Statement of NGOs in reaction to the release of graphic videos of torture

The present statement is issued in response to the posting of graphic videos of torture on a Ukrainian website and public screenings of these videos in Tbilisi and Zugdidi. 

On October 17, 2015, graphic videos of humane torture were posted on a Ukrainian website. The video was from the cache unearthed in Samegrelo by current authorities and later shown to representatives of diplomatic corps, media and non-governmental organizations. 

For over the years, torture and inhumane treatment by law enforcement and penitentiary authorities remained a serious systemic problem, as proven by many high-profile cases that have come to light as well as the so-called “prison videos”, videos discovered in cache in Samegrelo and other cases. Impunity of perpetrators and their exemption from punishment promoted the practice of inhumane treatment in law enforcement authorities. In addition, the authorities completely ignored results of monitoring by the Public Defender, local NGOs and international organizations. Systemic nature of the crimes was promoted by various forms of involvement of high-ranking law enforcement officials in the criminal practices. 

Current authorities failed to investigate the systemic crime thoroughly, to punish all perpetrators adequately and to ensure full rehabilitation of victims of torture. In addition, authorities often fail to realize that release of torture footage brings additional suffering to victims of torture and making details of these incidents public in this manner violates victims’ rights. Because of the above, NGOs were protesting against public screenings of the videos. 

Uploading of the torture videos on October 17 on Ukrainian website has proved that apparently authorities have failed to fulfill their minimum obligations and to adequately protect material that contains details of one’s persona life. The situation is further acerbated by the fact that these videos are used as a weapon in political power struggle. 

It is especially alarming that public screening of torture videos were held in downtowns of Zugdidi and Tbilisi with the use of projectors, for everyone including minors to see. Footage released by media show that representatives of local authorities participated in the screening in Zugdidi. Zugdidi City Hall released a statement saying that screening of the torture videos was not organized by the City Hall; however, participation of local authorities in such events and their comments made in public further intensifies suspicions about use of the videos as a weapon in political power struggle. 

Public screening of the videos was followed by protest rallies staged outside offices of the United National Movement in Batumi, Kutaisi, Gori, Gurjaani, Akhaltsike and others, organized by groups of citizens and NGOs affiliated with the government. Employees of local self-governments participated in some of these protest rallies. 

We would like to reiterate that all political forces in Georgia should strive to promote high political culture in the country. Triggering of additional aggression and promoting hatred among the people makes it impossible to achieve democratic development of the country and the society. Each and every political force must remember the responsibilities that they have before the country and the people of Georgia and they must be driven by these responsibilities, as opposed to their narrow party interests with a short-term effect and the goal of reinforcing their positions during the pre-election period. 

It is especially alarming that screening of the videos in public made the graphic footage available for everyone to see, including for minors. The state has an obligation to protect children from such harmful influence. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child emphasizes that children need special safeguards and care by reason of their physical and mental immaturity. The Convention urges the states to design mechanisms for protection of children from information and materials that may be detrimental to their welfare and healthy physical and mental development. 

We urge the Government of Georgia: 

To ensure that all perpetrators of human torture are adequately prosecuted. Individuals who contributed to the creation of the system (torture and illegal surveillance of prisoners) must also be held accountable; 
To immediately provide public with thorough information about results of instigation of the acts of torture, measures taken to persecute perpetrators and rehabilitation measures for victims of torture; 
To design the system of effective prevention of such actions and put in place effective mechanisms for protecting privacy of each and every individual. Apparently, there is no such system in Georgia, which is why the right to privacy remains in jeopardy;
To take into account interests of victims of torture during public discussions about such acts of violence; 
To effectively investigate release and public screenings of torture videos; 
To create an independent and effective mechanisms for thorough and objective investigation of crimes committed by law enforcement officers, for timely detection and prosecution of persons concerned and for facilitation of effective public control. Without having an independent investigating mechanism, investigation into crimes allegedly perpetrated by representatives of law enforcement authorities is highly susceptible to bias.   

In addition, we urge political parties and other stakeholders to respect rights of victims of torture and refrain from politicizing the issue. 

Transparency International – Georgia
Internaitonal Society for Fair Elections and Democracy 
Civil Development Agency (CiDA)
Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center 
Article 42 of the Constitution
Center for Human Rights
Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association 
Economic Policy and Research Center