U.N. rights chief urges Georgia to probe prison torture

GENEVA Fri Sep 21, 2012 7:39am EDT

1 of 7. Security guards block a woman from entering a prison's courtyard during a protest rally in Tbilisi September 21, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/David Mdzinarishvili

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GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations human rights chief called on Georgia on Friday to prosecute prison officers caught on videos torturing and raping inmates, a scandal that has broken out a week before a national election.

Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said authorities in the former Soviet republic must comply with international laws that banned torture.

"We call on the government to ensure that all allegations of such human rights violations, and not only the ones exposed in these videos but any others that have been taking place, are promptly, impartially, and effectively investigated and that perpetrators are brought to justice," Pillay's spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing in Geneva.

Demonstrators took to the streets of Tbilisi and other towns this week after footage showing the torture and rape of inmates in the capital's main prison was aired by two television channels supportive of the opposition.

Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaia resigned on Thursday as President Mikheil Saakashvili sought to soothe the protests.

"These videos are truly shocking...They show prisoners being physically and sexually assaulted, being humiliated and being verbally abused by prison officers," Colville said.

The U.N. rights office welcomed Saakashvili's condemnation of the abuses and his government's pledges that they will be investigated, and voiced hope it would be "swiftly translated into effective and transparent action".

Georgia has ratified the Convention against Torture, as well as its protocol allowing national and international experts to make unannounced visits to detention facilities, Colville said.

"Concerns about ill-treatment of prisoners in Georgia have been raised in various U.N. human rights for over the years, as well as consistently in reports of Georgia's own ombudsman Georgy Tugushi," he said, referring to the former ombudsman who was named prisons minister on Thursday.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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