Q-n about the event
Ambassador Kelly Degnan: I am very pleased to be here for the Guria Berry Forum. This is a very promising sector for Georgia’s agricultural development, and USAID is very pleased for supporting this. Blueberries, in particular, have seen remarkable increase in their value just in a last two years, up to 4 million dollars in exports, which is a considerable increase just in two years. USAID has been working with Georgia’s agricultural sector to help farmers and producers learn new ways of increasing their crop, increasing their the quality, and increasing the production value. We are very pleased to be able to partner with private sector, as well as the government and the TBC Bank, and others who are trying to support growers who are going into this new sector. So, we are very proud, and the United States is going to continue to work with our friends in the agricultural sector to increase yields and generate good jobs for Georgia.
Q-n about the July 5-6 aggressive attacks on journalists, how would you assess the of Ministry of Interior Affairs? Did PM Gharibashvili encourage violence with his statement?
Ambassador Kelly Degnan: That was a very sad day for Georgia. In particular, the United States has worked hard with the law enforcement agencies in Georgia to improve their capability to do crowd management. So, we were disappointed that that training and equipment was not deployed when it became obvious that there were those in the crowd that wanted to resort to violence. I am sure that the majority of Georgians do not support violence in any situation but certainly not violent attacks against peaceful citizens, against journalists doing their jobs, and so, I think it was a real disappointing day for Georgia and many people have already commented on what a surprise it was to see a country that, in general, is known for defending human rights, is known for tolerance and respect, take a step backwards from those values on those days. Thank you.
Follow up question: Do you think Prime Minister Gharibashvili encouraged the violence with his statement?
Ambassador Kelly Degnan: As Prime Minister, of course, we would look to the Prime Minister to play a leading role in calming a situation where violence is being used and condemning this violence against Georgian citizens, certainly against journalists. So, it was disappointing that we didn’t see a more forceful leadership role on those days.
Q-n about the recent ODIHR assessment critical of the process of appointing judges despite the April 19th Agreement
Ambassador Kelly Degnan: I have seen the assessment, but I have not had the chance to read it and to study it thoroughly, but it echoes what many Georgians, what we and other friends of Georgia have been saying. There needs to be an inclusive, broad discussion of the judicial reform here in Georgia before the appointment process goes forward. The appointment process should be paused while this inclusive debate and discussion of the judicial reform is held, and then the appointments can proceed under that new rubric. That is what the political leaders, including the ruling party, agreed to do in the April 19 Agreement. It is quite explicit, it is quite clear that it was the intended sequence – broad, inclusive debate of the judicial reform, pause the appointment process until it is concluded, and then reopen it and conclude it under a new framework. And, we are still hoping that the parliament will do that. The parliament has the authority to pause the appointment process, and we sincerely hope, especially after this ODIHR report, that that will happen. It is very important that Georgians have confidence in the way the judges are selected so that they can have confidence in the decisions that their judges render. Thank you.
Q-n about the process of selecting CEC chair and two commission members. How would you assess it, especially as some of the NGO’s are not happy with the selected candidates?
Ambassador Kelly Degnan: The most important thing is that it’s an inclusive process that results in candidates that people can have confidence in. The whole purpose of the reforms was to try to increase transparency, increase impartiality, and produce candidates that Georgians can have confidence in. The process does seem to have been inclusive, but obviously there were some who were not satisfied with the results in terms of impartiality and people being able to have confidence in the candidates going forward.