SPEECH DELIVERED BY THE PRIME MINISTER OF GEORGIA AT THE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY OF THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Distinguished members of the assembly,
I am honored to address you at the house of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
We have just heard a beautiful piece of song, a piece of authentic Georgian polyphonic singing, where different voices come together in a complex union, embrace and enrich each other, developing and moving ahead. This is a very strong marker of Georgian national identity - when I think of being Georgian this polyphony comes to my mind in the first place. And this is very symbolic that we hear it today, as we are celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the Council of Europe and 20th Anniversary of Georgia's accession to it.
Yesterday, on April 9, Georgia marked 30 years after tragic event. On this date in 1989 an anti-Soviet peaceful demonstration demanding freedom and independence from the Soviet Union was violently dispersed by the Soviet Army using tanks and guns on Rustaveli Avenue, in the center of Tbilisi.
I was very young back then, but I still remember these events just like it happened yesterday. On 9th of April 1989 small nation united to defend its freedom, freedom of sovereign existence. During those events, the Georgian people dared to exercise their right to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech in the Soviet Union. This attempt was suppressed in a bloodshed but their fight for independence, for freedom and for democracy has not been lost. After 2 years since those tragic events took place, on the very same day the Act of Reestablishment of Independence was signed. With this fight and sacrifice Georgia has gained its European identity back, which seemed so distant 30 years ago.
For that very reason, my today's appearance in front of you is dedicated to all the people who have sacrificed their lives for my country's unity and freedom.
Since those years, we have faced many other challenges, and despite all of them, we still have achieved a lot, we have achieved almost impossible.
This success of my country accomplished during last 20 years, belongs to both, Georgia and the Council of Europe and therefore we both can be proud of it.
Together we have created a country that has emerged as a true democracy between two continents, bridging Europe with Asia. In this challenging region, Georgia has an ambition to dictate peaceful rules of coexistence and create a model of democracy, which would be sustainable.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the last 20 years, since accession to the Council of Europe, Georgia has managed to make a dramatic transformation and today we are a country on the rise.
20 years ago, Georgia had serious challenges and upon accession we undertook a list of commitments.
By these commitments, Georgia pledged: to create a truly democratic state; to strengthen rule of law; to carry out judicial reform; to fight against corruption; to fight torture and ill-treatment; to guarantee freedom of speech and free media; to protect minorities; and to strengthen national human rights mechanisms.
Georgia has demonstrated progress in all above directions through close cooperation with the different bodies of the Council of Europe. And I would like to use this opportunity to express gratitude on behalf of the Georgian people to the Parliamentary Assembly, the Committee of Ministers, the European Court of Human Rights, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, the Venice Commission, the Office of Commissioner for Human Rights and other human rights monitoring bodies. As I said, we have achieved everything together.
Please let me elaborate on major achievements, worth your attention.
After many years Georgia has finally managed to establish a fair system of checks and balances and hence made democratic progress irreversible.
Discussing our new Constitution and all the deliverables that it brought to the building of our democracy, the best I can do, is to refer to the most reputable body to judge, that is Venice Commission, which said: quote: "The Constitutional reform process completes the evolution of Georgia's political system towards a Parliamentary system and constitutes a positive step towards the consolidation and improvement of the countries' Constitutional Order, based on principles of democracy, the rule of law and protection of fundamental rights". Unquote.
Our Government became the first one to refuse one-party domination. New Constitution implies that we will introduce a fully and purely proportional electoral system from 2024. Meanwhile Georgia goes through important transitional period. This will create better political balance, will give minority parties a better chance of winning seats in the Parliament. With an introduction of a proportional electoral system, Government will require greater consensus in policy-making, this is our choice, a choice that is value-based and we will never divert from this path.
We are proud that for the first time in history, Georgia has elected its female President. This is a profound milestone achievement in the modern history of Georgia. We are writing a new chapter in the multi-centennial history of our country. With the election of a new President, new Constitution came into force. Now Georgia is a Parliamentary Democracy, where I am accountable in the capacity of the Prime Minister towards the Parliament and its Members... Members elected by people.
As a result of the recent reforms Parliament became stronger than ever. Strong Parliament means a robust executive oversight; for that very reason, we understand importance of accountability towards our population, we understand how important it is for every single citizen to be informed about our day-to-day initiatives and reforms and we are determined to further strive towards more development and more accountability.
