By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, Nov 8 (Reuters) - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour rebuked Georgia on Thursday for its "disproportionate use of force" against protesters and said it must uphold fundamental rights even under a state of emergency. In a statement, she also expressed support for Georgia’s public defender, or human rights ombudsman, and voiced concern at the silencing of independent television stations in the former Soviet republic.
Troops cordoned off the deserted streets of central Tbilisi on Thursday after President Mikhail Saakashvili declared a 15-day state of emergency and shut down independent media to quash six days of anti-government protests.
Over 550 demonstrators were hospitalised on Wednesday after riot police armed with batons, rubber bullets and tear gas, crushed protests. Georgia’s human rights ombudsman Sozar Subari told reporters that he was among those beaten by police.
Arbour was "particularly worried over reports of disproportionate use of force, including against Georgia’s Public Defender, the detention of opposition leaders and the beating of demonstrators."
Georgia, which has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has an obligation to ensure that fundamental freedoms including the right to life and prohibitions on arbitrary detention and torture "cannot be suspended, even in times of emergency," according to Arbour.
The U.N. Human Rights Committee voiced concern last week at allegations of deaths caused by use of excessive force by Georgian police and prison officials.
It called for an impartial investigation into a disturbance at Tbilisi prison No. 5 in March 2006 in which it said at least seven inmates had allegedly died. Perpetrators should be prosecuted and compensation paid to the victims’ families.
The Committee also called for impartial probes into allegations of torture in Georgia and expressed concern at the "persistence of adverse conditions in a number of prisons".
This included "gross overcrowding", poor rations, inadequate access to natural light and fresh air and a "large number of deaths of prisoners allegedly due to the prison conditions that amount to ill-treatment in some detention facilities". (Editing by Dominic Evans)