Rule of law and independent judiciary at risk in Georgia
After cases of selective justice in Ukraine (see previous blog on the Tymoshenko case) it seems that a similar pattern is now developing in Georgia. Since billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili led the Georgian Dream coalition to victory over President Mikheil Saakashvili’s long-ruling United National Movement (UNM) in October last year, Ivanishvili has ordered the arrest of dozens of former government officials accusing them of, inter alia, corruption and abuse of power (see previous blog on this topic). The wave of arrests was facilitated by the appointment of Ivanishvili’s private lawyer as prosecutor general and his of bank manager as minister of internal affairs. In a recent move on 21 May, former Georgian prime minister Ivane Merabishvili, the current secretary general of the UNM and a likely candidate in the upcoming presidential election, was arrested on corruption charges. In addition, former health minister Zurab Tchaberashvili, now a governor of Kakheti region in eastern Georgia, was also arrested. They are both accused of allegedly misusing public funds during the election campaign last year. All of this creates a very strong impression of politically motivated charges and arrests against members of the opposition United National Movement. It seems that Ivanishvili is trying to secure the takeover by the Georgian Dream coalition of key state and public institutions. In addition, Ivanishvili has threatened to launch investigations against Mikheil Saakashvili, whose presidential term is expires in October of this year, holding him partially responsible for the outbreak of the 2008 war with Russia.
Against this background, it would seem obvious that OSCE participating States raise their voices and express concern over developments in Georgia. However, participating States have so far been conspicuously silent on this topic. Within the OSCE Permanent Council, the United States has failed to raise the issue at all; it has instead focused its attention on the Geneva International Discussions that address the consequences of the 2008 conflict in Georgia. The EU has also been silent within the framework of the OSCE, only mentioning the issue of Georgia once at the Permanent Council, when Saakashvili’s annual address in Parliament turned into open confrontation in February 2012.
Some analysts believe that the United States is currently focused on reestablishing a good relationship with Russia and therefore tries not to interfere with Georgian politics too much. Georgia, like other former Soviet states such as Moldova and Ukraine, has tried to forge strong ties with the West and the EU (especially Saakashvili’s UNM) but at the same time has been conscious about keeping up a good relationship with Russia (especially Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition). Sometimes these two paths contradict each other and cannot be reconciled. Therefore, Georgia has been at the center of a geopolitical rivalry between the West and Russia, worsened by the conflicts over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
On the EU side, EU High Representative, Catherine Ashton and Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy, Štefan Füle released a joint statement regarding the arrests of Merabishvili and Tchaberashvili. However, again no statement was made in the framework of the OSCE. In their joint statement, Ashton and Füle stated that, “the European Union will closely follow the legal proceedings against them [Merabishvili and Tchaberashvili], which it expects to be fair, transparent and independent, in full accordance with international standards.” Furthermore, the High Representative and the Commissioner underlined “their expectation that the Georgian authorities will pursue justice in these cases, as in all other cases, impartially and free from political motivation.”
The developments in Georgia are very worrying and should be closely watched by the OSCE and the international community. The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) deployed a trial monitoring team to Georgia in February 2013 in order to “observe court proceedings in strict adherence with the principles of objectivity and non-intervention in judicial processes” (see ODIHR press release). The ODIHR final report should be carefully studied by OSCE participating States.
There were high hopes after the October 2012 elections that Georgia was on a clear path towards consolidating its democracy. In an unprecedented move, Saakashvili and the UNM declared defeat after the election and thus facilitated a peaceful handover of power. However, recent events show that “cohabitation” between Saakashvili’s UNM and Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition does not function and an “orderly transfer of power” is not taking place.
The OSCE should begin to look into these developments more carefully and keep an eye on the situation, especially in light of the upcoming presidential elections in October of this year. The current visit of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office to Georgia (see press release) could be a good opportunity to raise some of these issues, in addition to the usual discussions on the protracted conflicts.
 Full EU statement (dated 22 May, MEMO/13/452) available at: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-13-452_en.htm
 Both terms were coined in Washington. See for example remarks by Eric Rubin, Deputy Assistant Secretary, of 24 October 2012 on “US-Georgia relations after the Georgian Parliamentary Elections”, available at: http://www.state.gov/p/eur/rls/rm/2012/199745.htm