Just 7 years ago, Georgia had serious challenges in the field of rule of law and the functioning of independent judiciary. We have made a significant progress, which is best measured here in Strasbourg. In fact, the European Court of Human Rights is the best indicator of shortcomings and improvements in the field of human rights. More people started to seek and find justice at the national level with no need to go further to the European Court of Human Rights. This is confirmed by the significant drop in the number of applications filed against Georgia at the Court of Law. In particular, in 2011 we had 395 applications to the European Court, and in 2018 - only quarter of that figure.
On the execution side, the total number of Georgian cases closed by final resolutions of the Committee of Ministers represents 76. In particular, around 80 percent of cases were closed since 2013. This demonstrates that current government of Georgia effectively executes the European Court Rulings.
Since 2013 applications to the Constitutional Court of Georgia by common courts have increased by more than 5 times. Before it was literally 0... Let me repeat myself once again LITERALLY 0. Quantity of administrative imprisonment cases has decreased by 68%. Use of imprisonment against juveniles has decreased by 70%.
In addition to that, in the recent years, we have opened courtrooms to media and ensured full transparency of the trial.
Georgia has made immense progress in the fight against corruption and in ensuring accountability and transparency of Government. In nineties Georgia was amongst the most corrupt countries and today we are proud to be one of the least corrupt countries in the world. Georgia is ranked 5 in Open Budget Index just below countries like Sweden and Norway. Georgia is a proud member and former chair of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) which is a major international partnership aiming at global openness, transparency and accountability.
Our Government inherited a system of oppressive penitentiary machine with systematic practices of torture and ill-treatment. Penitentiary system - was failing. Therefore, the system needed decisive measures. Reforms, which were carried out had drastically changed situation within the penitentiary establishment. As a matter of fact, in 2018 the Georgian penitentiary system has rightly deserved its place in "Good Human Rights Stories" of the UN and EU.
Georgia has also transformed its attitude towards political freedoms. Freedom of Expression and Right to peaceful manifestation, often violated previously - are fully respected now. Georgia has vibrant civil society, free media and internet and freedom of expression is fully respected.
The unfortunate practices of violent dispersion of peaceful protests belong to the past and government fully respects the right to assembly and manifestation.
Justice system became more responsive against the hate crimes, discrimination and protective mechanisms became stronger.
Here I would like to underline that in April 2017, Georgia has ratified the Council of Europe's Convention (Istanbul Convention) on preventing and combating violence against Women and Domestic violence.
Last but not least, Georgia has developed robust human rights mechanisms. For the first time in recent years, Government of Georgia developed strategic approach to protection of Human Rights; Empowered the Ombudsman's Office and established effective oversight mechanism at the Parliamentary level.
Indeed, we have achieved a lot, but we are determined to progress further.
We are building a modern European country where people are the center-point of gravity, a country that grants equal opportunities to every single citizen, no matter of their social status or position, where every citizen's voice gets heard and government feels the aspirations of its people.
I often say that we have two main challenges in Georgia: occupation and poverty. This became my precept and serves as a basis of every reform or initiative that Government introduces in the country.
One of such reforms, is truly revolutionary - I would say even a real game-changer - reform of the education sector. Throughout the past decades, education has become a real bottleneck and human capital development lagged behind the demands of a modern world.
We are going to devote increasing portion of our GDP to education sector starting from this year and reach a 6% of GDP, which is a quarter of our total budget. This will be ensured by the legislation so that every following government will have the obligation to invest in the development of our human capital, people that advance our country, people that made the value-based choice to support us in our European aspirations.
It is the human capital development that will serve as a solution to our existing challenges. Only educated professionals will be able to raise our country to the heights that we envisage for our future generations.
Despite all this progress, we still face the major Human Rights challenges on our Occupied Territories.
20 percent of our territories are occupied, occupied by Russian Federation. More than 300 000 IDPs cannot go back to their homes, every day we have to deal with barbed-wire fences, de-population of occupied territories, grave human rights abuses and general situation that is nothing but humanitarian disaster in every sense of this term.
The growing militarization of these regions is in full swing and de-population is intensifying by the minute. Because of the grave humanitarian, socio-economic and human rights situation, the population in the occupied regions has decreased by 5-6 times since the occupation.
