Georgian parliament plans to vote to eliminate human rights watchdog

Georgia’s ruling party Georgian Dream plans to move forward this week with a proposal to disband an independent agency tasked with monitoring personal data protection and abuse of power despite fears the move may be politically motivated.

The opposition, civil society, the Public Defender, the UN and the United States have all joined in criticizing the bill being passed by Parliament to shut down the State Inspector’s office and lay off all its employees.

The proposal comes as the state inspector’s office is investigating allegations of torture and ill-treatment inflicted on former President Mikheil Saakashvili since his arrest in early October on his return from voluntary exile in Ukraine.

After meeting with the State Inspector’s Office on December 27, U.S. Ambassador Kelly Degnan expressed concern about the bill and the hasty manner in which Georgian Dream is pursuing changes.

Degnan called on parliament to suspend what she called “a strange process of rushing a law when there is no need to rush it”, and on lawmakers to hold transparent consultations with all stakeholders .

Georgian Dream unveiled a bill this weekend that would divide the state inspector’s office into two separate bodies tasked with monitoring data privacy and investigating abuses of power by officials. If passed, all employees of the oversight body would be made redundant by March. Parliament is expected to pass the law on December 29 or 30.

Degnan said firing experts on the body was the “most troubling and difficult” part to explain.

“These are experts who have been doing these jobs for several years without any complaints or questions from parliament,” she said, adding that dismissing all qualified employees in this service would be a waste of talent and experience.

Earlier, the United Nations Human Rights Office said it was “deeply concerned” by the proposal to abolish an independent office playing a key role in torture prevention and privacy protection.

Public defender Nino Lomjaria said on December 27 that the bill violates the constitution and the country’s human rights commitments, “and aims to interfere with the activities of an independent institution.” She called the rushed nature of the bill without proper stakeholder consultation “particularly alarming.”

“(It is) clear that the purpose of legislative change is to influence the functioning of an independent body,” she said.

State Inspector Londa Toloraia accused the government of trying to retaliate against the agency for its investigations and decisions against state bodies.

Saakashvili, who went on a 50-day hunger strike, said he suffered death threats, sleep deprivation and physical violence while in detention. His arrest and the ongoing trials have sparked major anti-government protests as the country finds itself in a protracted political crisis resulting from the contested 2020 parliamentary elections.

With reports from the Georgian service of RFE / RL and Civil.ge

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