Resume: Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, international human rights organisations, gave a critical assessment of the events of 20 June and demanded an immediate investigation. In accordance with these organisations’ assessments, a disproportionate force was used against peaceful protesters without a prior warning. Rubber bullets should be used only as a last resort because they can inflict serious injuries and, therefore, it is inadmissible to fire them at protesters.
According to the statement of Giorgi Gogia, Associate Director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia Division: “The fact that the use of force could be legitimate at a particular moment does not mean that force was used legitimately during the whole night.”
In addition, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland also issued statements about the use of disproportionate force against peaceful protesters.
Therefore, Mamuka Bakhtadze’s statement that all the international organisations and every international partner confirm the legitimacy of the use of force on the night of 20 June does not correspond to the truth and aims to mislead the public by employing propaganda techniques. The aim of the dispersal of the rally could be legitimate although the authorities and the Prime Minister intentionally refrain from mentioning the criticism which they received from international partners vis-à-vis a disproportionate use of force at the rally. Whether or not there was a legitimate objective to use force is a matter of separate discussion which goes beyond the scope of this article.
Georgian Prime Minister, Mamuka Bakhtadze, in his speech on the dispersal of the 20 June rally, stated: “Use of force was legitimate because there was no other choice and no other way. This is confirmed by all the international organisations and all the international partners.”
FactCheck took interest in the accuracy of the statement.
The visit of a member of the Russian Communist Party, Sergey Gavrilov, with two other Russian MPs to Tbilisi on 19 June 2019 as part of the Inter-parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy, triggered people’s protests. The situation got particularly tense after Mr Gavrilov sat in the Speaker’s chair in the Parliament of Georgia. People rallied outside the Parliament building in protest and demanded the resignation of Irakli Kobakhidze, Vakhtang Gomelauri and Giorgi Gakharia – those responsible for the Russian visit. Later, some of the protesters attempted to enter the Parliament of Georgia and riot police dispersed the rally in response. Tear gas and rubber bullets were used to disperse the protesters and as a result 240 people in total were injured, including 80 policemen and over 30 media representatives. Two non-violent protesters lost their eyes and 305 individuals were arrested. One person still remains on life-support.
Civil society claims that the Minister of Internal Affairs, Giorgi Gakharia, is responsible for what happened and demands his resignation. However, authorities disagree and assert that force was used legitimately.
Influential international organisations issued statements in regard to the developments where they indicate the disproportionate use of force by police and demand an immediate investigation. Amnesty International is calling for an immediate, thorough and independent investigation into the use of force by riot police in Georgia: “Eyewitnesses described watching as police fired rubber bullets indiscriminately into the crowd. Reports of erratic firing are confirmed by video footage. Rubber bullets can cause serious injuries and should never be used indiscriminately to disperse crowds. Police have the duty to protect public order and respond to violence but their response must be necessary and proportionate. The disturbing scenes in Tbilisi this morning show a total failure to distinguish between the few violent protestors and the peaceful majority.” In addition, it is stressed in Amnesty International’s statement that the heavy-handed police approach resulted in injuries to at least 31 journalists. Most of them were hurt by rubber bullets despite being easily identifiable as journalists as they tried to report on the protests.
In accordance with the assessment of Human Rights Watch, an international human rights organisation, in light of the standoff between the protesters and law enforcement it is urgent for the authorities to adhere to the rules on the use of force under international law. These rules require the police to use only strictly proportionate force in response to any threat posed by protesters and use measures such as rubber bullets only as a last resort. However, on 20 June, riot police fired rubber bullets and used tear gas against thousands of non-violent protesters without issuing any warning. Giorgi Gogia, Associate Director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia Division, posted on his Facebook page: “The fact that the use of force could be legitimate in a particular moment does not mean that force was used legitimately during the whole night. Furthermore, even the legitimate use of force has its own standards, at least the necessity of adequate warning, let alone the proportionality of force. In addition, given the fact that the use of rubber bullets in certain circumstances can cause death or grave bodily harm, for practical aims it is considered as a fire-arm and law enforcement should adhere to the UN basic standards on use of fire-arms.”
Stephen Nix, International Republic Institute’s (IRI) Regional Programme Director for Eurasia, called for both sides to keep the peace and a calm environment and stated that authorities need to show adequate restraint (proportionate force) when it comes to a rally: “Georgia seeks to join the EU and NATO and we do not want to see the events of the night of 20 June once again as a result of which hundreds of people were hospitalised.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland also commented on the ongoing events. The respective statement reads that special attention is drawn to the responsibility of authorities for the security of citizens, freedom of assembly and the expression of opinion and the adequate use of direct coercive measures whilst the use of force against journalists and other members of the civil society is regarded as inadmissible.
Therefore, a clearly negative attitude is identified in the assessments of international organisations which suspect the legitimacy of the use of force. Whether or not there was a legitimate objective to be achieved by the use of force is a matter of separate discussion and goes beyond the scope of this article.
In regard to the aim of dispersing the rally and its legitimacy, this also goes beyond the scope of this article.