As a result, we have Russian military bases in the heart of Georgia. We still deal with the threats of abduction, torture and murder of Georgian citizens up until today. Archil Tatunashvili, Giga Otkhozoria and a 18 year-old David Basharuli are the recent victims.
Just several weeks ago another Georgian citizen, Irakli Kvaratskhelia was illegally detained, his subsequent death is still obscured with unclear circumstances. One fact is clear, Georgian citizen has been illegally detained on the illegally occupied territory on the military base which is illegally built by Russian Federation.
Here I would like to thank the Parliamentary Assembly for backing and supporting Otkhozoria-Tatunashvili List. We should all line up against the grave human rights violations in order to ensure that a deliberate disregard of the rule of law will never be tolerated!
Russian Federation tries to undermine our peaceful initiatives, with this kind of diversions they try to block all our efforts, with ethnic discrimination they try to fully eradicate Georgian identity but this won't happen, we will never give up!
Our Government just recently introduced a new, comprehensive and inclusive peace initiative by the name Step2Better Future. With this initiative we seek to provide our population in the occupied territories with access to a proper healthcare and education services, to create opportunities for micro and small commerce and entrepreneurship for them to feed their families and to ensure their physical survival.
Russian Federation is continuously ignoring the obligations they took under 2008 Ceasefire Agreement - to withdraw their troops from our territories.
We only believe in peaceful resolution of the conflict, this is one and only position that we have towards the conflict resolution. Our joint victory will be only then, when our IDPs will be able to return to their homes, bridges between people will be fully restored, Rule of Law and Human Rights will be ensured throughout the whole territory of Georgia.
Today, from this stage I would like to send message to all our Ossetian and Abkhaz citizens - our every success is your success! And only future that we see together with you, - united in peace and prosperity.
I would like to thank the Council of Europe for the unwavering support to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country, for keeping the issue of occupation of Georgian territories on high political agenda of the council; I would like to thank you for Annual Decisions of the committee of ministers on the issue and consolidated reports of Secretary General. We greatly appreciate the close cooperation and coordination, especially in the direction of confidence building measures and in the restoration of "bridges" between the divided communities; bolstering people-to-people relations by manifesting that we are one country, one sovereign and united European nation!
In spring next year we will be hosting Tbilisi Peace Forum in Georgia, - our goal is to contribute to peace and stability in the wide region and thus give all the countries possibility to utilize the huge opportunities that hasn't been unleashed yet.
As for the outstanding issue of Russia, we firmly believe that the member States should not allow a lowering of the Council of Europe's standards or any downgrading of our common values in order to overcome the challenges, including the financial crises. Georgia supports efforts aimed at solving current financial difficulties, however position of Georgia remains that non-payment by Russia should not become a factor or condition for changing existing rules of procedure of the Parliamentary Assembly or statute of the Council of Europe.
Georgia has been benefiting from different bodies of the organization for the last 20 years and as a sign of our gratitude, the government of Georgia has decided to make voluntary contribution to the Council of Europe in the amount of 500 000 Euros.
It should be particularly emphasized that Actions Plans of the Council of Europe remain a very important instrument in terms of helping and assisting certain member states in fulfillment of recommendations which are issued by various independent human rights monitoring bodies of the Council of Europe. It is important that the Council of Europe continues its work in both directions, on the one hand it identifies shortcomings in members states through its monitoring bodies and on the other hand continues to assist member states in rectifying shortcomings which are identified; actions plans are crucial in that regard.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
20 years ago, in 1999, the then Chairman of the Parliament of Georgia, [the] late Zurab Zhvania, here in this wonderful city of Strasbourg, speaking at the historical moment when Georgia was joining the Council of Europe, made his famous statement. I vividly remember the words. And thus today, 20 years after, I would like to reiterate Zurab Zhvania's words spoken here in the Council of Europe - I am Georgian, therefore I am European!
Since this historic words 20 years have passed and symbolically, this year we will take up the chairmanship of the Council of Europe, the organization that has been a principal supporter on our path and its now our turn to accept the torch and pass it to our future generations.
Thank you!", said the prime minister of Georgia at the Parliamentary Assembly Of The Council Of Europe.