Government's Final Report on 2010 Local Elections Still Has Gaps
On November 4, 2010, the Georgian government's Inter-Agency Task Force for Free and Fair Elections (IATF) published its final report on local elections held on May 30, 2010. The IATF was created prior to the May 30 2010 local elections, to promote a transparent and fair environment for conducting elections through improved coordination between different agencies. We at TI Georgia welcome the very fact that six months after the elections this matter is still considered a priority by the government. Several reports have been published by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the IATF itself, assessing their joint work. The IATF has stated that, overall, it believes “joint efforts have improved the election environment.” Indeed, mutual cooperation and the inclusion of high-level government representatives have been among the most positive achievements of the group in helping to create free and fair election environment. However, due to the fact that the main focus of the report's 27 pages appears to be defending the IATF from accusations and attempts to invalidate their efforts, it is hard to say whether the aim of the IATF was to reveal shortcomings during the election period and ensure their prevention in future. The report is littered with phrases like “an investigation is being conducted”, “based on this record it is impossible to verify what happened in reality”, “none of these cases were confirmed”, “the investigation did not confirm the validity of these accusations”, and others like these. We at TI Georgia, together with several other NGOs, while evaluating the IATF's work, have highlighted that the IATF’s effectiveness has be to assessed based on its ability to reveal and adequately respond to violations that occurred during the 2010 local elections. Thus, the timely and impartial investigation of, for example, the widely-reported cases of intimidation of opposition party candidates in Mestia on May 3, could be an important indicator of the IATF's effectiveness. However, the IATF final report reveals that on the incidents in Mestia, even seven months later, “an investigation is being conducted and questioning of appropriate persons is ongoing.” Furthermore, the report states that the majority of alleged victims “have denied the existence of intimidation and pressure,” despite the fact that some of our staff and our colleagues from the Georgian Young Lawyers Association have spoken with witnesses who said exactly the opposite, and despite the fact that there is an amateur video showing the incidents. However, according to the IATF report, “it was impossible to verify what happened in reality” based on the video. On the other hand, the IATF sent a notice to the local governor, Gocha Chelidze, who later resigned from his post, despite continuing official denials of any wrongdoing. The IATF report states that investigation is still ongoing and it remains unclear what happened in Mestia. However, a number of questions remain unanswered:
- Why has the investigation not yet been concluded, seven months after the incidents, that took place on May 3, 2010? What work remains to be done, and which actions have been taken so far? By contrast, a member of the Mestia Sakrebulo, Neli Naveriani, who was openly speaking about the events of May 3 and who was instrumental in publicizing the incident, was arrested only five days after she was accused of money extortion.
- Why did the IATF recommend Local Governor of Mestia Gocha Tchelidze, the local governor, to resign from his position (which he did), although the investigation did not find any wrongdoings, while higher ranking officials involved in the incident, including the Regional Governor of the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region, Zaza Gorozia, the Chief of Regional Police, Tengiz Gunava, and other high ranking officials, who, like Gocha Tchelidze, were present at the local administration building in Mestia, on May 3, were not encouraged to resign? We believe the IATF report should make an effort and explain why it chose to take action against some officials and not against others and make its conclusions public.
- What are the procedures being used to question witnesses? Staff from TI Georgia spoke with friends and family members of one witness, Mirza Dadvani, who they say was taken from his home before dawn without warning or explanation and held in an unknown location for an entire day. In addition, he was taken to Zugdidi for questioning. Legally, it is possible to question witnesses in Mestia and we don’t see the need to take a witness four hours away for questioning. It is unclear how this method of questioning supports an objective investigation, and we believe the IATF report should clarify what they are doing to ensure that witnesses deliver candid responses.
- Why was the investigation unable to glean any information from the video recordings of the incident? The footage shows numerous heavily armed policemen stationed in front of the local administration building at midnight, while the tape indicates that local citizens were intimidated and screaming.
We hope that the Mestia investigation will be concluded soon and that the IATF will manage to shed more light onto these and other issues. Most importantly, high-ranking officials who were allegedly involved in misconduct before the elections need to be held accountable for their actions. Otherwise, the IATF's efforts will remain largely ineffective.