Sunday

22nd Jan 2017

Letter

Georgians want answers to years of impunity

  • Tbilisi: The Saakashvili summons comes at a delicate time in EU-Georgia-Russia relations (Photo: Thomas Depenbusch)

The prison torture scandal that angered Georgians enough to vote out the government of Mikheil Saakashvili in 2012 was only a part of years of abuse and corruption under the leadership of a man some in Georgia and abroad believe should remain untouchable. The majority of the Georgian people at least want answers to those abuses of the past.

For years, the international community - the Europeans, the Americans, and others - had called for a more transparent government in Georgia, a fairer justice system, a freer media. The new government led by Georgian Dream has delivered on those reforms, as the latest EU progress report this week notes. But should there be a two-speed justice system that leaves former officials above the law?

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This is why thousands of Georgians came forth after the 2012 elections and filed complaints alleging official wrongdoing, requiring a newly freed justice system to investigate. There were allegations of diversion of public funds, wrongful imprisonment, even violence. Some of those cases have required investigators to summon former officials.

The Georgian government has also demonstrated flexibility: that Saakashvili can testify via video-conferencing from outside the country. What is important is that investigators are able to give Saakashvili an opportunity to answer those questions, and show Georgians the transparency of the judicial process. So far the former president faces no charges. Investigators simply want answers.

There is one point in Salome Samadashvili's commentary published in EUobserver on 27 March 2014 on which I agree: This judicial process should in no way affect plans for the accelerated June signing of the EU association agreement with Georgia. The agreement is a deeply important step in Georgia's European integration, and demonstrates the progress our government has made in raising our country to EU standards.

Our judicial process, and its reforms, have been overseen by EU rights envoy Thomas Hammarberg as well as international NGOs. Our reforms have brought an independent judiciary and openness in the process, including cameras in the courtroom. But we should not limit these reforms, and efforts to bring rule of law, by ignoring the abuses of the past.

The writer is chairman of the foreign relations committee in the parliament of Georgia

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