European rights body presses Georgia on justice system, tolerance

TBILISI Mon May 12, 2014 9:30am EDT

Human rights commissioner at the Council of Europe Nils Muiznieks addresses a news conference on the human rights situation of Syrian refugees in Berlin December 19, 2013. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

Human rights commissioner at the Council of Europe Nils Muiznieks addresses a news conference on the human rights situation of Syrian refugees in Berlin December 19, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Tobias Schwarz

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TBILISI (Reuters) - A European human rights monitor urged Georgia on Monday to improve its justice system, promote tolerance and avoid the selective prosecution of officials who served former president Mikheil Saakashvili.

The criticism from the Council of Europe comes at a sensitive time for Georgia as it seeks to boost ties with Europe after Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region. Georgia fought a brief war with Russia in 2008 that ended with Moscow tightening its control over two breakaway Georgian regions.

Dozens of Saakashvili-era officials, including a former prime minister, have been arrested on charges such as abuse of power, corruption and illegal confinement since his government was ousted in an October 2012 parliamentary election.

Western countries have aired concerns that the authorities in Tbilisi have used selective justice and politically motivated prosecutions against opponents in the former Soviet republic, a pivot of geopolitical rivalry between Moscow and the West.

"Continued efforts are needed to enhance public trust in the justice system and to promote equality and minority rights," Nils Muiznieks, human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe, said in a report.

"The persistence of allegations of deficiencies in judicial processes involving political opponents is a cause for concern," he said, urging the government to guarantee fair trials for all.

The Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg, France, promotes human rights and democracy in Europe and has 47 member states.

Supporters of Saakashvili, who was president from 2004 until last November, accuse the new government of conducting a political witch-hunt. The authorities deny the accusations.

Muiznieks also urged the government to tackle intolerance towards sexual minorities such as homosexuals and expressed concern over "negative attitudes" towards Muslims and other religious minorities in mainly Orthodox Christian Georgia.

(Editing by Steve Gutterman and Gareth Jones)

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