Question about the event
Ambassador Degnan: We’re very excited to be here today for the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Robakidze University and Texas A and M University in Texas, one of the largest student body colleges in the United States, and the first university in Texas. This is a really exciting program that improves the ties between these two universities in America and in Georgia, and also is focused on building the skills of university principals as well as teachers here in Georgia. So, this is a big day and a big opportunity and another excellent example of the close ties between Georgia and the United States in the education sector.
Question about the Parliamentary working group on the selection of the Public Defender
Ambassador Degnan: Well, the selection of the Public Defender is extremely important. It’s a tremendous opportunity for the Parliament to have a very inclusive process. Now is the time to include as many relevant voices as possible, not to have a closed and exclusive kind of process. It’s very important to note that the previous selection process was very well-regarded by international agencies that regulate how Public Defenders are selected. In fact, Georgia received a high ranking the last time the Public Defender was selected because the process was inclusive. It included NGOs. It included many voices. If Georgia wants to retain that very strong ranking that it received from the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, it has to follow the principles that are laid out as international best practices, the Paris Principles. These recommendations were provided to Georgia five years ago, and this is how Georgia will retain the very high ranking it received. The good process that produced the Public Defender the last time was an inclusive process that included NGOs, but it’s not a mystery how to do this. It is all laid out in the Paris principles, and Council of Europe recommendations. There are many guidelines for Georgia to follow, to do this well and come up with a Public Defender that will really be a consensus candidate recognized by all of the stakeholders. Remember that the Public Defender’s main job is to defend the human rights of every Georgian citizen. It’s an extremely important job, and it needs to be someone who’s impartial and qualified, and accepted by everyone, not just by one party.
I would just add as well that when you have these kinds of consultative processes being more inclusive is important. And I think, for instance, on the recent Venice Commission opinion regarding the surveillance law, that was again an opportunity. The opinion itself was strong and clear that a more inclusive approach is important. The Venice CoCommission’spinion is an assessment by international legal experts about the amendments that were adopted by Parliament in June as to whether those amendments provided sufficient protections for Georgian’s right to privacy. This is a very clear, strong opinion about a very important principle, and that is the right to privacy. The opinion which was requested by the President this time concluded that there was insufficient explanation or justification for the amendments. These amendments extend the reasons allowed for wiretapping Georgians. It extends how long the government can wiretap someone, and it also extends the time before the government can tell someone that their conversations are being secretly listened to. This is particularly important in light of last September’s massive leak of illegal wiretapping and surveillance on church officials, diplomats, journalists, and politicians. It’s very important, as this Venice Commission opinion very clearly and strongly stated, that the reasons for the amendments be established and they were not. That was the conclusion of this report. So again, the idea of doing an inclusive parliamentary process, where all voices have the chance to weigh in and to develop a better law is so important. These are not criticisms of Georgia. The Venice Commission opinions and other examples like this are the opportunity to help Georgia improve its legislation, to ensure that there are legal safeguards to avoid abuses of citizens’ rights; and in this case to ensure that Georgian citizens’ right to privacy and the privacy of their data and their conversations on their cell phones are protected.