TBILISI — The United States has sharply criticized Georgia’s ruling party, Georgian Dream, for rushing legislation last week that Washington says “undermined” government accountability, the independence of judges, and overall faith in the judiciary.
“No credible reasons were provided to the public for why these actions needed to be rushed through without appropriate consultations,” the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi said in a strongly worded statement on January 4.
“The lack of transparent discussion or analysis of the amendments is particularly troubling,” it added.
On December 30, the Georgian Dream-led parliament voted to dissolve the State Inspector’s Service, an independent agency responsible for monitoring personal data protection and abuse of power, despite local and international concerns that the move is politically motivated.
Under the new bill, two new separate bodies tasked with monitoring data privacy and investigating abuse of power by officials will be created.
Georgian Dream leader Irakli Kobakhidze rejected the criticism as “unfair,” and said such statements undermined the Georgians’ “trust” in the South Caucasus’s Western partners.
But in its statement, the U.S. Embassy said the move “undermined government accountability.”
The ruling party also “undermined the independence of individual judges by amending the Law on Common Courts, and undermined faith in the judiciary by appointing yet another Supreme Court judge using a flawed selection process.”
“Strong democratic institutions and adherence to the rule of law are Georgia’s best defenses against Russian aggression,” it said, referring to Moscow’s support to separatists in Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The embassy also warned that “steps that weaken democratic institutions, such as the judiciary or independent oversight agencies, damage Georgia’s aspirations for NATO and European Union membership, and undermine the basic freedoms that are the foundation of Georgian culture and society.”
But Kobakhidze claimed that the diplomatic mission had made “factual mistakes.”
“We have 30 years of very successful cooperation with our partners. Very often we often take advice from them and take it into account. But there are, unfortunately, such exceptional cases when we hear unfair and incorrect assessments,” according to Georgian Dream’s leader.
U.S. Ambassador Kelly Degnan had previously called on Georgia’s parliament to pause what she called “a strange process rushing through legislation when there’s no need to rush it through,” and for lawmakers to conduct transparent consultations with all stakeholders.
Georgia’s State Inspector Londa Toloraia accused the government of trying to retaliate against the agency for its investigations and for its decisions against state bodies.
Public Defender Nino Lomjaria said the bill violated the constitution and the country’s human rights commitments and aimed to “interfere with the activities of an independent institution.”
The UN Human Rights Office said it had “deep concern” over the proposal to abolish an independent office with a key role in torture prevention and privacy protection.