Interview with the Ombudsman, Asida Shakryl
8 August 2020

Interview with the Ombudsman, Asida Shakryl

– The report on the activities of the Ombudsman for 2018-2019 raises critical issues around various areas, including the law enforcement in the Gal district. The report also highlights cases of domestic violence and abuse of schoolchildren. But based on the individual facts that are mentioned in the report, it is difficult to deduce whether we’re dealing with a consistent pattern of human rights violations or with isolated cases.

- There are systemic issues behind all these problems. We’ve described only a single case of violence at school, but there are other facts. We can not be certain of the widespread of any such violations, since we did not conduct any special study, but we know that this is not an isolated case. Perhaps, physical abuse is not that common in our schools, but there are certainly many cases of psychological and verbal violence. Many teachers believe that they have the right to insult and humiliate students. So what are the systematic issues behind these violations? Firstly, there is no law on general education. We rely mostly on an ethical code of conduct, present in teaching. Meanwhile, the legislation should govern teacher-student behavior. Secondly, we lack any child protection mechanisms within the schools.

– But there are countries with no laws on education, where students' rights are ensured, they are protected from any violence.

– These countries have a different political culture and they are committed to observing international human rights standards. These countries are parties to different international conventions. Therefore, students are guaranteed their rights, even if there is no special legislation “On education”.

– You get a mixed impression about the situation in Abkhazia from reading your report. On one hand, it reveals the existence of serious systemic problems. On the other hand, the fact that an Independent Ombudsman Institution exists and offers an unbiased assessment of the situation, suggests an advantage over some countries with more capacity for development.

– The situation isn’t that bad not because the state strictly monitors the provision of human rights. Our culture is based on respect for human dignity, and this largely affects the overall atmosphere and attitudes. However, the situation is far from stable. In terms of legislation, there may not be that many serious gaps, although there is much room for improvement. The problem, to a greater extent, is that constitutional laws are poorly implemented in practice. It’s mostly due to the lack of awareness among officials on the subject of human rights. People in a position of power have no information on human rights. Moreover, they are unaware of their responsibilities concerning human rights. Some are not even familiar with the laws governing their departments. For example, many police officers do not know the Law on the Police. It is even more unlikely that they will read the Law on the Ombudsman. They are not familiar with the concept of human rights, have not heard of any international documents, and if they have, they believe that the obligation to observe and implement them does not concern our country. I'll give you an example. Recently, the team of the Ombudsman's Office was denied access to places of pre-trial detention. Our staff met with the head of the relevant institution, quoted all the necessary laws that allowed them to gain access to the place of detention and the detainees. However, the head of the institution replied that he would not let anyone into the remand center without approval from his superiors. Although the Law on the Police stipulates that officers must abide by the rule of law, even if their superiors issue an order that contradicts it, many of them believe that superiors are above the law and the Constitution.

 - Your report covers the 2018 and 2019 years. Today there is new leadership in Abkhazia. Has anything changed now, even with regards to accessing high-security facilities?

 – So far, the law enforcement system has been equally inert in terms of allowing access to places of detention and pre-trial detention facilities. But we did send a letter to the Minister of Internal Affairs and expect that he will reply accordingly. I hope that we will be able to arrange meetings with the Minister, and that will allow us to solve these issues together. The President himself must react to the violations indicated in our report. There is no point in writing reports, analyzing problems, presenting your analysis publicly in Parliament if the authorities do not intend to tackle these violations. All the information in the report is addressed primarily to the officials, for them to remedy the situation. We do not just draw attention to the violations, but try to highlight their causes and offer solutions.

- What are your plans for this year? Will you continue to respond to all complaints, or will you look more closely into certain areas and situations?

– Of course, we will look into all of the complaints. Every time we receive a new complaint, it is immediately clear whether we were dealing with the arbitrariness of a single official, or with a malfunction of a whole system. If different citizens are struggling with the same issue, it only means it’s inherent. Such issues include problems related to obtaining/confirming citizenship and certification. Those issues will remain our main focus. Another problem on our agenda is torture in places of detention; inhuman and degrading treatment; the creation of barriers in terms of lawyers' access to defendants. As for torture and degrading treatment, our legislation does not define these concepts. It is important to establish a mechanism that would prevent torture. Effective monitoring in places of detention should be carried out.

– And yet, what exactly is the key issue here: that there is no concept of «torture» in our legislation, or that the principle of inevitability of punishment is being ignored when it comes to law enforcement officers.

 - Perpetrators escape justice because there is a lack of mechanisms to respond to human rights violations. To this degree, the Prosecutor's Office has certain responsibilities, but up to this day, it remains inactive. In the report, we did highlight the case of the detainee A.V. Tarba. As you probably know, citizen Tarba died as a result of torture, and the trial is still on. It is crucial that the officials involved would be brought to justice. Public confidence in the criminal justice system will depend on how the criminal investigation and the trial will be conducted. We are monitoring all the judicial proceedings, and hope that all perpetrators will be punished. I believe that this case should be under the scrutiny of society, Parliament, and the President.

– The Ombudsman’s report identifies and describes serious concerns. Some people could try to use this information for political purposes. Still, do you see a point in these reports?

 – I expect the new leadership to understand the role and tasks of the Commissioner for Human Rights in Abkhazia. Let's not forget that the draft law on the Ombudsman was submitted to the Parliament by the previous Presidential Administration. This suggests that overall there’s an understanding of the importance of monitoring the observance of human rights. The Institution of the Ombudsman is an administrative body. It is established to prevent officials from abusing their authority. It's pointless to take Ombudsman’s assessments as a criticism for the sake of criticism. Our task is to identify problems, analyze them and offer recommendations for addressing them. Of course, there will always be political forces that will try to use these assessments to their advantage. But if our common goal is to build a state governed by the rule of law, we should welcome a well-researched analysis.

– Can we expect another impartial analysis of the situation by the end of 2020? – Of course, we will continue to work proactively and respond to human rights violations. As I said before, the whole point of this institution is to help eliminate violations. The report will outline the dynamics of particular issues and their possible evolution and implications in the areas where they arise. It will not be an abstract document, but quite a specific report with case studies of violations.



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