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Gldantanamo or System Failure

By Tamar Chergoleishvili and Salome Ugulava
Tabula magazine, 21 September '12


"When ordinary policeman commits illegal acts, it is well-known throughout the country, and when the minister does not take any measures, then he is same kind of bastard. And when the president does not sack the minister from the post - then president is a bustard also!"- Those words were said by Mikheil Saakashvili in 2003, before the Rose Revolution. A few days ago, he was reminded of his statement.

Video recordings reflecting the inhuman treatment of prisoners were spread on September 18. The inmates were group-beaten, tortured and raped. The horrifying videos were shot at Gldani Prison N8. In one of the videos the victim was underage.

What was showed exceeded all expectations. However, we knew about the problems in penal system for long time.

From year to year the ombudsman has been writing in his reports that inmates had been tortured and beaten in prisons. Since the opening, Gldani prison was worthy of particular note. Even some of the persons in the video were mentioned in the Ombudsman's report. But, no one paid attention to his remarks. Ombudsman, as a rule, was sharing his report in a half-empty hall of Parliament.

Since the Rose Revolution, it was clear that the government wanted to prevent crime and restore order in the prison at all costs, but prisoners' rights did not or could not get into its focus. Later on, Head of Security Council called it "a grave mistake" of the government" What Ombudsman could not achieve over the years, the video managed in one night.

The government got slapped into face.

If a few months ago, the President boasted with perfect management of penitential system and was assuring us that French employs of penitential system were studding from our prisoners - after seeing the video he started to talk about the "system's failure ". The minister and the head of the Department of Corrections have resigned. On charges of torture and degrading treatment in the penitentiary system ten employees have been arrested.

There is no doubt that the political leadership is accountable for what has happened. Today, its duty is to assess what has happened, to ensure that those guilty are punished, and to implement changes that guarantee that things like this never happen again. The government was obliged to protect the rights of inmates, despite of what crime they had committed. The ruling party did not or could not do it and, of course, made a mistake. Government's inaction indirectly affected those employees of the penitentiary system, who might be doing their duties faithfully.

It's good that late, but at least now, the government admitted its defeat. Of course, no one can escape responsibility for what has happened, but the most important criteria, by which eventually the government should be assessed, is not the failure, but rather how it will handle it.

The majority believes that the resignation of [Minister of Correction] Kalmakhelidze is not enough and society points to Minister of the Interior Affairs, though Bacho Akhalaia was heading prisons in 2005-2008, it is exactly him who is associated with the "order" in prisons, as Kalmakhelidze, had never left the impression that situation was under her control.

But the fact is that just personnel changes, and it does not matter who it affects, are not enough, if the system is not changed from the root.

Though it is late, but government started talking about the need for reform of the penal system. The President, as it happened in the case of police, ordered the dismissal of prison officials. Patrol police has entered the prisons temporarily. This has led to protests from certain parts of society, because many perceived it as Akhalaia's return in penitentiary system. However, it is important that Prime Minister takes control over the situation, not Akhalaia. (Editor's note: Bacho Akhalaia resigned late Thursday evening, September 20).

Some questions towards Chief Prosecutor's Office have emerged. The point is that the representatives of the Public Defender's Office have repeatedly appealed against the lawlessness in the prisons. However, the process was stretched and was not finished. For example, the prosecutor's office reported that in 2011, 29 cases of torture and of inhuman treatment were under investigation, but only 2 were found guilty.

The president has talked about enhancement of Ombudsman's institution with material and human resources. However, increase of number of employees and funding is not enough. It is necessary to extend the competence of this institution.

It would be good, if the government thinks of moral compensation of those persons, who became victims of that wild treatment performed in the name of government. At the same time, it is important that the independent monitoring system is set up. To the extent that the risk of abuse of power is especially high in closed institutions. Especially in countries that do not have strong institutions and tradition of rule of law.

It is unfortunate that neither the government nor the public could wake up without shock therapy. Regardless of what the motives of those who published those video recordings, few days before the elections, in fact it did a great service to all of us. The ruling party will have a fairly high political price to pay.

It is clear that if reports of Ombudsman are not analyzed properly, facts are not investigated, including identifying the responsibility of the former heads of the penitentiary system, all reforms carried out in Georgia will be discredited. And talking about the success of any other branch of government will be impudence and only naive ones will believe it.

*Gldantanamo comes from a combination of two words - Gldani, a district in capital of Georgia with a notorious prison N8 and Guantanamo - the US Cuba-based prison, known for ill-treatment of its inmates.

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