In an interview with Abkhazia-Inform, Asida Shakryl explained why she considered her participation in this process necessary, she also expressed her attitude towards the Memorandum as a measure to resolve the crisis.
20 September 2019

In an interview with Abkhazia-Inform, Asida Shakryl explained why she considered her participation in this process necessary, she also expressed her attitude towards the Memorandum as a measure to resolve the crisis.

On September 19, the RA Supreme Court, chaired by Judge Henry Gamisonia and composed of judges Raul Pachulia and Oksana Piliya, rejected the request of the RA Ombudsman Asida Shakryl to involve her in administrative proceedings (initiated by candidate Alkhas Kvitsinia), on the invalidation of the Central Election Commission’s decision (Protocol 21 of 09.09.2019) on the outcome of the presidential elections. 

In an interview with Abkhazia-Inform, Asida Shakryl explained why she considered her participation in this process necessary, she also expressed her attitude towards the Memorandum as a measure to resolve the crisis.

– Why do you consider it necessary for the Ombudsman to participate in the judicial process related to how the CEC determined the outcome of the presidential elections? How are these issues connected to human rights?

– This judicial process is directly related to human rights since the rights of thousands of citizens were violated. Their votes«against all» were not reflected in the final vote count. I decided to react with a traditional Statement by the Ombudsman, where I indicated the breach of human rights. The appeal was addressed to the CEC of RA. I had no authority to require the CEC to make a decision based on the Statement since at that stage the court had to determine the lawfulness of the CEC final decision. However, I considered that my involvement in the trial could be an effective action to assist in the restoration of the electoral rights of citizens.

 The Ombudsman has no authority to sue the Central Election Commission, only the candidates have such right. But I still decided to voice my opinion during the trial. In doing so I did not represent the interests of any party concerned. I merely intended to communicate a message to the court. This was not of interest to them, since my request was declined.  

– On what grounds was your application rejected? And what does it say about the role of the Ombudsman in our system of government?

– The Law on the Commissioner provides for effective measures of response to violations of rights. Those include the Ombudsman's appeal to the court with a statement and participation in court proceedings. But, unfortunately, the implementation of these legally defined powers is not provided for under procedural legislation. And yet, I believe that the court could have allowed us to participate in the process, to familiarise the opposing sides with the statement. After all, this was a case of gross violation of human and civil rights, the case of particular public importance. 

– During this process some people (including journalists), started to accuse you of an attempt to influence political processes.

– Electoral process is by definition political. The right of a citizen to participate in the administration of the state is fulfilled through the right to vote and to be elected, as well as through many other rights. If violations of human rights occur during the elections, the results can be considered illegitimate. That is why international human rights organizations have always monitored elections so closely, to ensure that these processes fully comply with international standards.

– How does the Supreme Court's decision influence the voting results? What consequences does this have for the judicial system and, in general, for the prospects of ensuring human rights?

– It is well known that the belief in the impartiality of the judicial system is the primary source of its strength and legitimacy. I believe that the judges will base their decisions on the laws and Constitution of the Republic of Abkhazia, and not on political preferences.

– Your critics claim that you are engaged in affairs outside your competence at the expense of your direct responsibilities. Several journalists and government supporters accuse you on social media of refusing to review citizens' complaints. How would you like to comment on this?

– I am aware that such information is being disseminated. I instructed the head of the Ombudsman's office to contact those who claim (in particular, the journalist Elena Zavodskaya) that we refuse to review complaints from citizens. I am not aware of any cases when the Ombudsman's office refused to hear a complaint. People often seek legal assistance. They require to be consulted or accompanied. Their cases are still at a stage where citizens are required to use all available human rights mechanisms themselves - the higher authorities, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, or the courts. While a citizen still has the opportunity to appeal against unfair decisions himself, the Commissioner should not interfere. The Ombudsman does not act as a lawyer and cannot replace other human rights structures. Every person should strive for the observance and protection of their rights. The Ombudsman’s mission is not to contact the authorities instead of a citizen, but to promote the protection and restoration of human rights at a time when all other state institutions fail to do so. Where we do not see the violation of human rights (often in cases where there is a conflict of interests), we do not get involved, but refer citizens to public human rights offices, where they receive legal assistance. Such reception facilities exist at the Center of Humanitarian Programs, Association «Disabled Persons Assistance», Association of Women of Abkhazia, Children’s Fund of Abkhazia, etc. Thousands of people receive legal assistance there. Our office works closely with public reception offices. But our job is to supervise more complex cases. People often fail to identify how the actions of the officials violate human rights. But, unfortunately, some journalists also unfairly interpret problematic cases, they are not familiar with the Law on the Ombudsman well enough. With regard to Elena Zavodskaya’s claim of allegedly knowing citizens that were “kicked out” by the Commissioner, unfortunately, she did not go beyond unsubstantiated accusations and did not provide any additional information in response to our request. It’s a pity because if there are such people, it is necessary to investigate their claims. Since the journalist Zavodskaya did not provide more accurate information on the matter, we believe that she is deliberately spreading false information about our activities. 

In general, I would like to say that some of our journalists remain in denial about the role of independent media in a democratic state. Independent media informs citizens on the actions of the officials, raises difficult issues. It criticizes authorities for the breach of obligations. It is responsible for the free flow of information, for upholding democratic principles, for ensuring respect for human rights. Instead of giving objective feedback to the authorities, some of our journalists have declared war on civil society, non-governmental organizations, human rights defenders, as if they were responsible for governing the country. Such journalism has nothing to do with independent media.

– What’s your position on the Memorandum on Crisis Management, prepared by a group of civil activists?

– The authors of the Memorandum called on the parties to accept any verdict from the Supreme Court. The objective of the proposal was to convince the parties to immediately start implementing reforms, otherwise, the distribution of seats would not make sense at all. The authors assume that reluctance to negotiate may escalate tension. 

I will not talk about R. D. Khajimba's readiness for the dialogue, but it is difficult for me to explain the unacceptable tone and offensive nature of his remarks towards the authors of the Memorandum. I think he should make a public apology. Our public organizations are doing a great deal of really commendable work for our society. For decades they have been engaged in strengthening democratic institutions, fostering effective governance in the country. Starting from emergency assistance to people affected by war, they still support hundreds of socially vulnerable individuals, protect their rights, conduct educational activities, and, thereby, provide great support to our country. Moreover, at international forums, overcoming Georgian political propaganda, our experts from civil society consistently bring out the idea that Abkhazia is an independent entity, not some «occupied territory». Instead of at least appreciating all these efforts, we hear unacceptable attacks against them. I hope that high-ranking officials, while aware of their responsibilities to society, will be respectful to the contribution of civil organizations, and will base their assessments on real cases and objective information.

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