talked about the first phase of the judicial reform. The next one will be embarked on pretty soon. We have also taken some ambitious steps to liberalize our criminal law. Disproportional sanctions will be removed and the quality of law will be improved. A truly adversarial system will be introduced in the criminal procedure. Defense and prosecution will be placed in truly equal conditions to prove their cases before the bench or jury.One more big achievement we are really proud of is new amendments to the Labor Code. The existing Code is very unbalanced one which has created a kind of paradise for the employers but almost the hell for the employees. There too our aim was to create a fair and equal playground for all. The amendments were welcomed and appreciated by the ILO and the parliament of Georgia has already adopted the law in the first reading.
TOT: The human rights situation in Georgia sometimes reflects the weak judicial process that has failed to bring the persecutors to trail in most cases. Being a deputy minister of justice, how would you rate the situation of human rights in Georgia?
Aleksandre Baramidze: The situation in this area has improved drastically since last October. An amnesty law was passed and many prisoners, including politically oppressed ones, who were unfairly convicted and brutally treated in the places of detention were released. Although I am far from the thought that we have reached the ideal and that nothing needs to be done, the spirit of liberty is obviously out there.
TOT: Media is said to be one of the pillars of a true democracy, which empowers its people with complete freedom of fundamentals. To what extent do you think media has enjoyed considerable support and freedom in Georgia?
Aleksandre Baramidze: Under the previous regime the media was under the government’s control too. That is especially true with respect to broadcasting media. The three national channels were broadcasting in a way to please mostly the political leadership. Although there were some channels whose editorial policies were more or less independent, there outreach to audience was limited to some localities. The government is far from the thought that there should be any surgical interference in these area. We think that some moderate changes to the existing broadcasting law might be necessary, but mostly the media should be governed by the rules of self-regulation.
TOT: You clearly stated earlier that many regulations in the current judicial system contradict the Georgian constitution and international human rights principles. Please shed some light on those regulations that prevent the constitution and human rights principles to fully implement into the society and the functioning of the country?
Aleksandre Baramidze: I hope I already answered this question. I will be pleased to talk more once more real changes are introduced.
TOT: What are the measures Georgia has taken for promoting further democratic reforms in the political system and the bureaucracy of the country?
Aleksandre Baramidze: Over almost six months that the new government has been in power many good things have been done. But there is no reason for being complacent. Much more still has to be done. And it is also a good idea to let the public – both domestically and internationally – know what’s going on and what’s on the government’s agenda. And I am glad and honored that the readers of your newspaper may also have some idea about Georgia’s ongoing reforms after having read this interview.
TOT: You have recently attended a regional meeting of the ILO in Oslo, how would you consider it has been successful and how would it bring more transparency in labour reforms and laws in Europe and worldwide?
Aleksandre Baramidze: As I said, improvement of the country’s labor law is one of our key priorities. And I was pleased to find out during this conference that the letter and spirit of our legislative initiatives are in line with the global trends in labor relationships.
Thanks for sharing your views with ‘The Oslo Times’.