Friday, September 05, 2003

Dateline: Georgia



Apparently alarmed at deteriorating law and order in Georgia, the country’s president has publicly expressed his regret at being forced into abolishing the death penalty.

"If it were not for problems with the Council of Europe (CoE), Georgia would not have abolished the death penalty," Eduard Shevardnadze said in a meeting with his government on 20 August.

The president’s statement follows reports by law-enforcement agencies that there has been a sharp rise in crime in the past few months. Conditions are particularly serious in the northwestern region of Svanetia, a mountainous area that borders territory controlled since 1992 by the secessionist Abkhazian government, and in the Kodori Gorge, which straddles the Abkhazian border. The Kodori Gorge, an area with no police, no court, and no effective rule, has long been a flashpoint and has gained a reputation for criminality. It leapt to international prominence this spring when several UN observers were kidnapped.

There are also alarming reports about the influence of criminal authorities over business, governance, and media sectors. The president’s declaration followed the detention of a high-level official in a law-enforcement agency who had been implicated in the abduction of a 15-year-old.

"The death penalty has been abolished, and these people fear nothing," Shevardnadze said, adding that in many cases criminals in custody live better than ordinary people in the country.

The abolition of a death penalty was one of primary preconditions set by the CoE before Georgia could join. In 1995, Shevardnadze declared a moratorium on executions, and the following year Georgia was invited as a guest to the international organization. In 1997, Georgia formally abolished the death penalty by adopting a new criminal code. Two years later it gained full membership in the CoE. The last execution was in 1994.